If not for these words, I might already be dead.
The cold, dark eyes of the Faery King lifted from the parchment, and stared into mine, daring me to repeat myself. My free hand shook just a little as I pointed my finger to the piece of paper that was covered in fine print.
“Those are my terms,” I repeated.
His stare continued and I felt as if I was getting smaller. “You insult me, child. My word on the bargain should be enough. Are you questioning my honor?” His two attendants reached for the hilts of their swords, scowling at me.
“Quite the contrary, your eminence.” I bowed my head. “These details are merely to keep this lowly mortal from confusion. I would hate to misunderstand our agreement due to my lack of intelligence.”
“Oh, you’re no fool.” The edge of his mouth curved upward. “But if you were truly intelligent, you would find a better way of dealing with me.”
I glanced at the guards that stood on either side of the door. They had started to smile with the anticipation of my doom (and the pie following it).
“This doesn’t have to be a bother.” The king continued soothingly. “Why not accept my terms?”
The king’s terms were simpler (for him): He would deliver a winter’s worth of food to my village, and I would stay and recreate the pastries in his kitchens, and go home only after my debt was paid in full. It would be a simple, verbal understanding. My terms required him to ensure the quality and arrival of the supplies himself, and to deliver me safely back home.
My grandad had written it up with me, though not with enthusiasm. “You’re doing this the hard way,” Grandad had said, ruffling his white hair in irritation.
“But your plan will make him angry, right?” I dipped the brown feather quill in ink. “It’ll take me two days to get there, and I don’t want to be thrown in prison or beaten just for mentioning your name.”
“You won’t if you’re careful. He’s not the kind that hurts children-- at least, he didn’t used to be. But you have to get him to listen to you somehow, and my name will get you some attention at least.”
“I know, but, I want to try this first.” I’d replied, too confident for my years.
The Faery King turned out to be more sly and reluctant that I thought he’d be. “If you agree to keep this simple,” he said. “I could find it in me to be merciful enough to help you, and not just send you flying back to the human world on your ear.”
I had come too far for that. Other lives were on the line, not just my own. One false step now, and we would all be done for. I put the peach pie on the table next to the paper and bowed again. “Please sign the contract, my lord. I do not think the terms are unreasonable.”
“Well, I do!” he shot back, bitingly. His composure, like the silver crown on his head, had been shaken. “Look at all these clauses! You’re awfully specific for a little brat. Who told you to come here?”
“My grandfather taught me of your kind from a young age, my lord.”
“Oh, did he? Not well enough, child; you’ve pushed me too far.” He tossed the parchment down on the table and sat back in his chair. “I won’t sign it. I’m not even certain that you can bake at all. You can keep your pies and your promises, child.” He even crossed his legs and propped his chin on his hand to emphasize how much he didn’t care.
I sighed. Not in despair, but in reluctance, as I put away the rejected contract. I was hoping that it wouldn’t come to this. “Very well, your majesty. You leave me no choice.”
“What do you mean?” He gave me a suspicious sidelong glance.
Pulling another piece of paper out of my bag, I explained. “I wanted to do this with my own credit and my own talents, but since you won’t have it... Here is another contract. I’ve come to claim the favor you owe to Thomas Bartlemead.”
The room became stiffly silent. The faery king stiffened as well. Slowly, he turned his head to face me, quite as if he wanted me to wither on the spot.
“What?” he said, daring me to repeat it.
I gulped. “Thomas Bartlemead sent me to reclaim his favor.”
“What does he have to do with you?”
“He is my grandfather, sire.”
The faery king before me let out a long, low whistle. “Just my luck. As if harrassing me himself wasn’t enough, now he sends me children in his stead! Isn’t he dead yet?”
“He still lives.”
“Huh. Maybe I should visit and finish him off.”
“In truth, he said he honored you as a friend.” I said stiffly.
“But he still told you that I can’t be trusted?”
“He told me that faeries have no hearts in their bodies, and that their king is the most ruthless of all.”
“And yet you still came here?” He sat up. “You think to bind me with this contract? How many decades do you think I’ve lived? How many men have I killed? And now to have a scrawny brat like you trying to give me orders...?!” He reached across the table suddenly and lifted me up by my throat. It caught me by surprise, not that I would’ve had any strength left to fight back. My feet dangled helplessly above the ground.
“Just who do you think you are?” he hissed, inches from my face.
Somehow I met his eyes without flinching. “I am Thomas Bartlemead’s grandchild. Sign my contract, Faery King.”
The faery king’s lips pressed together, and he dropped me back to the ground. My limbs collapsed beneath me, so I just sat on the floor and breathed. I was nearly faint from fear and relief. Thanks, Grandad. I thought.
“Fine!” the king said. He sat down and scanned the document with a frown on his face. “Bring me a quill!”
“Please note that since this is to repay the favor now,” I had to add. “My repayment of pies is not included.”
“What?!” For an instant he reminded me of a child receiving an unfair punishment.
“You should have taken it when you had the chance! Besides, you still get the second pie.”
One of his attendants brought a quill: a long peacock’s feather. I took it first, signed my name below my grandad’s signature, and gave it to the king. The king signed the contract with an angry flourish.
“You’ll pay for this! If this pie isn’t as tasty as it looks, I’ll have your head cut off and your eyes fed to the goblins!”
I took the contract from him and folded it neatly in half, trying not to smirk. “If my head is already cut off, I shouldn’t mind what happens to my eyes.”
“Oh, I’ll make you mind it!” The king straightened his crown irritably.
“Yes, yes. Please make haste to trade for food, your majesty!” I waved toward the door.
“With my money, too,” the king grumbled. “Come then, human child. We’ll ride the kelpie. --But don’t eat that pie without me!” He thundered a warning to his subjects, who looked gravely disappointed. The pie was left on the stone table, wrapped up in the enchanted cloth and steaming.
Check back tomorrow to see if she gets her supplies or if the king double crosses her!