Firstly, I would talk to the child privately and find out what had really happened. Secondly, I would allow justice to be satisfied in front of my subjects, no matter what strings I had to pull in order to get that satisfaction. And thirdly, I would somehow acquire a pie that was not poisoned and much more delicious!
We put her in a holding cell for the night: not as awful or damp as the dungeons, but still with a hard bed and a strong door with a good, thick lock. I went alone down the stairs to the third level down, below the living quarters. Somehow, even that far underground, there was still a draft to make my candle flicker and go out. It was on its last bit of wax anyway. I could still see my way to her cell, so I continued on until a voice echoed up to me.
It was not her voice.
“I’m sorry. I am so sorry. I didn’t know.”
I stopped just around the corner from them, listening intently.
“What didn’t you know?” Meg answered.
Curious, I leaned around the corner to see who it was.
“I didn’t know you hadn’t signed the contract. I didn’t know what he said he would do! You were only supposed to get thrown out of here.”
Ah. It was Flann, my poor, prejudiced cook that hated humans. What was I going to do with him?
“It was you who ruined my pie?! Why would you do that?”
My cook hung his head in shame. “I was jealous. He has never been that excited about one of my desserts. I gave up on pie crust a long time ago. But that doesn’t matter now. I want to help you.”
“Can you help me escape out of the mountain?” She sounded eager.
“Oh- no. No, sorry. I have no key.”
“Then get a key! Or tell the king you did it!”
“But he’ll throw me out in disgrace!”
“So? He’ll kill me!”
This exchange was followed by a huffy silence.
“If there is anything I can do to make your last meal more enjoyable--” Flann started to offer.
“You’re not really that sorry, are you?”
“--I can make a splendid feast for you! Cakes are my specialty--”
“Shut up, I’m trying to think!”
“This is a lot, coming from me, you know!” Flann said. “Ungrateful human.”
Meg groaned. “Wait. I do want you to make a cake.”
“You do? I can make any kind you want!”
“Good, because it has to be very finely made. Listen carefully.”
I chuckled silently to myself when I heard her specifications. As it turned out, I didn’t need to pull any strings after all.
In the morning, the Faery Court was assembled, and it was unusually crowded. Most were there just out of morbid curiosity, I think, but it was a good turn out. Cusac stood on my left, sneaking glances at me and wondering just how much this whole revenge matter had gone to my head. He had a habit of stroking the thin, vertical scar on the side of his forehead when something bothered him.
“Are you worried, Cusac?” I asked, making him jump.
“Just a bit, your majesty,” he admitted. “What’s going to happen when Thomas Bartlemead comes to find his granddaughter dead? You don’t expect him to come right on time to rescue her, do you?”
“No,” I smiled. “Apparently she plans on rescuing herself.”
Having had her last meal, the proud granddaughter of Thomas Bartlemead was marched in, carrying a shiny platter with a cover over it. Murmurs of surprise swept through the room, and I caught a glimpse of Flann joining the assembly near the back. Even my morbid-minded subjects were a bit alarmed, wondering if her head was going to be cut off in front of them.
Meg presented the tray to me on my table, and knelt down respectfully as she lifted off the cover. “My head on a platter, sire, as you requested.”
I found myself staring into the blank, marzipan eyes of a cake version of Meg Bartlemead’s head. People gasped. There were some stifled snickers. It was very close to the original, I thought. Flann had gotten her saucy expression just right.
“But I wouldn’t eat it if I were you,” Meg added, her eyes twinkling. “It’s made out of scraps for the dogs.”
I gave her a flat look, but a slow smile made its way across my face.
“Well then,” I said. “That was our agreement.”
“But she tried to poison you, sire!” Someone protested.
“An accident. It wasn’t enough to harm me. Now! Go back to the kitchens, Meg Bartlemead, and teach poor Flann how to make a pie crust.”
Flann reddened in the back of the room as I caught his eye. Yes, I know exactly what happened. He got the message and nodded humbly.
Order was restored in my kingdom. The rest of the day was very quiet.
Since I became king, I’ve been left to my own devices. I like it, but at the same time, no one will dare to approach me without a reason. No one wants to suggest that I might be wrong, or that I may need cheering up. Years after the matter of the stolen bride was settled, my assistant made bold enough to suggest that it was time to find a new bride, and I gazed at him coldly. “If you mention marriage in front of me again, Cusac, I will kill you.”
The entire room had gone silent, and I thought I could sense the hair standing up on the backs of their necks. “My marriage, I mean,” I hastened to add. “You can talk about other marriages if you like. Just not too much, if you don’t mind.”
Since then, I have been left alone. I like it, but it gets… quiet. What was taking that old man so long?!
The last time I saw him-- the time before he put that ridiculous potato sack on his head-- was during the war. Relations between my kind and the goblins have never been congenial, but a decade or so after Thomas left, a full-scale war broke out: more fierce than any other had been for generations. We lost so much, and so many of our best to their shadowy swarms. My castle was destroyed. Our proud and ancient race was reduced to a band of refugees, fleeing for our lives.
My group was ambushed soon after that, gleaming eyes and smiles sprang suddenly from the underbrush-- if there’s one thing goblins can do well, it’s sneak around-- and we were nearly done for. Cusac got a nasty blow to the head (that’s where he got his scar) and I was getting tired: so, so tired of the smell of blood.
Honestly, if Thomas hadn’t appeared out of nowhere and driven them away, it would have been my death. But I resented him for it. He’d been gallivanting here and there with his loving wife, having his adventures told over dinner tables like legends until I couldn’t stand hearing more, becoming stronger and more brilliant, while I sunk into the shadows like a rabbit down a hole. Of course he would appear when I was at my very weakest. So how did I react? I said I’d repay the favor one day, but that I never wanted to see his face again.
We weren’t friends anymore. By the time his grandchild came around to claim his favor, however, I was a different person. I and my kingdom were stronger. My castle had been rebuilt underground to avoid the ever-growing human skirmishes, and I was no longer a man to be trifled with. He was the weak one. Yes, I had stolen his grandchild right in front of his nose.
I was excited to see just what he would try to do about it. And it didn’t take all that long. I had to wait just the evening of the second day, when I had my much-more-delicious-than-the-last pie.
Boom, boom, boom.
“I think he’s here, sire,” Cusac said.
I grinned. “Let him in.”
Rax was thrown through the doors just as Jonathan opened them, landing on the floor and gasping for breath. Thomas Bartlemead stood in the doorway, looking much more awake than last time, and somehow younger and stronger. Maybe the kidnapping had woken him up.
“Well, hello there,” I greeted him. “How nice of you to drop by.”
Thomas glared at me. “Give her back.”
“Who?” I was enjoying this far too much.
“Meg. Give her back!”
I pretended to rack my brain. “Meg… do I know anyone by that name? Who is she?”
“Don’t give me that, you jackanapes! My granddaughter! You stole her! Give her back, now!”
“It seems to me that you did the stealing first. Don’t you remember this Meg’s grandmother? How you stole her from someone else?”
“Is that what this is all about?! Why don’t you just forget that already?”
“How could I forget something like my friend and my bride betraying me all at once?! You threw away our friendship over a woman and left me alone!”
Well, that was exaggerating a bit. Our reunion was turning into a shouting match, and the few people in the hall were looking uncomfortable at our domestic dispute.
Thomas looked at me in astonishment. “That’s what you’ve been thinking for all these years?! When we left, you said-- you practically gave us your blessing! You hated me all this time? It was you who banished us!”
“You both chose to leave me!” I shot back, standing up. “I had to banish you! It was either that or chase both of you down with my hounds to the ends of the earth. What else was I to do?”
“You should have told me how you felt! You should have told her! If you were really that mad about it, we could have at least had a proper duel over it.”
“Of course, because hurting you would really put me in her favor.”
Thus Thomas’ pride was pricked. “Oh, you think that’s how it would have turned out?”
“You want to see?”
“Now that I’m old and gray? Where’s the fairness in that?”
“It’s what you get for living in the human world!”
“You banished me from yours!”
“Because you stole my bride!”
“I’m sorry! Would you like to fight me now?” Thomas shouted.
“I would, you stupid old man!”
Meg had come in at some point (I didn’t notice when) and felt she had to intervene. “Stop it, you two! There will be absolutely no dueling, do you hear me?”
“Be quiet, Meg. This is a matter of honor,” Thomas said. “Even at my age, he’s no match for me.”
“Ha!” I laughed, a hand on my sword hilt.
“Stop it!” she repeated, stamping her foot. “Grandma would slap you both and send you to bed without supper if she saw you.”
At the word ‘grandma’ we both sort of jumped and looked at her strangely. For a moment it seemed as if all the years we’d seen collided in our heads until we realized how much time had actually passed in order for her to exist. We already knew it’d been that long, but, I guess I hadn’t really realized it.
“She’s your granddaughter,” I stated. “That must be depressing.”
“Aye, it is.” Thomas agreed.
“Hey!” the girl protested.
“Oh, not that I’m disappointed in you, lass,” her grandad hastened to explain. “It just a bit of a downer to think it’s been so long.”
“It really is. I ought to banish you again just for being so old.” I said.
“Your cheeky young face isn’t going to win you any friends either,” Thomas retorted, making me laugh.
“What is the meaning of this?” Another voice was heard in the doorway. We turned to see the subject of our fight, Floriana herself, standing with her hands sternly planted on her hips. She looked older, and perhaps a little rounder, but still very beautiful.
“Flori,” Thomas said, surprised.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” I began.
“And why not? Why should I not come here when I find you have taken my child?” The former faery princess took Meg by the shoulders, and hugged her. “Cara mia, I’m so glad you are fine! Let’s go home.”
“You weren’t at the village… I thought you were dead,” I floundered.
“Dead?” Floriana laughed. “Using my magic still keeps me young and strong.”
“She was visiting her parents in Italy,” Thomas explained, and then turned toward his wife and added, “For two whole years!”
“I hadn’t seen them in twenty! And if you must insist on living with our simple daughter-in-law that is frightened of magic, then I shall need to visit them again!” She retorted. “And what do I come back to see? That our grandchild is kidnapped by you!” She turned on me. This I didn’t expect.
“Why would you do such a thing?” She advanced on me threateningly. “Have you turned stupid?”
“Calm down, Flori; Meg’s all right,” Thomas said.
“I will not calm down until he tells me why.”
“Grandma!” Meg interrupted. “It’s all right now. He just wanted to make up with Grandad.”
We all looked at her, confused at this reasoning. She explained, “He’s not very good at saying what he really means, so he didn’t know how to go about it. But now they’ve shouted a bit, and they’re friends again.”
Thomas and I looked at each other doubtfully.
Floriana still seemed suspicious. “Is this true?”
I shrugged sheepishly. “That and I wanted her to make me pie.”
“Oh, Meg does make the most delicious pie!” Her attitude changed all at once. “Have you tried her caramel apple pies? The most heavenly taste! And her lemon chiffon-- Meg! Make us your lemon chiffon pie this instant!”
“Now?” Meg yelped.
“Why not? There are kitchens here! I have a craving that must be satisfied. Come!”
“Has she always been this bossy?” I asked Thomas in an undertone, as Floriana herded Meg off to the kitchens.
“Oh, yes,” Thomas answered with a groan that turned into a laugh. “Faeries and their food!”
“Um, sire,” Cusac interrupted timidly. “Is everything all right now?”
I sighed and threw up my hands. “Yes, everything is all right. Their banishment is hereby revoked!”
“Oh, good!” Cusac was very pleased. He turned to Thomas. “I hope you’ll come and visit often. The king has missed you a great deal.”
“Bah!” I gave up and sat back on my throne, embarrassed. After saying that we ought to have a welcoming feast and that he’d start preparations immediately, Cusac left. I noticed Thomas was grinning at me. “What?!”
“I missed you too,” he said, chuckling.
“Oh, shut up.”
So much for my revenge! At least things were lively again. I did finally find out the name of that spice the brat had told me was a trade secret-- and it wasn’t really all that rare. Just cinnamon.
The End (for now....)