“I think he’s here, sire,” Cusac said to me.
“Took him long enough.” I bit into a wedge of peach pie.
Boom, boom, boom.
My assistant nervously drummed his fingers on the hilt of his sword. “Are we to arrest him for trespassing your decree of banishment, your majesty?”
“Perhaps,” I dusted the crumbs off my hands with a napkin, “If he behaves well enough we may be rid of him forever.”
“Since you stole his grandchild, behaving is probably the last thing on his mind.”
“I do hope so,” I said, and allowed myself a nasty grin. “Let him in!”
I wouldn’t be who I am today if I had not met Thomas Bartlemead. His name has been burned into my existence like a curse. For the past thirty eight years, I’ve done all I could to rid myself of this curse, but short of gulping down a memory-stealing brew, nothing has managed to erase his lurking presence which has had such an impact in these mountains.
Thinking of him is not something I like to do, to put it mildly. It never leads to a good place. What can I do but put it out of my mind? There is nothing else I can do. The rain keeps falling, and my anger keeps boiling.
To say that we did not part well is an understatement. Anyone who knew what had happened between us would understand my actions, but I don’t excuse what I’ve done. To say I feel a certain satisfaction in doing so whether or not it is justified is correct. After thirty-eight years, he’s finally getting his comeuppance!
And so what if I’m a villain? That was the most fun I’d had in years! That is, until the brat started struggling and flailing her thin limbs about. She was stronger than I expected, but my right arm was enough to hold her still on the saddle until she gave up. It was no trouble, even if the child had the nerve to try and kick me in the shins and bolt toward the gate while I greeted Jonathan and Rax at the door. We had to chase after her, like three grown men after a rabbit. Embarrassing.
But it was all worth it, just to see the looks on their faces, especially the slow, stupid expression Thomas had as I snatched his most valuable asset away from him, right before his eyes. Ha! He should have known better. Now his precious grandchild was mine.
“Why are you doing this? What are you going to do with me?” The child’s whiny voice rang out as she tried to pull her wrist from my grip.
“Well, let me see,” I grinned widely, as if to confirm all her fears. “The grandchild of my enemy... it will have to be something really horrible, the worst thing you can imagine. I can’t waste an opportunity like this!”
“What is wrong with you?!” The child continued to thrash about. I could understand her confusion. Before I had snatched her from the arms of her family of simpletons she had come to stop fearing me. She thought of me as an old friend of her family, someone to tease and trust instead of fear. Of course I had wanted her to think that way, and to let her guard down. She and Thomas both. Too naive, too trusting, and too nosy. It had all gone as planned. However, the child’s thrashing about was becoming dangerous as we began descending the stone steps to the Hall. She was going to slip and fall down them all if she wasn’t careful.
I squeezed her wrist sharply, making her stop and whimper. “Don’t get the wrong idea,” I said quietly, letting my voice become sinister. “This isn’t about you, brat. I kidnapped you for revenge. If you don’t behave, you’ll be punished, and while that aids my plan nicely, you won’t be doing your precious grandfather any bit of good.”
She shut her mouth, but met my eyes with a look as fierce as only a Bartlemead could give. I felt odd for a moment, torn between a bit of pride at her reaction and the reluctant thought that she’d be harder to deal with than I’d hoped. Why should I be proud? She wasn’t my granddaughter.
“Do you understand?” I asked her sternly, to round off my threat.
“Yes,” She said through gritted teeth.
“Good. Now mind your step, these stairs are steep.”
Jonathan opened the doors to the Great Hall for me, and I stepped through, flinging the child into an empty chair. “Sit,” I instructed. It was past dinnertime, so there were only a few stragglers in there, eating dessert and playing games before bed. “Cusac!” I called for my assistant. He wasn’t in the hall, but came rushing in behind me.
Cusac had been my assistant since before I was crowned king. Even in my adventurous days I’d never seen him surprised at anything I may have gotten into, but when he saw the human child his eyebrows shot up.
“Could you not get rid of it, your majesty?” he asked, as if she was a diseased ferret attached to my sleeve.
I laughed heartily. “This is the spoil of war. My perfect revenge, Cusac.”
He blinked. “Indeed?”
“It’s true. I stole her right in front of Bartlemead himself. Take her away, would you?” I sat down on my throne, looking forward to the peach pie that was still steaming on the table in front of it.
Cusac and the child looked at each other. “What do you want done with it-- with her, your majesty?”
I looked up. “Honestly, I hadn’t thought that far. Shall we put her with the others? No, she’d probably incite a rebellion. Well, maybe not,” I added, thinking aloud.
“Others?” The brat spoke up. “There are other human children here?”
“Quite a few,” Cusac said.
“Is this a habit of yours? Kidnapping children?” She looked at me reproachfully.
“If they didn’t want to be kidnapped, they should have listened to their mothers and not wandered off into the woods alone,” I declared, cutting into the peach pie with my knife. She sputtered, and Cusac began explaining the snatched children’s situation to her
The crust of the pie was neither doughy nor tough, but soft and flaky. The scent: that rare, perfect scent wafted up into my face. I had boasted at one point in my life that I had the best cooks in all the land, but even they had never been able to produce that particular level of deliciousness. Whenever they tried those human dishes there always seemed to be something missing. But I could never put my finger on it, and neither could they. I finished cutting out a wedge and bit into it. The peaches were hot, but not too hot, and while it was juicy, the filling didn’t drip onto my hands.
I looked back up at the child. “Were you the one who made this?”
“Yes, why?” Her eyes narrowed.
A grin made its way across my face, which was getting tired from all the unusual activity. “Cusac, put her in the kitchens. A well-locked room in the dorms should suit.”
“You brought me here so I could bake for you?!” Hands flew to hips.
“Sire, you know how the cook hates humans,” Cusac protested in an undertone.
“All the better!” I finished off the piece of pie and opened the drawer in the table in front of me that held parchment and quills. Pulling one out, I said, “This is the standard agreement for anyone who works in the kitchens.”
“I won’t sign anything,” she said.
“Not without your grandfather’s approval? It only says that you promise not to poison me.”
“Then why isn’t it shorter?” She pointed out. The document did take up most of the page.
“There are so many ways to poison.” I waved my hand. “Directly, indirectly, fermentation, persuasion, etc. No need to worry. It exists to protect you as well, and ensures you a day off now and then.”
“I won’t sign it,” She repeated.
“Then we’ll put you with the other children. It’s your loss.” I stood up.
“What do they do here?”
“Would you like to see? Let’s show her, Cusac.”
At that time, there were exactly thirty-six children under the mountain. All, as I had explained earlier, had wandered off into the wild alone (I’m not a complete monster). The Bartlemead girl, number thirty-seven, was the exception to this rule. When she saw the other children, happy and laughing while doing dishes and sweeping floors, her confusion grew.
“Did you bespell their minds away?”
“Nothing so drastic. They’re just enjoying themselves.” I handed her a particularly heavy broom. “Enjoy your new life as a servant! Come, Cusac.”
“You have no reason to keep me here! Let me go home!” she shouted.
I was getting really tired of her nagging voice. “I told you before, this isn’t about you. It’s about revenge on your grandfather. You’re stuck here until that old man comes and gets you or dies trying.”
“Why do you hate him so much? What did he ever do to you?” She demanded.
“Oh, did he never tell you that story? Funny that he never mentioned it!” I turned back and bent down to her puny height. “He stole my bride and ran off with her!”
Her mouth hung open in shock. “Grandma was...?”
“My betraying betrothed, my fickle fiancee, whatever you want to call her. Not quite the perfect people you thought they were, are they?” I marched out and let the door slam behind me, nice and loud.
WOW! Come back tomorrow to learn more of the Faery King's story. If you missed any of last week's story about the Faery King, check out the story "The Contract" which can be found on the Finished Story page.