Telling Tales 76
The Fae Trap
It was the smells that drew the citizens of Chalm out of their sullen positions on the outskirts of the town square. The mayor of the town had forbidden anyone to talk to the foreigners. Then again, the people of Chalm barely managed to deal with one another, much less anyone from the outside world. Their second inclination would have been to drive them off and into the countryside, but the foreigners were obviously martially skilled.
The honor guard of seventeen enchanted warriors that accompanied the pile of dead skins. The weapons that lay in the hands of the dark man, the brown northerner, and strangest of the three, the small blond girl with a javelin. She carried herself as surely as any soldier in the service of the tsar the townspeople had ever seen, and her jokes… Her jokes… The least offensive one was overheard by the local priest, who repeated it in shock to every other person he encountered. “Can you believe it? Such a small child, and she asks, she says to the two warriors,” since none of the people could bring themselves to call her a warrior, “what do you call a crow with four eyes? And they don’t know the answer and she says, Happy! He’s having a feast! Do you understand? The crow has two eyes and it is eating the other eyes! Horrible!” Being the kind of people that they were, however, everyone laughed because it made the priest more uncomfortable. If they’d heard the girl tell the joke herself, they would have been properly shocked.
The serpent-man was obviously a fairy of some sort, because who didn’t know the story about the girl who’d married a snake and had a boy and a girl, only to turn herself and her children into birds after her mother murdered her husband. Everyone knew that story. Dealing with the fae was never advisable if at all possible, and where there was one there must be others, which explained the walkig dead skins and the enchanted guards. They even had an old servant, who bowed and nodded a great deal and often said, “Indeed, monsieur,” to the rough looking young man who seemed to lead the band.
It was that old man who procured the three mighty cauldrons from reluctant merchants, and the young man himself who placed them in the center of the square, lifting each as if it were nothing. A hot, dry wind blew in from nowhere. “Magic!” everyone swore to one another. Then the leather-clad northerner raised his bow high in the air and shot at nothing. Once, twice, ten times. He would pause after each shot and the dark man would disappear in a flurry of legs. No one had ever seen anyone that fast, and he didn’t even wear seven-league boots. In a trice he was back with a deer, a boar, a bear. Ten times, twenty times the hunter shot his arrow, and twenty times the runner vanished, only to return moments later with fresh game on his back.
The enchanted soldiers – where had the rest come from, there were so many now, nearly three hundred of them – sat carving and carving, positioned around the town as the young man and young woman – as fierce as he – made three cauldrons worth of stew.
Fresh meat. Vegetables – carrots and onions and potatoes and leeks, all bubbling away under a wind-fueled fire.
It was a fae trap. Of course it was. But hunger is strong and patient, and with time it will win out over caution, as every hunter knows.