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Gilded Shadows

A farmer(ette?) struggles with lack of feed for her animals in the winter and help is offered from an unlikely visitor.
  1. Lorna shivered despite her heavy coat, her breath misting in the air before her as she left the empty loft and re-entered the barn. She was met by the sight of eight emaciated cows and ten stalls.

    “Going to have to put you all down at this rate.” She muttered, rubbing her hands together in an effort to keep them warm. “The rest of you won’t make it through winter.”

    She rubbed Ruby’s nose, the heifer was freezing.

    Lorna quickly grabbed the nearest blanket which happened to be sitting on a large rock veined with gold. She scowled at it.

    “A lot of good you’ve done me. Breaking my plow by showing up in my field.” She continued to grumble as she put the blanket over Ruby. “Followed by a bad crop. Cursed is what you are. I’d cart you back to town if that would do me any good. But I’m not leaving my cows for a week just so I can trade you for a passel of gold diggers.”

    Lorna sighed as she rubbed Ruby’s head, the heifer looked up at her with dark eyes that seemed to be pleading with her as she looked at the empty trough.

    “I’m sorry,” Lorna whispered, “There isn’t any more.” For them at least, she’d resorted to hunting for herself and-

    There was a frightened yelp outside before Timor scrambled in. The large two-headed dog had his tail between his legs and hid in an empty stall.

    “Oh, great, now the blasted guard dog won’t do his job. If you’re running from another cat again, I’m going to lose it.” Lorna said irritably, it was bad enough she was going to lose the herd. What other misery did she have to deal with?

    Timor just whimpered.

    Lorna stalked outside, picking up a pitchfork on her way out. But she froze, fingers tightening around the wooden handle when she saw what had frightened Timor. A man stood outside the barn. He was the colour of ebony, skin, hair, and thick clothes all the same shade, though his eyes were a dark crystalline blue. It was almost as if he had switched colours with his shadow, as the shadow had dusky skin, dark hair, and clothes in muted browns and greens, with eyes of solid black. A Fae.

    “What do you want?” Lorna demanded the unease that she had felt upon seeing him growing.

    “There was a sigh on the wind. Perhaps there is some matter yet to be resolved?”

    The Fae said, watching the pitchfork warily.

    Lorna hesitated, adjusting her grip on her weapon. “What do you want?”

    “Ah… the human does not trust me.” The Fae lamented towards the sky as if he was speaking to the sun. “I ask if there was a need and she asks if there is a want.”

    “You want to help me?” Lorna asked cautiously, Fae were notorious for twisting their words.

    “Is there a need?”

    Lorna decided she didn’t trust him, “Unless you know how to turn gold into straw I suggest you beat it.”

    “Gold into straw…” The Fae cocked his head.

    He was actually considering it?

    “There is a price,” The Fae said, eyes gleaming.

    “And what would that be?”

    The Fae smiled, “Your cows are starving and you have nothing with which to feed them. Soon they will enter Death’s cold embrace. What are they worth to you?”

    Lorna put aside her questions as to how he had known that. It was obviously some form of Fae sorcery. She bit her lip as she considered. Giving up the farm was out of the question, but what else was there?

    She hesitated, it wasn’t like there was any family around to care, “What about the family heirlooms?”

    “Interesting, but not enough,” The Fae purred, eyes gleaming.

    Oh right, Fae had a thing for wanting first-borns. “I don’t have any children so how about my first-born...”

    “No!” The Fae said vehemently. “What is it with you humans and offering your children as collateral? Are you all insane? What in the name of shadows would I want your children for?”

    “...cow.” Lorna finished.

    The Fae looked startled, “What?”

    “I’m offering my first-born cow. I wouldn’t give you my children if I had any.”

    The Fae cocked his head for a brief moment before a wide grin spread across his face, revealing black teeth though his shadow claimed they were white. “Very well, I will accept your first-born cow in return for changing your gold to straw. Are we in an agreement, miss…?”

    “I’m not getting turned into a Fae slave,” Lorna said shortly.

    “Are we in agreement?” The Fae asked with a grin that made her uneasy.

    Lorna hesitated then nodded, “Yes.”

    “Brilliant,” The Fae said, “Having given no name you are now my servant by contract.”

    “Wait, what? What contract?” Lorna demanded even as she felt herself bound to the Fae though there was no visible cord.

    “You agreed to the terms but gave no name. Breaking the contract results in mandatory servitude.”

    Lorna edged forward with the pitchfork, holding the end of it towards the Fae. “Whatever you did, stop it.”

    The Fae took a hasty step back, “Keep that away from me.”

    Lorna found herself unable to do otherwise.

    The Fae then let out a bored sigh as if nothing had happened, “By rote, servants may guess their master’s name thrice only. Upon accuracy, they are freed.”

    “And just how do you expect me to do that?”

    “I will give you a riddle. Solve it and we continue as before. Now put down the pitchfork and keep all metal away from me.”

    “Do I have a choice?” Lorna snapped, putting down the pitchfork against her will.

    “Do you want to be my servant?”

    “Fine, I agree.” Lorna grumbled.

    The Fae responded with a riddle.

    A clever wit and harsher call
    The colour of starless night
    An omen to take flight
    Wooden men stand in fields
    Deterring approaching murder
    Who am I?

    “I will repeat it once for each guess. You have three. Don’t be all day about it. I’m not eager to wait in the cold for much longer.”

    Lorna sighed and thought through the riddle. She had missed the first part in his abruptness, “Deputy?”

    He repeated the riddle as an answer.

    This time Lorna paid better attention. She hesitated, could it be Death or... “Raven?”

    Once again the Fae repeated the riddle.

    Lorna thought harder this time, pacing back and forth in the snow. She couldn’t end up as a servant to the Fae. She wouldn’t. But what was she supposed to guess? Death could fit… But that couldn’t possibly be his name. She glanced at the Fae’s knowing smirk. She was overthinking this. Approaching murder. Oh, she was such a...

    “It’s Crow.” She said flatly.

    A smile crossed his face once more. Her heart sank.

    “Correct,” The Fae said, “To you, my name is Crow.”

    “Wait,” Lorna demanded, even as she felt the binding vanish, “That’s not your real name? You tricked me?”

    “My true name is forbidden and therefore not required. However, I still need your name if our contract is to be met and I do believe it is a human custom to trade names.”

    Lorna grumbled but decided it was pointless to argue. “Fine, my name’s Lorna.”

    “Perfect,” The Crow said with a wide grin. “Now that the contract is valid and you are no longer my servant. Where is the gold?”

    “In the barn,” Lorna said, and though she didn’t pick up the pitchfork again, she didn’t bother leaving the door wide enough for him to follow without having to open it himself. There was an irritated sigh as Crow shunned the metal handle and pushed the door open. She pointed towards the large gold-veined stone. “Now turn it into straw.”

    Crow slipped over to the stone and carefully maneuvered his hands around the veins until he had a good grip on it. Once he did, it turned black like himself. Crow then vanished, laughing.


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