NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2016 (Challenge 2, Group 3 – fantasy/cotton plantation/mustard)
Tarjon, the Dwarf Lord, was having a bad day. Several days earlier, his entire legion of faerie slaves had escaped.
The witch who stood before him did nothing to disguise her distaste for Tarjon’s lair. She wrinkled her nose and hugged her arms close to her body, avoided touching anything.
“We will continue this conversation aboveground,” she intoned.
Tarjon looked around. His throneroom was the pride of his existence, the place he took his meals, his entertainment, and his pleasure with the creatures he was able to lure – or drag – there. It was the place he liked to spend most of his time, when he wasn’t carousing in the brewroom.
“I want to stay here! It’s almost time for my dinner!” His voice cracked with frustration. Most of the dwarves were, on his orders, hunting above ground for any sign of the escapees. For the last few days, his meals had been a haphazard mishmash of whatever his elderly, addled servant Hap was able to cobble together from the dwindling supplies in the kitchens.
“Take your dinner in the fields. I cannot abide this room.” She turned in place and disappeared.
“Aauuugh!” Tarjon exclaimed, rolling his blue eyes and raking greasy fingers through his shaggy brown hair. Heaving himself from the throne, he kicked at a smelly lump of rubbish on the floor and screamed at Hap to deliver his meal aboveground.
“Happily, happily!” crowed Hap. ‘Happily’ was the only word Hap knew.
Tarjon stomped up. Squinting against the sunlight, he made his way to the oak tree where the witch sat waiting.
He hated it up here, especially during the day. The fresh air taxed his lungs, and the incessant chattering of birds, insects and rodents were best slept through.
Dwarves were usually nocturnal.
He could tell from the silvery puffs forming on the plants in the field that the time of harvest was nearly at hand. Without a cotton crop to sell to the nearby villagers, how would Tarjon obtain the human delicacies to which he had grown accustomed? His mouth watered as he thought of the baked breads, rich meats, fantastic jellies and sauces.
Having gained the skill of mining, the humans no longer needed the dwarves to harvest precious gems and metals. The faerie-grown cotton, though, could be woven into magnificent cloth: airy and light yet strong and waterproof.
Without it, he would have nothing to barter with. Tarjon allowed himself a measure of self-pity before settling down on the ground next to the witch.
“So, what do we do?” he snapped. “How do we get them back?”
The witch took a deep, calming breath. It appeared as though her allegiance with the dwarves was coming to an end, and she was quite relieved.
Somehow, the disgusting little creature had broken the spell.
“First I must know how they were able to leave. What did you do?”
Tarjon looked uncomfortable. “Nothing. I did nothing.”
The witch sighed. “The only way the faeries could escape en masse would be if you, in some way, severed the connection to the lynchpyn. The first one upon whom I laid the spell. Do you recall her?”
Tarjon recalled. Ten years earlier, when he had finally managed to capture one of the wee folk, his intense joy was tempered by the knowledge that she would escape at the first opportunity.
So he’d called in a favor owed to the dwarves by the Ancient One now in front of him. A favor that his father, and his father’s father, and on up for many generations, had never called in. They’d been waiting for something important enough to warrant it.
Well, breakdown of trade with the humans was important enough. The other dwarves would return to the old ways, but Tarjon couldn’t live on the slimy algae and eyeless fish that had kept them alive for millennia.
He wanted steak.
The witch had cast a spell over the faerie; one that linked her to Tarjon, and to the land above his lair.
“She cannot survive under the ground as you do, nor can she thrive without a purpose. Give her a crop to tend, and the product of that crop will be something the humans treasure.” She’d given him a leather pouch of tiny seeds that he’d tossed at the faerie before retreating to his throneroom for his daily hibernation.
By the next full moon, the faerie had tilled a large field and germinated the seeds. Tarjon had captured several more faeries by then, and the witch tethered them to the same spell that held the original faerie captive.
So it had gone, over the years, until hundreds of the winged creatures tended the fields above Tarjon’s lair. They refused to breed in captivity, but as they were immortal, this was no problem.
The witch gazed into Tarjon’s eyes. He found himself pinned in place, unable to move. She scoured his memory, finding it bleary with drink and difficult to interpret. She found the scene she was looking for.
Tarjon, stumbling from the brewroom at daybreak. Making his way to the mouth of the cave, spying a glint of golden wings, a shimmering stab of drunken lust leading him to snatch the creature from the air and make his way back to his filthy lair with it, to see what it could do. A third his size and with none of his brute strength, it could not hope to resist.
The faeries were immortal, but that did not mean they couldn’t be killed.
The Ancient One released Tarjon with a gasp, just as Hap tottered over.
Tarjon, cowering with shame, turned to the old dwarf and saw on his platter the last green-tinged steak, smeared with streaks of brown mustard.
“How could I?” murmured Tarjon, picking up the steak with a grimy hand and cramming an edge into his mouth. Hap patted him on the head.
“Happily,” he said, before returning to the comforting darkness of the cave.