Stamps Bonus Story
Fifty years after Year Five of the Addergoole School, early Autumn, the Finger Lakes Region of what was once New York State
Only in the most private depths of his mind, and only on the days when his humor was particularly dark, did Jamian think of himself that way. Saying it out loud would, at best, get him and his little family “an invitation to the world;” at worst it would find them all crucified with hawthorn and rowan and, just for good measure, a bit of cold iron. Side effects of the war: they’d taught the humans how to kill them, and how to hate them.
No matter how well he hid his horns and tail and his dark humor, he was still a faerie. Nothing could change that. People he knew had tried, after the war, but no amount of Working would turn an Ellehemaei, even a Faded, into a true human.
He could, of course, not be a cobbler. There were a number of jobs he’d be more suited for, and, in the decades since the war, he’d tried most of them. Genetics be damned, he – or she – made a lousy prostitute. On the other hand, he made a very good sheep and goat herder. The beasts seemed to recognize some sort of kinship. Maybe they could see his horns through his Mask.
Being a cobbler pleased him. It was painstaking, physical work that took a lot of concentration to do well; it was necessary work – everyone needed shoes, if only for the winter months, and pre-war shoes had not, as a rule, been built to last; and it was work that, when done well, was well-appreciated by his customers. And, Daeva at the core, Jamian liked to be well-appreciated.
The light was fading as he finished the last stitches on his current project. He set them aside with a small, proud smile – Abby Denton would be happy with her commission, and a happy Mrs. Denton meant more and better eggs from the Dentons’ prize-laying chickens.
He put away his tools, inclined, as always, to leave them sitting where they lay. They were hard to replace, though, and they’d had their share of thieves and looters at their little commune over the years, so he put everything back in its locked case.
The sun was glowing red over the hills by the time he locked up his workshop. He frowned at the lovely sunset. Dagny should have been home from the market before the sky started getting dark. The Rangers had cleaned up the roads a lot, but they still weren’t very safe after dark.
He should have gone with her. He’d thought about it, but he’d had Abby Denton’s boots to finish, and Dagny was quite insistent that she was old enough to handle a simple trip to the market.
She was right, of course. If there’d been an Ellehemaei society left to do so, she would have been named an Adult by them years ago. Since there wasn’t – there weren’t enough full-blooded Ellehemaei left to man a baseball team, or if there were, they were all deep in hiding, deeper than Jamian himself – Jamian, Vi, and Cay had done the honors. His daughter was a fully capable adult, and, since she’d been born to this world, more comfortable in it than many people twice her age.
She was, however, still his daughter, and she was late. He grabbed his axe and hung it off his belt and started walking towards the edge of the compound. If everything was going fine and she was just running late, she could frown and fuss at him all she wanted. If something had come up, he’d deal with it.
From the front entrance to the compound, he could see almost a mile down the road and to either side of the road for fifty feet. There was nothing out there but a lone, hungry-looking coyote, sitting forlornly at the edge of the tree line. He frowned at the empty road. He should have gone with her. She wasn’t nearly as invulnerable as she thought she was.
The skeleton of the last man to mess with Dagny rattled its grim warning against the heavy steel gate as Jamian swung it open, bony heels kicking in a parody of death throes. Vi had nailed the bastard there when he was still sort of breathing; Cay had painstakingly wired the bones together when they began to fall apart. Some of the townspeople had muttered, but Vi had been short and sharp with them. “People who hurt my family are punished by my laws,” he’d said, and such was the presence of the man that no-one had presented another word of argument. And, while the man rotted and dried there, people had been very carefully chivalrous with Dagny and the other girls.
Still, a stranger wouldn’t have heard the story; it was old news now. A stranger might just be looking for an easy target. He thudded the gate firmly shut and began walking down the road.
He wasn’t running. She was probably fine, just a little late, stopped to dicker over some silly little thing. She wouldn’t be pleased if her dad was coming running to her rescue if nothing was wrong. He was, however, striding quickly.
“Dad!” Shadowed by the giant old oak – the one obstruction that none of them had been willing to chop down – she saw him before he saw her. He hurried to catch up with her, and then picked up speed again as he saw she wasn’t alone. She was walking the trike, rather than riding it; the person with her was limping, dragging his left leg heavily.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said as he came closer. “I, uh…” He couldn’t tell if she was blushing in the red of the sunset, but she sounded suddenly twelve again. “My purchases sort of slowed me down.”
Purchases? He took another look at the man standing next to her, who was very carefully not looking directly at him.
“I didn’t know the Teaburg market dealt in slaves,” he frowned. That was one part of Ellehemaei society he’d been more than happy to leave behind.
“They weren’t, up until this month. It’s a new trader coming through, but I’m surprised the village elders let him set up shop. Maybe Uncle Vi should have a talk with them?”
“‘Uncle Vi?’” Her purchase - call him her companion, it grated less – looked over at her. “As in Yngvi the Priss? Tall blonde guy, immaculate in the middle of a firestorm, aristocratic nose up in the air, great guy despite all that?” He seemed to realize he’d been rambling and looked back at the ground. “Um… sorry.”
“No worries,” Dagny replied distractedly. “But I think you’re thinking of someone else.”
“No,” Jamian said slowly, looking more intently at the man. His Mask was perfect; even someone looking for the fae beneath the human would be hard-put to see the tiny tell-tale glimmer. But it was the same Mask he’d worn fifty years ago. “He’s talking about your Uncle Vi. Just a much younger Vi than the one you know.”
“I can’t imagine Uncle Vi ever being prissy. Or immaculate, for that matter.”
“Long ago. We went to school together.” He watched her companion thoughtfully. “What are you doing wearing a slave collar, Melchior?”
The man looked up at him, startled, and studied his face. “You went to school with Vi and me?” He squinted, looking at him. “I thought all the alum that survived were at the Village. But you’re here, and Vi here...” He frowned. “Jame’? Shit, you grew a beard! What did you do that for?”
Melchior, he remembered, had always been a little unhealthily fond of him. “Let’s get inside the compound,” he suggested, rather than answering, “and then we can talk about what you’re doing wearing that thing.”
“And about Uncle Vi being prissy and immaculate,” Dagny chimed in. “I want to know all about that.”
As they walked together towards the gate, Jamian noted that Melchior’s limp was slowly worsening. The little goblin was doing his best to hide it, but his leg was clearly giving him trouble.
“Mel…” he began.
“Don’t ask,” his daughter interrupted tightly. “It will just make you want to kill someone, and I don’t think that’s wise right now.”
“Later. When we’re within our own walls.” As much as he knew she was an adult, it still startled him when she spoke to him like that. She sounded firm, competent, and entirely in charge... she sounded like her mother.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied faux-meekly, dodging the lighthearted punch she threw at him. “You should be nicer to your old man, ma’am.”
“If you were old, I might be,” she countered, “but you’re just an overgrown 12-year-old.”
“You’ve found me out,” he laughed.
“Jame’…” Melchior was staring at the front gate, at the skeleton.
“Don’t ask,” Jamian echoed his daughter.
“If it helps,” Dagny offered, “he deserved worse than we gave him.” She sounded cheerful; Jamian wondered if the goblin was bright enough to hear the jagged edges behind her bright voice.
“That’s iron,” Melchior commented blandly. Jamian glanced at the skeleton; backlit by the setting sun, it was eerily shadowed, but the nail through the skull, and the long rust stain running down the face like a smear of blood, were still clearly visible.
“Yep, it is,” he agreed, just as blandly.
“Was that a fae, then?”
“The iron killed him,” Jamian shrugged lazily. They weren’t behind the compound’s walls yet. He hoped Melchior was as bright as he remembered him being, or at least better at self-preservation than he seemed.
“I imagine a nail through your skull would kill most humans, too.”
“Probably.” He hoped he wasn’t going to have to shut the other man up. He’d always kind of liked him. “But we figured, hey, it never hurts to be certain.” He unlocked the gate and swung it open. “Welcome to our home. Come on in, if you don’t mean any harm.” Even that much was risky, with the gate still open, but it would be worse, letting in an Ellehemaei of uncertain loyalties.
“I mean no harm to those who live here.” He limped heavily inside, and helped Jamian shove the gate shut. He looked around for a moment, getting the lay of the land, and then, awkwardly, and clearly with a great deal of pain, dropped to his knees in front of Jamian.
“I Belong to you,” he began. Behind him, Dagny’s mouth fell open, and she stared at the two of them in horror and shock. “I come to you with nothing but myself, and give into your care everything that I am.”
Jamian held up his hand, stopping him. “How much did you pay for him?”
Dagny blinked. “Oh! Um, one of Cay’s carvings – the crane – and two pairs of boots.”
“Not the dragon skin?”
“Fuck, no. The smaller pair went to the Thomas’ oldest daughter, and the bigger pair I’ve still got. No, the normal leather ones. Oh, and a loaf of Gini’s bread. Dad…?””
“Thanks.” Jamian calculated the costs in his head, ignoring the razor-sharp glare aimed his way. He missed money. Maybe in another decade, someone more clever than he was could figure out a system that worked again, more reliable than the Denton’s eggs or Gini’s bread. “For the next year and a day, Melchior Slit-Fang, you Belong to me. You come to me with nothing but your self, and I will provide all that you need.”
Melchior’s eyes were wide, but he nodded. “For the next year and one day, I Belong to you. Jame’, thank you.”
“Don’t thank me.” He found it was already making him uncomfortable. “We didn’t pay for more than that.” He sighed down at the kneeling goblin, and offered him an arm. “You’d better stand up -” he could already see his peaceful life as a cobbler fading into the past “- and tell me what Regine’s up to.”
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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