Fay got a hearty slap across the face for being late with the food. It knocked her backward against the table, but Vervain, distracted by her own hunger, didn’t stay to administer any greater punishment. She just grabbed her food and went outside to eat at the booth.
Fay sat on the stool and rubbed her bruised cheek. She watched Vervain from inside and she called out to passers by in between taking hefty bites of her rye bread and cheese. Fay sighed. “I guess it’ll be water and crusts of bread for me for a while.”
“What took you so blooming long?” asked Bupkis gruffly. He brought a cool damp cloth over and pressed it to Fay’s face. “Vervain was about to have a fit.”
“Nah. I didn’t get lost. I met someone.”
Bupkis glowered. “You give ’em your name?”
“No, I . . .” Fay paused, suddenly remembering she had given someone her name. The hawk-eyed boy in the cage. But he couldn’t hurt her. At least, she didn’t think he could. “No, I didn’t,” she lied.
“I’m I met a lady called Granny Peg, and she said she’d read her stones for me, and . . .”
“Soothsayer?” he interrupted.
“You know. Seer. Fortune-teller. That type.”
Fay tilted her head, thinking. “Yeah. That's about right.”
“What’d you pay her?”
“Oh, I haven’t paid her yet, but I will. I got her to answer my question first, and . . .”
Bupkis sat up, the horns on his head sprouting into green leaves. One horn even had a small blooming flower on it. He grasped both of her hands in her own. “Did you ask her where my heart is? What did she tell you?”
Fay opened her mouth, shocked. “Well, I . . .”
“Just think. Just think, Fay. We’re going to be free.”
“I didn’t ask about the heart.”
Bupkis dropped her hands and stared at her. The petals on the tiny flower fell away, and one by one, each of the leaves on his horns withered to orange and fell to the floor. “You didn’t ask about the heart.”
“I’m sorry. She told me where my dad is. She said he serves the Queen in the castle by the lake. Do you know what that means?”
“What do I care what that means?” He stomped away from her.
“Don’t be angry, Bupkis. We can still find the heart. I just, well, it’s my papa. I came here looking for him and Granny Peg said she could tell me where he was, and all I could think about was papa.”
“And how,” said Bupkis,” do you expect to go looking for your papa, if your still bound to Vervain.”
Fay followed him across the room. “I’m sorry, but we’ll still find the heart. We will. I promise.”
Bupkis whirled around. “What do I want with your promises anyway?” He slammed the door, catching Fay’s fingers as he did so. Fay yelped and pulled her hand back. She thrust her throbbing fingertips into her mouth, and sucked on them, while trying to think of a way to make it up to him.
She spent the rest of the day avoiding Vervain’s irritation, while simultaneously trying to accomplish all her work. It wasn’t easy, especially since Bupkis kept tripping her up at every opportunity. Fay finally collapsed into the pile of blankets that served as her bed as the sun was setting. She wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and slip into sleep, but she had her end of a bargain to uphold.
Fay forced herself to sit up. She waited until the sun gave way to full dark, and it was likely Vervain and Bupkis were in bed. She slipped out of the room and up the spiral staircase. For being a tree, the house was full of rooms and full of junk. More rooms of more things than Vervain could possibly need. Fay was just grateful that she could put a few of them to use.
After gathering a pair of wire shears and a length of rope, she headed downstairs to the kitchen, where she stood in front of Vervain’s rows and rows of potions, each one with a different and unique purpose. Fay bit her lip. She stood on a box and pulled two bottles down, each in shades of grey, one with swirling white inside like a fog, another the color of steel.
Fay poured the steel colored potion over the blades of the shears, making them strong. Then put the bottle back on the shelf. She tucked the shears and the foggy bottle into her pocket and headed back upstairs. In her room, she tied the rope to the heavy base of a desk and dropped it out the window. She heard it thump softly against the ground below.
She shimmied through the window and out onto the branch. Then she began to climb down.
* * * *
Granny Peg sat at the loom, weaving strands of spider silk, strand by strand, into a large cloth. She’s been working Fay left her that morning. She still wasn’t sure the girl would act, but she couldn’t shake the sliver of hope that had struck her heart. At least the work soothed her.
When she finished the cloth was soft and supple and light as air. Carefully, so carefully, she stretched the woven fabric over the network of willow rods she had constructed. The entire contraption was lightweight and flexible. She folded it up and gentle stuffed it in a bag. She hoped she would get to use it tonight.
The spider stepped into the room. Granny Peg looked up. “Well let’s go then, and see what there is to see.”
They left the tent and stayed low to the ground as they made their way through the market. Although they were both quite small, neither wanted to draw attention as the found themselves opposite the Keepers Catch. Granny Peg and the spider settled into the shadows to wait.
Many, many creatures, fey, and humans were trapped in the cages, but Granny Peg could only focus on the large birdcage that held her two sons. It seemed only yesterday they were tiny and swaddled to her back. Her heart ached for them.
Granny Peg swallowed away tears. “She’s not going to come. Only a fool would go against the Keepers.”
The spider’s mandibles twitched.
“What are you on about? I don’t . . .”
The spider pointed to a dark spot in front of one of the cages. Granny Peg squinted her eyes and finally saw her. The girl was using some sort of no-look-see spell that made it hard to look right at her. “Well, what do you know. She’s a clever girl after all.”
* * * *
Fay slipped through the night shadows toward the birdcage Granny Peg had pointed out earlier that day. “Set my two sons free,” Granny Peg had said, “and I’ll tell you how to find your father.” So here she was, going slow despite effects Vervain’s potion. Though Fay wasn’t haven’t much trouble going unseen. The stall was quiet and if she stood perfectly still, she could hear snoring come from the hairy giant man, who was collapsed awkwardly into a chair and fully asleep instead of standing guard.
The birdcage with the two men, tiny as Granny Peg, was sitting on top of a larger cage. Fay brought out the wire shears and reached up, hoping the lock was as flimsy as it looked.
It fell away with one solid snick of the shears. Fay silently opened the cage door and helped the two men to the ground. “Thank you,” said one of the men, in a voice hardly above a whisper.
Fay pressed her finger to her lips and started to follow them out of the stall. Then stopped. All around her were cages, so many cages, and none of them whether animal, human, or fey deserved to be anyone’s pet. Without thinking, Fay stepped up to another cage.
“What are you doing?” whispered a little man. “Run! We need to run!”
She snapped the lock, releasing an amber colored stag, which leaped over the heads of the two men and into the market. Fay moved on to the next cage, letting loose a mossy creature composed of rocks. Each thud of its step made her cringe, but she simply moved on to the next cage.
Granny Peg’s mouth hung open as she watched Fay move from cage to cage to cage, opening one after another, setting the occupants free. “She’s, she’s mad that’s what she is.”
The spider moved forward toward the stall, mandibles working all the way.
“Don’t defend her,” hissed Granny Peg. “Doesn’t she know who she’s dealing with?!”
Fay reached the cage of humans and halflings. She cut the lock quickly and threw open the door. “You can go, run while you can.” Most of the humans just stared despondently back at her and made no motion to move. Fay wanted to help them, but knew they didn’t have much time. “Alright then. I’ll just leave it open.”
When she cut the lock on the next cage, she was nearly knocked over as the leopard inside threw itself against the door. Fay pulled herself off the ground and looked up just in time to see a streak of spots flying across the stall. Not running, but heading straight for the large hairy man.
“Oh, no,” said Fay. “Oh, hell.”
The leopard’s face twisted into a snarl and it leapt into the air claws distended. The giant hairy man barely had a chance to open his eyes, before the cat was on him. He erupted into screams that certainly woke the rest of the guards and probably every tent in the near vicinity.
* * * *
[To read more Fay Fairburn stories click here.]