A few weeks ago I shared the first few scenes of Fealty, from my story collection Whips & Fangs. I’ve toyed with the idea of a sequel collection, and this draft is one of the stories that might go in it.
Don’t worry, you get the full story this time.
For one thousand years, our bargain has stood. Each decade a young man, the best the village has to offer. Each year the village prospers and the threats of the world are kept far distant.
But gone are the days when the proud youth come to me bedecked in their finery, speaking words of welcome while they clench their hands to hide the trembling. Gone even are the days when bold fools met me with steel and war cries, determined to not to submit until I beat them to their knees.
Instead I find this. This pathetic thing bound to posts like a common criminal. He will not even lift his head to meet my gaze.
My talons shred the ties at his wrists and he collapses into the marsh. Growling, I fish him out, and find it was not lack of will that kept his head bent. My would-be suitor is more than half dead.
With a roar I launch myself skywards. They shall pay, and pay and pay for this.
I have not entered the village in a hundred years or more, but little has changed. I set my ‘prize’ down in the village square. He coughs weakly and struggles to his knees. Screaming villagers and bellowing cows announce my presence.
“You could have ended our bargain at any time. Instead you insult me with this. Burn then!”
I take to the air again, and set flame to their tallest building. They flee, even their pathetic ‘guard’ dropping their weapons to run screaming for the fields. Let them run. For a thousand years their village has stood safe. When I am done there will be no village.
I circle, picking my next target. Movement, coming toward me. My would-be suitor crawls in my direction.
I start, air slipping from beneath my wings. I turn the loss into a landing, settling before him. Even over the roaring flames I hear his cough, deep and wet.
“Please.” He coughed again, “don’t.”
I lower my head until I can meet his eyes. He does not flinch.
“Please. They meant no harm.”
“Twice now, they have abandoned you to me. Why do you defend them?”
He drew a gasping breath. “I volunteered. If you have to- to make a meal of one of us, better it be me.”
“What!” I rear back and flare my wings, bruising them badly against the stone buildings. True some of my recent mates had made jokes about expecting to be eaten. But I took it as virgin nerves. I am rather lusty for my age. They had been joking…hadn’t they?
Hot rage bubbled up. They hadn’t. I could see it in the face of the man before me. He had come to me… his people had sent him to me… believing…
I howled, my flames spearing a mile into the air. For this, I would hunt them down and tear them to pieces. For this, I would roast them alive and feed them to the wild hogs. There is no punishment I can craft in a thousand, thousand years suited to these… these…
“Please.” His hand wrapped around my leg. “Whatever wrong we have done.” that cough again. “There are children, innocents.” He lost his voice in another paroxysm.
I dropped my head until his hair waved with each breath I took. “What will you offer me for their lives?”
He opened his mouth, closed it. His head dropped. “I have nothing. Only- only myself, but…”
But I had made my rejection of him clear. Perhaps I was not the only one who had suffered insult this day.
“Very well. Your life for theirs.”
He stared up at me, then slowly, painfully climbed to his feet.
I grinned. “I usually prefer my mates on their knees. But in this case I’ll make an exception.”
He swayed, and I don’t think it was just his weakness. “Mate?”
I took him carefully in my talons and leapt for the sky. “You have a great deal to learn. And after I get you to a proper healer, many years to learn it in. Don’t worry. I’ll be gentle.
“What is your name?”
“Ah… I’m George. Named for St–.”
“George. I like it.”
For some reason he alternated laughing and coughing the whole way home.
This is the end of Snippet Month. I hope you enjoyed my little bits of random weirdness. Next Tuesday we’ll return to How NOT to Save the World and the regular (in theory) schedule.