Fog was in the air. Fog and frost that blossomed out with every exhaled breath from Jamie’s lips. Her mother, Terry, took her hand while her stepdad Michael locked the car. “C’mon, kiddo,” said Terry, fresh roses in her cheeks. “It’s time for the Revels.”
Once upon a time, at the coldest and darkest time of year, the people would huddle to celebrate making it halfway through the dark and the cold… with stories. Sometimes they gathered in a circle of tall stones. Sometimes it was in a great hall filled with bright hearths and strong mead. Lately it was huddled around a flat window with wires in, spinning yarns about magic snowmen or Santa Claus.
The Winter Revels were an old way. The stories came to you. Songs and dances, jokes and japes, and stories. Solstice miracles, bits with a dragon, knights and fools, and Lords and Ladies. It was magic.
Not all magic was Good.
Not long after the old gods had died of starvation, the Others looked to man with confusion and alarm. “Don’t they know?” they asked each other. “Don’t they know they’ve left themselves open to us?” Not a one had an answer. So the Others obliged themselves.
The Revels gave the Fae a chance to walk among man without the man’s fear. If they covered their golden scales with tin, and dressed up their watery locks in silly wigs, and adorned their pointed noses and ears and chins with wax and paint, then Why, it was just a grand show!
Jamie, Terry, and Michael sat on a bench that was a glorified, planed log. There was a bonfire going. It burned long before they’d arrived, and would burn long after they were gone. There were other families, other couples, all in concentric circles about the flames. They huddled close to each other. The cold snap had come out of nowhere, along with the fog, and the Revelers.
They’d noticed something curious about the mortals. They spent words and deeds idly. They said things they didn’t mean, and they didn’t notice, and they didn’t care.
But the Fae cared. They cared very much. A man’s word was his bond… and his bondage; whether or not he knew what he was doing. Show business was the perfect snare.
The humans had something they called ‘suspension of disbelief’. If they sat still and read a book or watched events they knew to be false, they could still invest in them emotionally– as if they were really happening. They could care when it didn’t matter.
The Fae found this too enticing a treat to pass up, and therefor made no attempt to do so. The Revels began.
They’d strewn branches from the Other Side onto the fire, that sparkled as it burned. It made the humans ooooh and aahhh to watch it. The smoke wafted through them, and their senses came alive.
The songs were cheerful and gay, so long as you didn’t pay too close attention to the lyrics. They got volunteers to join them in a dance around the fire, and the parents were only too happy to offer up their children to go ring around the blaze. The singing went on.
The songs wound down, and the pageantry took their place. Too-Tall Lords and Too-Thin Ladies capered back and forth in a silly medieval pantomime. The Lady drank something she shouldn’t have, and fainted dead away. Off to the side, a goblin with very little make up on chortled with greed.
“Who will help us?” asked the Too-Tall Man. “The Goblin has us vexed!” Jamie needed no further prompting than that. Her little hand shot into the air.
“I’ll help, I’ll help you get un-vexed!” she said. Her parents grinned and nuzzled, proud of their little girl. She raced up to the Too-Tall Man and knelt beside the Too-Thin Lady. “What does she need?”
Time. The word wasn’t so much said, as it simply appeared in the girl’s mind. And the minds of her parents, and every other mortal ’round the fire. She needs time.
A minute will help, an hour could save,
a week or a month or a year from the grave.
The words flitted through the frosty air like whispers, though no one had said them aloud.
“I’ll give it!” Jamie cried. “She can have a minute! Or an hour, or whatever would help!”
Whenever the marks went for it with such zeal… the Lord always had to bite his lip. Too easy. The Too-Tall Lord looked to the girl’s parents. “Do we have an accord?”
The parents were rapt, enthralled. They didn’t hesitate. “Yes, yes!”
The Goblin put his great green foot down. “Bah,” he said, filling the circle with his bloat. “One little token. A trifle. Not enough to gain her back.”
The Lord pretended to tremble, playing his part. “Who will help? Who will share what the girl’s shared? A cost defrayed is a bargain made! Clap if you believe!”
They broke into enthusiastic applause, of course. The air was thick with the clatter, like dragonfly buzzing, like rain falling in fat drops on thirsty ground, like fools signing their lives away.
The Goblin feigned frustration in his defeat. He stomped the ground, vanishing in a slow sizzle, leaving only smoke and echoing disappointment.
The Too-Thin Lady sat up, false tears of gratitude on her cheeks. The Too-Tall Lord took her hand and raised her up. “Thank you all so very much. Our transaction is ended.”
He bowed low. A bang and a flash and a puff of smoke, and the show was over.
The mortals looked to each other. “Well! That was abrupt,” they said. And so it was.
The Fae had no patience, or interest in their food once it was et. They didn’t linger, nor had any need to.
Jamie, Terry, and Michael walked away to their car, dizzy. They couldn’t be sure what had happened. The whole night had been lost in a haze of fog. But we’d had fun, they thought. That was the important thing.
What happened next, to them and those who took part in the applause… is not fit to commit to words. Leave it be that a lesson was learned… if only to your profit, and not to theirs.