Flash Friday 10/04/2015: Hard Bargain
There once was a king and a queen who ruled over a kingdom. They kept the people happy, and received gifts from the citizens. They both enjoyed their rule with their sons and daughters, until one day, the queen fell under a deathly illness. Not one of the king’s doctors could find a cure, and the king spent the days lamenting on his throne. One day, as he was walking the streets he ruled, he overheard a jolly bard singing a song:
I know a witch from far away,
Whose magic knows no end,
A dragon, ’tis no match for her,
And illness she can mend.
“Hail,” the king said to the bard. “I must seek your council as to this witch of yours. How may I speak to her?”
The bard gave a smile, and then sang:
The young witch Shalya comes when asked,
But heed this warning well,
Her payments rob you of your kin,
Don’t say I didn’t tell.
If you are brave enough to ask,
Say this three times at night;
‘I am in need of you, Shayla,
Please come with all your might’.
The king did not like the sound of the payment Shayla would ask, but he was desperate. That night, once everyone in the palace was sound asleep, the king stood beside his sleeping wife and uttered the magic words.
A column of black smoke appeared on the other side of the bed, manifesting itself into a witch. She was young and beautiful, and her eyes could snare the strongest of souls. She gave a smile to the king.
“Please, fair witch Shayla,” the king said. “Please heal my wife of her illness.”
The witch spoke:
Your wife will die in seven days,
But curing can be done,
But first, I need my payment due;
I want your firstborn son.
“My firstborn son is not available,” said the king.
The witch spoke:
Then leave your wife to die in pain,
For you refuse to pay,
Her soul will–
“No, I mean, he’s not available,” said the king.
The witch frowned. “What do you mean?”
“We had a really nasty troll come along just the other day, started smashing up some houses. I gave my firstborn son to a wandering wizard who took him as payment to get rid of the troll.”
“Oh. Well, that’s a bummer.”
“I, er…if it helps any, I have a firstborn daughter that you can have. Very nice, lovely blonde hair. Shines like the sun.”
The witch sucked air through her teeth. “Sorry. Firstborn daughters don’t go for nearly as much as sons. Not much I can do about that. It’s just how the market works. Exchange rates, that sort of thing.”
“Well…if you cut her hair short enough, she sort of looks like a male.”
Shayla placed her hands on her hips. “Oh, so it’s bloody forgery now, is it?”
“No, no, no. I was just checking to see if it’s alright.”
Both of them shared a silence.
“So, uh,” the king said. “How about secondborn son?”
Shayla scoffed. “Even less value than firstborn daughter.”
“Alright, alright. You can have the firstborn daughter, and secondborn son.”
“Daughter, son, and one-quarter of the kingdom.”
“One-half of the kingdom, no children.”
Shayla cocked an eyebrow. “Surely you need that for when someone kills a dragon? One-half of the kingdom, I mean.”
“Well, I mean, you can have one half, and any future dragonslayers can have the other bit.”
“But then you won’t have any kingdom to rule over, you daft oaf.”
“Oh.” The king sagged. “Yeah, right, that is a bit of a pickle. Tell you what; you can have half now, and when someone comes along in shining armour and a lizard’s head on a stick, you can have it Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and he can — no no no!”
Shayla ceased performing her teleportation spell. “Get me something good or I’m out.”
The king’s mind began to race. What on earth do you give a witch for a present? Surely a fancy wand with a star on the end wasn’t going to cut it, no matter how much glitter you put on it. What is it that a witch truly wanted?
“Tell you what. This is what I’ll do for you; I can’t pay you now, but when I have passed away and my heir takes to the throne, I will give permission that you can do one of those witchy things.”
Shayla frowned again. “What’s a ‘witchy thing’?”
“You know. New king off hunting, stumbled upon a fair maiden, falls in love with her and makes her his wife, ruling together as king and queen. And then you come in all jealous and rubbing your hands and the like, cast a spell on the queen, the king, the kingdom, whatever. Do all sorts of nasty stuff. Turn their kids into frogs, that sort of thing. Then there’s the quest to make everything right, and you’ll get up to no good, and it’ll all be a grand tale, really.”
“You’re allowing me to sow chaos into your future heir’s life?”
The king shrugged. “I’m sure he’ll see the funny side of it.”
“Will I get to kill anyone?”
“I mean, if you want. I hear all that stuff is all the rage these days. You know how many movies got made out of all that Grimm nonsense? It’s unbelievable, let me tell you.”
The witch nodded. “Very well, I accept. You will find your wife cured in the morning.”
“That’s it? She’ll be cured? No more rhyming prose?”
“Oh, bugger off.”
And then the witch vanished.
The next morning, the king awoke to find his wife healthy and able once more. And so, the pair of them lived happily ever after.
The king’s son got a broadsword for his birthday. He still doesn’t quite know why.