Actions

Work Header

A Ballad of the Moon and the Sun

Chapter Text

Cover art by Jay Mooers

The region of Kent, England has been inhabited for centuries. A quarry in Swanscombe was once mined in the Paleolithic era by ancient humans, their weapons made of stone. The Megway megaliths still stand today, monuments proving that even the most primitive can leave their impressive mark. The Regnenses, a powerful Celtic tribe, ruled the region farming the land and raising their livestock until the Romans invaded bringing with them new technologies advancing civilization there to a new degree. The Jutes, the Vikings, the Normans all came for the lush and fertile land. A squash of people, mixing, building, thriving, forming cities and ports, harbors and naval military stations. All necessary for residents of Kent to trade their hops, apples, plums, apricots, pears and whatever domesticated livestock they produced. The Garden of England made sure their assets were well protected and any natural predators destroyed.

All this was irrelevant though to a flock of sheep grazing in a meadow adjacent a cliff on the southern seaside. Two collies watched their charges with eager eyes waiting for their master to finish eating his quaint lunch of thick, chewy bread and ripened, hard cheese. He sat just over a small ridge under a large, loan oak tree in which a single thrush watched for dropped crumbs.

Bred for their fleece and guarded fiercely by their watchers, the sheep grazed in peace on the fresh, green, summer clover. There was a sweetness in the breeze stemming from the water just over the cliff side, and the sun shone brightly bathing the earth in yellow and orange, the rays unhindered by clouds. The ovines had absolutely nothing to fear, especially a particularly plump ewe, gorged on grass lying fat and happy at the center of the herd.

A rash wind swelled up over the cliff giving a flock of egrets reason to startle. They alighted as two, splitting rapidly down the center escaping to either side in a panic.

The fat ewe didn't even blink an eye in all the avian ruckus. Why would she? Her hounds where calm, panting merrily and ever vigilant on the peripherie. Her herd was around her keeping watch on the perimeter. She didn't even feel the large talons sink into her body and pierce her heart when she took her last breath.

The shepard finished his meal and returned to a chorus of bleating, his flock scattered, his hounds cowered and whimpering in a spot of heather next to the stone wall meant to separate grazing fields. He counted the herd thrice over to be sure - a task that proved a study in frustration as the sheep were panicked and flighty. There were sixty-seven when he had moved them this morning from the lower pasture and now only sixty-six remained. He found no blood nor body parts despite having scoured the entire field. Even feral dogs weren't that clean.

By dusk he'd managed the skittish sheep back into some semblance of a flock - no thanks to his dogs, still too afraid to return to the field - when he saw the most peculiar thing. Upon a flat stone next to the wrappings from his meager lunch lie a chunk of gold. It wasn't ore but pure metal, though in the oddest of shapes as if it'd sprang directly from the smelter. It was warm to the touch, sending a suspicious shiver down the shepard's spine. He wasn't a superstitious man - god-fearing and church-going, but he couldn't help remembering stories his grandmother told him of faeries and sprites and magical creatures. In some of them they offered you treasures but demanded something greater in return. A thumb. Your first born child. A part of your soul. The shepard placed the gold back on the stone.

He looked up to the sky seeing not a cloud in sight. The fae folk preferred the mists and the moors and the sprites felt safest in the deepest of forests - at least in the stories. What creature would be daring enough to prowl the English seaside in the broadest of daylight?

A strange feeling came over the shepard as if a powerful, dangerous presence were watching him. He wanted to run, should have too, but his feet seemed fixed to the ground.

It began as a whisper in the background of his thoughts, lapping at him like the waves swashing on the beach in the distant below.

"Take your payment it," it said.

Louder and louder it became, not in sound but rather in its demand. "Take it," it said over and over.

The shepard couldn't ignore it, he couldn't resist it. He snatched the gold and shoved it in his pocket with a trembling hand. He grabbed his herding stick and whistled to his dogs which gladly followed him as he scrambled over the stone wall and strode in the direction of home.

May luck be with his sheep that night.

His wife enjoyed a new tea set, replacing the old chipped one. His children pranced about in their new thick-soled shoes and everyone savored the yeast cake with fruit baked now every Sunday as the family could afford a large sack of sugar.

When they asked where he had acquired the funds for such extravagance, he simply shrugged his shoulders and mentioned they'd had a good year.

Some things are simply best left unexplained.