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Mistreatment

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The fairy hunting party had gathered in a sand pit not far from the forest’s edge. Not as close as the goblins would have liked, but close enough. Bog left the others behind in hiding in the washed out bank of a now almost dry rill, going to scout out the situation himself, because his wings gave him the best chance of getting away if discovered. The fairies had covered most of the pit with carpets and blankets. Apart from the path they had come by, grass and some other plants stood tall, which might give the place a secluded air, if you were not used to the nooks and shadows of the forest.

Bog moved slowly, using the tufts of grass for cover and observed.

The only one who tried to be on guard was a male in obnoxiously shiny, green armour, however he was being distracted by two women.

When Bog got close enough to make out their words, the older one addressed the armoured guard. “Such a shame you couldn’t take part in the hunt. I’m sure you would have brought home an impressive trophy.”

“Too kind, my lady. But someone needs to watch out for stray goblins. We wouldn’t want anyone who did not volunteer a risk to get hurt.”

A high giggle from the younger woman stung Bog’s ears. “Don’t be so modest, Roland, I see your sparring quite often.” The girl attached herself to the knight’s arm. He patted her hand and looked at the grass briefly before giving her his attention.

The other other fairies were mostly standing or lounging or sitting on the higher side of the pit. They did not spare much attention for the dead.

The bodies were laid out to one side of the pit, sorted by species and size, all turned so they lay on their left sides. Sprigs of lavender blossoms lay close by, nearly covering the stink of death.

Bog kept breathing and wrenched his attention away from them. They would not move on their own; he had to observe their enemies, who would.

Closest to the callous display was a pair of female fairies, one with a blonde head gesticulating, flapping her orange wings, miming blows. Probably recounting her involvement in the slaughter. The other had darker hair, purple wings folded like a cape behind her, and brighter clothes — still green and brown, but more brilliant shades — and smiled at the other. There was a faint smear of blood across her chest, mirroring a dark splatter on the blonde’s shirt.

Bog could feel anger heating his guts, but kept breathing steadily, maintaining detachment. He carefully circled around the perimeter, away from the dead bodies and the half-grown girl celebrating being a murderer.

He counted four servants, their clothes in pale fog colours marking them among the hunters and guests in brown and green. There were a dozen hunters in duller shades and irregular cuts that would actually work for camouflage in the woods, and again as many guests, their clothes also brown and green, but in more brilliant hues, and in some cases decorated with gold edging or designs.

Hiding behind a thistle, Bog crouched and settled to watch, to gauge if an attack was worth the risk. They would be outnumbered, and couldn’t assume only the hunters would fight back if attacked.

On the other hand, the fairies seemed anything but on guard. Standing or sitting or lounging in small groups, talking and laughing, eating… They were having an actual picnic. Bog would have a better view of things higher up, but he couldn’t risk being discovered by the buzz of his wings, so he did the best he could following the attention of those not focused on whoever was opposite them. It was erratic and slow, but there was an over-all direction to it. And at its centre, the leader of this hunting party, was a fairy with grey hair and deep red wings. When he turned his head to one of his fellows, Bog caught a decent look of his profile and smile.

His breath caught, suddenly every muscle in his body tense. That face, just with a shorter, brown beard, but the same proud smile. That same profile Bog had seen when King Dagda had put the last goblin king’s head on a spear and carried it off. Bog crouched down lower, resting one palm on the dry, crumbling soil, not drawing back when a few thistle spines scratched the skin on the inside of his other arm. Deep breaths. Stay here and now. The whiff of blood wanted to hook his memory and draw it back all the way, but as luck had it, the fairies had not lit a fire. That day, the forest had burned, and the clean smell of soil and green plants now was enough of a contrast.

“Daddy!” The blonde fairy shot across the pit, making Bog flinch a little deeper into the shadows. King Dagda caught her in a hug. “When do we decide which skull I can have for my wall?” Dagda laughed. “Let’s see which looks best when they’re cleaned, eh?”

Before hearing any more and maybe losing his temper, Bog retreated. He forced himself to not think ahead too much. Getting distracted and discovered on the way back to his team did not bear imagining.

There would be a fight today. On their terms, for once. And if everybody else wanted to turn around, Bog would let them. But he could not let a chance at taking out the fairies’ royal family pass, slim as it might be.