Crystal rose slowly, never taking her eyes off Lucinda’s face. She took a moment to form her words, phrasing them with care. “I don’t know how you know me.”
“How could I not? You’re an apothecary, potion maker, seventh born and if a few rumors are to be believed, you were blessed by a godmother when you were born.”
Not many people knew about the blessing. They knew Crystal was resourceful and talented, but they didn’t know she’d been fairy-blessed. Seventh child of a seventh child, third generation over. That carried its own power, enough that any unusual strengths she had could be forgiven as nothing more than the family’s good luck to have seven children.
Not something she needed to discuss with a fae. “I came looking for my brothers.”
“They’re not far. I can take you to see them.”
“I hope they’re unharmed.”
“No harm came to them in coming to my home.”
Crystal took a long moment to formulate a response. Hospitality and politeness were two things she didn’t dare challenge a fae on. “Thank you for accommodating them.”
It earned her a laugh. “They were most helpful, though they couldn’t aid me in what I needed,” Lucinda replied. “There are a few things that I need, but they need a particular set of skills. That however, is why I wanted to speak with you. Come with me.”
Lucinda turned, still holding Crystal’s lantern, and moved off into the darkness. Crystal hesitated only a moment longer before she followed, her steps shuffling a little over the rocks.
“They must have had a reason to come here,” Crystal said.
“They did. I invited them of course.”
“Invited,” Crystal said. “It must have been a surprise to them.”
“Oh of course. I needed them to get a message to you, so I invited them here.”
“You could have left your message with them in their home.”
“Services rendered must be repaid,” Lucinda answered.
“Services that also required my help to fulfill.”
“Yes. There’s a few things that I need collected,” Lucinda said. “It’s for a project of mine. Normally I wouldn’t need to ask for help, but unfortunately, getting those items and returning home in a timely manner without risking myself is difficult to say the least.”
“You truly can’t touch the sun.”
“Not without consequence,” Lucinda said. “Though I assure you, running water poses no such problem, nor will iron be sufficient to bother me.”
“You know all the legends about the blood fae.”
“Of course I do.” Lucinda turned. “Do they not speak of me up there on the surface?”
“We don’t want to offend by speaking of others behind their backs,” Crystal answered.
Lucinda hummed almost as if thinking of it. “A pity. I might like to have some tales told of me. Perhaps you’ll be the first to tell the mortals above of me.”
“Perhaps.” Agreeing would only tie her up in fae games. Denying would only risk the fae’s anger.
Another hum and Lucinda turned again. Ahead a faint glow illuminated the ground. “The rocks are phosphorescent, but fragile, and there are more caves below us. Avoid stepping on the lights.”
Lucinda moved a little bit ahead, and Crystal followed in her path. The eerie quiet around them offered no clues as to how deep Lucinda intended to take her.
The caverns opened up again, leaving them staring into pitch black arches. The paths ahead of them opened and Lucinda sighed a little before she looked at Crystal once more.
“Your help would be greatly appreciated,” Lucinda said.
“I may not be able to help you as much as you need,” Crystal said.
“It’s relatively simple. As I’ve said, I just need some things collected.”
“You haven’t said what sort of things.”
“They’re very particular and I’m happy to discuss prices with you,” Lucinda said as they passed at last into a cavern with metallic walls. The light of her lantern strengthened, reflected by the ore present in the cave.
“Prices,” Crystal said. She didn’t like how it was said.
“Services rendered must be paid for,” Lucinda said and smiled. “I can give quite a bit,” she said. “Fortunes, favors, fame. I only need these six items retrieved.”
Steps came down from somewhere else, the sound distorted as the noise bounced around the cavern. Crystal turned her head and took a step back from the man approaching.
“No need to be frightened,” Lucinda said. “This is my son, Blake.”
Blake bowed, hair darker even than the shadows her lantern’s feeble light tried to push back, and skin a sort of marble white in the shadows.
“May I have the name of our honored guest?” Blake’s voice came out, a soft hiss of whisper that seemed overly loud in the caves.
“My name is my own,” Crystal answered and Lucinda smiled while Blake inclined his head.
“As you decide. Your other guests have been seen to, Mother. They’re waiting by your throne.”
“Thank you. Such a sweet boy,” Lucinda said. “Come, this way. We’ll take the short route. Thank you, Blake.”
He nodded, but his expression remained almost dead as his mother swept passed. Crystal wasn’t sure she trusted going past him, and kept glancing at him as she moved by, hurrying to keep up with the light of the lantern.
She wished Lucinda would give it back.
“These items. You say they need delivering and that I can help.”
“They’re not everyday groceries,” Lucinda answered. “They’re the sort of items that need a particular touch. They need hands that can carry magic.”
“Someone who is blessed, or gifted with that ability,” Crystal said.
“Indeed. I was hoping your brothers would be able to tell me when you would return, but they haven’t. I asked Blake to make accommodations for them.”
“Why would they need accommodations?”
“As I said, services rendered must be paid for. Their help in getting a message to you will be sufficiently paid back,” Lucinda said and she paused for a moment to look at Crystal. “This was the price your brothers and I agreed to,” Lucinda said and moved forward.
Here the room darkened again, the light illuminated each pair of natural columns she passed. Crystal’s skin crawled as she realized some of the columns looked to have people tied to them. She followed, seeing that each ‘person’ was little more than a stony statue.
All, save for the last six.
Instead, each of her brothers took up one column. Mica, Coal, Jasper, Jet, Flint and Clay all remained held to the stone, heads bowed and eyes closed.
“What did you do to them?” The question slipped out, horror making her forget that it was a dangerous thing to question any fae.
“Made accommodations,” Lucinda said and set the lantern down on a small table before she moved up carved steps to turn and settle into a solid stone chair. “This was the price we agreed on.”
“You’ve tied them to stone.”
“You never asked what they were paying for.”
“You told me their help in getting a message to me was being paid back.”
“And it has been! Look, they’re asleep.”
Crystal only dared to just look at each of her brothers. The two oldest, Mica and Coal were nearest to her throne, faces set in repose. Next, the twins Jasper and Jet, and then at least Flint and Clay. Six brothers, and one sister now standing between them.
“To get a message to me,” she repeated. “You put them to sleep.”
“Of course. It takes a terribly long time for a body to become stone. They got the message to you that I had them and needed help. Therefore, as payment for that, they’ll simply sleep forever.”
“You’ll kill them.”
“Also part of the agreement,” Lucinda replied. “You see, they didn’t want me inviting you here as well, so they agreed to come and stay in your stead.”
Her temper and fear flared up. Her brothers might very well be paying the price for some game she knew nothing of. She had to inhale the cold air of the cavern, taking it deep to try and calm herself.
“You only ever needed me, not my brothers and I don’t understand why.”
“Because, you are a seventh daughter. I don’t need much for boys. I have a son. But, Blake needs a bride.”
Crystal’s heart dropped. There had to be a way out of this. “You broke your deal then. I’m here.”
“Of your own accord. I never asked you to come, you were never invited into my home, you simply walked in.”
“You also said no harm had come to them.”
“In coming here, no harm was done. And they will remain unharmed for a time. How long the stone takes to claim them isn’t something I control.”
Her throat seemed to be closing as she swallowed. “You’ll keep them here forever.”
“As I’ve said. I don’t need many boys. What I need is a daughter. You only have to name your price for doing so. Fame, glory, anything you wish for at all.”
“I don’t want any of it. I want my brothers.”
“Of course, they’ll always be here with you,” Lucinda lifted a hand to indicate the natural pillars around them.
“Alive and unharmed,” Crystal said.
That brought a hum out of Lucinda’s throat as she settled back on the stone behind her. “That does prove a sticking point. I can of course turn them into fae as well, but I only have the ability to do so to one person a year on the summer equinox. We’re approaching that soon.”
“I won’t choose one brother to save when it means sacrificing the rest.”
Lucinda shrugged. “I am a fae. Choices must be made and prices must be paid.”
It was dangerous to question a fae and Crystal knew it. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to think of a way around this.
“What is the price to release all six of my brothers?”
Another little hum, which echoed back and forth through the cave until it seemed more like the growl of some great beast.
“I do need those items, but Blake needs a bride. It’s a bit of a conundrum for us, isn’t it? Your price is your brothers, but your brothers’ price was you and I’m still without what I need.”
“If Blake is to be my groom, I will only make that deal with him,” Crystal said. “His agreement, his price.”
Lucinda beamed as Blake once again appeared, stepping out of the shadows. “I suppose since he is to be your groom, it’s only fair to negotiate with him. Are we agreed Blake?”
“We are agreed,” Blake answered.
“Then I suppose you and I are free to negotiate on the release of your brother.”
“My brothers in exchange for your items,” Crystal said.
Lucinda smiled, fangs fully displayed. “Fair. I require six items therefore I will agree to release one brother after each item is delivered.”
“We’re agreed.” It felt like she was getting the worst end of the deal and she knew as soon as she got back she needed to talk to Juniper. Juniper would know more about fae and how to handle their deals and agreements.
That fanged smile on Lucinda’s face only grew however. “Then the first item I require is an apple from the restless tree.”
Her heart dropped a little. She knew where the restless tree was and even what it’s apples were prized for.
“A three day journey there and back,” Crystal said.
“Indeed,” Lucinda said. “And in exchange for the apple—whole and unbroken—I will release your oldest brother.”
It was a trap and Crystal knew it. “Agreed,” she said. “One whole and unbroken apple in exchange for my oldest brother.”
Another soft laugh. “Go then. We will be here waiting.”
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Seventh is updated on Fridays, so stick around to see more of the story.