Let us visit the bakery, we are feeling peckish...
by Taryn of Taliesin
~-~-~-~-~ guest ~-~-~-~-~
Emma ground the saffron between her fingers and sprinkled in over the pastry dough. She looked to make sure the inn keeper wasn't in the kitchen then licked remaining powder from her fingers. It tasted like magic; home and adventure wrapped into one. She picked up the rolling pin and pressed it against the ball of dough, slowly coaxing it flat. Her mother would be aghast at the cracks she was allowing around the edges but there were so many patrons tonight. She would never roll up everything they needed tonight if she was worried about being tidy. Still, there was something uncouth about using something as precious as saffron and not even bothering to make the edges round. She plopped the dough into a dish and pushed it across the table.
“How many more've we got to fill Meg?”
There was no answer. Emma looked up. The pot of cabbages and lamb's broth was boiling in big shiny bubbles, the girdles were grilling over the fire, but Meg was nowhere to be seen.
King of the ages! If she was out with the Jimmy Ostler again Emma would tell the inn keeper after all. Meg may have been his daughter but that didn't mean that she could –a whir of gold-red curls whisked past the window. Emma left the pastry dough, barely thinking to pull the griddles off the fire, and slipped out the door.
The inn yard was swarming with patrons come for the St. Agnes feasts. A pair of dwarf jugglers and a drunk cobbler stepped in front of her, blocking her view, but she managed to glimpse the gold-red curls again, disappearing into the field behind the inn. Emma dodged past the guests, ignoring Jimmy the Ostler's shouts and chased after them down the hill, across the grass covered earth, and into a small cop of trees just out of ear shot of the inn.
She stopped, out of breath, as Meg knelt before a ring of crocuses in the center of the trees. They grew in a perfect circle like a crown for the earth inside the larger crown of the trees. Emma's breath slowed. She hesitated for a moment, afraid she might be intruding on something sacred, then she remember that the master had demanded seventeen pastries before noon.
“Quiet.” The girl whispered. Her head was bent toward the flowers. “No one will come if you shout.”
“Who? Meg we've got work--”
“I'm tired of making pastries.” The girl turned to look at Emma at last, her small freckled nose scrunched up in stubbornness.
“It's St. Agnes Eve! If I don't gather a bouquet under my bed tonight I'll end up an old crone.”
Emma sighed. The girl was hardly fourteen years old and already had four or five of the farmers' sons bringing her wild flowers as well as Jimmy the Ostler. She was the least likely of all the village girls to end up an old crone.
Meg closed her eyes, facing the ring of crocuses in a solemn manner, and began chanting to herself. The slow drone of her voice brought crawlers beneath Emma's skin. She remembered suddenly the rumors after the girl's birth. Changeling Emma's mother said they had called her, because her birth had killed her own mother and she had cried at all hours of the night after that until she learned to talk. Her father still called her Changling when he caught her daydreaming instead of working but Emma had never taken any serious note of it. Not until she saw her kneeling before a ring of crocuses with the sun painting a gold circlet over her hair, chanting in a strange language.
Emma stepped back, hoping she would make it back to the inn before anything else frightening happened then she stopped.
Was this what she had meant when she told her mother she had wanted to see things before she was given to her father's pimply apprentice? She had thought she meant knights and ladies stopping at the inn on their way in and out of the castle or the odd minstrel's song instead of the constant humoring of soles onto their shoes and the sting of leather in her nose. She had never imagined anything as haunting as that low chanted melody. Sweet and distant like the taste of saffron on her tongue.
There was another voice mingled with Meg's now. The soft sweet faery voice of a young man. Emma couldn't remember blinking. She couldn't remember seeing him appear or enter the clearing. One moment he wasn't there and the next he had been there all the time, dressed in a cloak woven of grass reeds and shoes made of poesy petals. He and meg stopped singing and he smiled. The trees around them swayed at the motion of his lips. “What do you need now sister?”
Meg stood up, brushed the bits of dirt off her apron. “Pastries. Seventeen pastries as quick as you can get them.”
The faery boy frowned. “I'm not sure I can get you so many. Father noticed the last ones I took. None of us are supposed to be talking to you, much less giving you things from his kitchen.”
“Oh” Meg moaned. “But my mortal father loved the last ones so much! He told me I had the gift of the angels and would never want for anything if I could make pastries like that.”
The faery boy sighed. “If you came back to us you could have all the pastries you want.”
Meg looked over her shoulder past the trees at the inn, the same dreamy expression on face that was always there when she spoke about Jimmy the Ostler. “They wouldn't be any use to me then.”
“You could send us another changeling.” The faery boy raised an eyebrow, his green eyes changing slowly to blue and back again in the sunlight.
Gold-red curls flounced against Meg's ears. “Mortals don't like father's realm. They learn every charm they can to keep away from it.”
“Only because they've never seen it. The child you gave us is much happier than she ever would have been at that little inn you love so much.”
Emma felt herself move. Her mouth opened and sound came out. “I'll go.”
Her heart almost gave way inside her chest. What had she just said? Hadn't she heard stories all her life of mortals who strayed into realms that didn't belong to them? Didn't she know they came back mad and wild eyed, unfit for anything in the real world?
The faery boy turned toward her. He and Meg had been speaking as if she wasn't there but he didn't look surprised. His lips quirked in amusement but his gaze was steady. His eyes stopped changing color as they searched far deeper into her core than she had ever imagined existed. “You would give up everything you know for seventeen pastries?”
“Not for pastries.” Emma said, her own fear spurring her on “for . . .” For what? To get as far from her father's apprentice as she could ever hope? For the sweet saffron scent of the ring of crocuses? To solve a mystery all the other villagers were afraid of?
“For myself.” She said “Because it is a choice I can make.”
The faery boy nodded, satisfied with her answer, and held out his hand. She took it, touched the light spring air on his skin, and everything she knew disappeared.
Seventeen Pastries post created for Fairy Tales in Bruges event by Taryn of Taliesin © 2011. All rights reserved.
by Taryn of Taliesin
~-~-~-~-~ guest ~-~-~-~-~
* image source bakery