The Shepherd's Pie
It’s not easy being one of the Fair Folk. Not anymore, anyway. Sure, we had our day when the mortals feared us, and everything came to us easy as pay. We had our way back then. If we wanted a baby, we’d just take it from someone’s home, no questions asked, and no one would try to interfere (okay, yeah, there was the rare hero who thought he could, but that usually turned out badly for him or her). If we wanted some sweets, we’d just whip together a few goodies for a local craftsmen to sell, and the next evening they’d put out something good to eat. And if we wanted some amusement, we could just feed some line to a poor gullible oaf about some magic horse or goose or egg or some such off in a distant kingdom and watch him go off and perform some crazy stunt to fetch it.
But now, things are different. Mortals just don’t believe anymore. All the magic has left their lives, and they walk around blinded to the wonder around them. They live in a grey world of science where everything has a direct cause and effect, and nothing can be created of, well, nothing. Their imaginations stymied, their minds refuse to see us for what we are, and instead, they only see another passing person, or a bird, or dog, or cat, or whatever it is would be most convenient to rationalize this bizarre creature that just doesn’t fit in with their world view.
And so we have to find a place for ourselves in the barren banal business of the modern world. And it’s not easy. Some of us, we find menial jobs doing things where our odd looks won’t be noticed – like coffee shop baristas, book store clerks, piercers or tattoo artists, actors, or singers. There’s more, but I’d be here listing professions for quite a while if I tried to list them all.
Myself, I’ve tried a variety of professions. I was resistant at first – after all, what does an immortal creature of magic and mists need with mortal money? But, as the grey fog of the industrial revolution spread, it became clear that I should at least give it a try. And so I did.
My very first foray into the activities of mortals was an attempt at being a baker’s assistant. It seemed a logical step to me – after all I loved cakes and cookies and all things sweet, especially when they would be left for me as an offering from some gentle soul. The problem, however, was that, while I quite enjoyed consuming such delicious delicacies, I had no earthly clue as to how to go about *making* them. Why, whenever I felt the passion for pastries begin to arise, I’d merely pop into some sleepy abode late at night and rearrange some furniture, or perhaps abscond with some heads of dolls. And then the very next night, upon the mantle would be a plate full of scrumptious strudel or choice confections, or some such. But here I’d signed on to help make and sell such things.
And one thing about us fair folk, if we make a contract, we’re sure to keep it. To the letter. Now, we might choose to embellish and add on to it, or even interpret it in our own manner, but, one should expect such things.
Now, I dove right in to my first apprenticeship, and I really did try to do things the baker’s way. But it just involved so much *work*. And, really, that was just beneath me. Now, I didn’t mind being covered in flour all the time, or even the little burns that occasionally I’d incur. But the sheer volume of labor just really wasn’t my style. So I set about to make things easier, both for myself and my employer.
I remembered a family who’s pastries I found particularly delectable, and chose to pay them a visit. I was still pondering just how I’d get their attention when I crossed the threshold into their domain, but quickly my dilemma was solved for me, as a new puppy immediately introduced itself to me.
“You! You! You are here! This is my house!” He yipped and yapped.
“Why, yes, you are quite correct, little one, but I need you to get for me your master’s attention, but not right this moment.” I meditated thereupon momentarily whilst stroking my chin-hairs, then, with a delighted rise of my eyebrows and widening of eyes, I raised one finger into the air and spake thusly:
“Pup, oh, pup
I say, listen up!
Without a peep
Why don’t you leap
Into my arms?
You shan’t be harmed!”
And, hearing soft sweet singing, the tiny little pup wagged its tail in glee and did just that – up he leapt, into my open arms. Then, right as he would land there within, he vanished in a puff of smoke, just as I’d planned. And no sooner had he disappeared from sight than his startled yips began to emanate from the chimney’s open mouth. My work done for that evening, I departed, to return again upon the following eve.
As I expected, upon the mantle sat a plate of plentiful pastries, more than enough to please the likes of me. This I whisked away and with all expediency returned it to the bakery, where I proudly set it in the middle of the work counter, prominently displayed. But, to my dismay, as soon as he saw the goodies I’d thusly delivered, he shook his head, swept up the delights, plate and all, and most unceremoniously dumped them into the waste bin.
Horrified, was I, so I shouted:
“But why oh why, must you despose of such a delicious pie?”
“I’ll tell you,” said he, “because ‘twasn’t made within my company. Now, you shall work up front, if you can’t be trusted in back.”
And, with dejected head downturned, I trudged my way towards the front, to face the mortal men who were going to come within to buy the baker’s pies. And as hard as the work of baking might have been, I dreaded the prospect of shamelessly serving those who aught never to be laying eyes upon me. But serve I should, as I’d agreed to do the baker’s bidding.
Now, it came about that the most beastly of men came in that day, one who clearly had no thought but for himself, and never for others. Certainly a surly not-so-gentleman he was, and he bore the look of it about his face from the very moment he walked through the door – his face was old and twisted about a great hooked nose. His eyes scrunched upon themselves, it seemed he could barely see past his grimacing brow. And old, gnarled wood-pipe was gripped between his teeth, and from the gnaw-marks upon its stem, it had born the brunt of many of his frustrations. Sparse, straw-like grey hairs poke out from underneath a tattered and crumpled broad-brimmed hat. Stooped of posture, he leaned upon a bent oaken cane with much trembling and shaking as he used it to first shove aside the door, then carefully plodded on slow step after another on its point.
As patiently as can be expected of an ephemeral spirit, I awaited as he approached the counter, soon greeting him before he closed the distance.
“Good morrow to you, good sir,
And what sweet delicacy
Might you now this day savor
That I might fetch it quickly?”
He paused to wave his cane in the air, crinkling those already wrinkled features into a deeper frown, and chastised, “No need for haste, you will certainly wait until I’ve arrived at yon shelf.” He took a rasping breath, then once again proceeded his slow shuffle across the store. Resisting with all my might to not turn the floor to ice, I waited, until, what seemed some eternity later, he finally stood in the spot he sought.
He slapped a bill upon the glass, rattling it mightily, and proceeded to stare at me silently.
I gazed back.
He cleared his throat phlegmatically.
More time passed.
Finally, desiring nothing more than to make foxglove sprout from his ears, I inhaled deeply, and inquired:
“And how might I help you?”
“What? How? Why, I been comin’ in ‘ere nigh two score years an’ ye don’t know what it is I want? If ye’re that daft, go away in back an’ fetch yer master, an’ he’ll school ye right!” He fussed and fumed quite loudly, and his skin turned from leather-brown to deep angry purple as his words spilled from his lips.
Quite taken aback, as he’d surely never dare dub me daft knew he who I was, I retorted, “Now, no need to bite with that barbed tongue of yourn, no indeed. Just say the word, and I’ll find what you need.”
“Feh! Dimwitted dolt! If’n ye won’t fetch yer master, then know ye it’s the Shephard’s pie I’m ‘ere for. Now fetch it and make it snappy!”
Now quite offended, I could not let this go. But produce it I did, though not without first affecting upon it a little magic. I carefully wrapped the outwardly unchanged pie, place it in a plain paper bag, then handed it over, taking his bill in exchange. He harrumphed, and, snatching the bag, opened it and shoved his crooked nose therein, inhaling deeply. Then, with a distrusting downward glance in my direction, he once again grasped his cane and shuffled back out the door.
I was fired the very next day.
Apparently, while I was out on break, that old curmudgeon had come back to the store and complained most vehemently about the twelve dozen roaches which had come scrambling out of his pie the moment he cut it open. Knowing that he certainly had never concocted such a creation, the baker placed all the blame squarely on me (and rightly). There was much swearing and cursing, and none of it by me, for I was too busy rolling about the floor holding my belly while I laughed uproariously as I hadn’t laughed in many a moon.