(3 of 4. Originally posted on December 16, 2022 for the prompt “Where the Treetops Glisten.”)
Ndrille flew from her frost-speckled treetop hideaway to the human village quick as a flash of lightning. She darted around a man carrying a black cat and slipped past the door before it could close. The expression on the human woman’s face confirmed the betrayal that her magic sense had alerted her to.
“You broke our bargain!”
“What? No!” The human’s wide-eyed surprise melted into cloudy-eyed confusion. “I did exactly as you said. I made cookies, and gave them to my sister.”
“I care naught for human mother-bonds. One who is close to you. One you share emotional bonds with. That was the agreement.” Ndrille probed the tangled mess of human sentiment inside this woman. Her reading skill fell far below the average, but she could at least distinguish broad feelings. This woman held nothing that resembled grief. “We share an oath-bond. Did you think to fool me? No distance can diffuse the stench of your lies. You do not mourn her. The deal is unfulfilled. You owe me your grief.”
“I love my sister more than anyone else in the world.” The woman clasped a hand to her breast and exuded indignation. Her words tasted of honesty, but not of truth.
Ndrille flew close to the human, circling her thrice, and landed atop her head. She spread herself across the woman’s scalp, to better feel the subtle radiations. “Almost truth. Almost. You give no love. Your mothers-child, you tolerate. One you care for above all else, but not her. No. Only one body can satisfy the bargain. The only one you love. That one is you.”
A spike of fear shot out of the woman, whetting Ndrille’s appetite.
“Of course I care about myself. That’s only natural. Everyone cares for themself. If I didn’t take care of myself, who would?”
“I care not. I care naught.” Ndrille vibrated with anticipation. “Care for many. Care for one. I care only that our bargain is kept. Tis sealed in blood, and must be fulfilled. I will taste your sorrow. The curse need land on one you love. You love only you, as is your right. On your own head it rests. The curse comes home.”
Ndrille reached across the ethereal plane. She pulled the thread that bound her to the curse, calling it. The magic answered across the void. As it claimed its new host, Ndrille opened herself to drink. Anger. Fear. Confusion. And then, at last, sorrow. Deep regret, rich and strong. Enough to satisfy her for years.
* * *
Peter shifted Princess to balance her on his left arm as he opened the door to his cottage. He stepped across the threshold. A sudden weight knocked him sprawling to the floor. A piercing shriek made him flinch. “Princess? I’m sorry, girl. I hope I didn’t hurt you…”
Something scrambled across the room, making heavier noises than a cat should. Peter pushed himself up to a crouch and looked around. It took a moment for his brain to register the scene. A raven-haired woman stood across the room, wrapped in his tablecloth and looking as confused as he felt.