This is left over from Pi Day. I had trouble wrapping it up, and in the end, I didn’t… quite get it wrapped up the way I wanted, but here it is.
It’s in the greater world of Fae Apoc but has none of the standard warnings except – it IS set in a post-apoc and some of the people are kind of shitty people.
She called “pip-piperelle!” as she walked into the town, singing a wordless tune & strumming a pipa. She was let in somehow, despite the fact that the town was shut down, not letting anyone in for fear they’d bring disease or pillaging, of which the town had had none but their neighboring towns’d suffered more than a little over the last months.
(in the small parts of their hearts, in the privacy of their psyche, some of them knew that they had pillaged, and that meant they feared other pillagers even more.)
The world was falling apart; everyone knew that. People were being assholes everywhere, being small and petty and, well, pillaging. They were also dying of things that had not been a blip on the radar 2 years ago – plague and famine and fear and malnutrition.
And into this town, this barricaded town with no way in or out, this woman strode.
Her skin was piebald, marked here and there with shapes like clouds, paler than her brown skin, in places pure white. Her outfit was likewise piebald, a tie-dye tunic flowing down to her thighs and batik-patterned leggings covering her legs. Her hair was pulled back from her face in two puffball-like pigtails to better show off the markings that speckled her, and the tunic was low-cut and sleeveless.
“I can fix your crops,” she told them. “I can make them happier; I can make them better. I can sing to them and they’ll grow.”
They shared looks; this sounded like magic; this sounded dangerous. On the other hand, she added, “all you have to pay me is a pittance. I want food for the road and shoes to walk away; I want a blanket for my shoulders and a hat for my head.”
It didn’t take them more than a few moments to agree. Blankets and hats they had in abundance, shoes they could manage; the food would be hard but she was making food for them, hadn’t she said?
So they agreed; so they led her to their fields. Their town has been just a suburb; none of them had been farmers, though some of them had been born to farm families. They weren’t doing well with the farming and many of their crops had failed.
She strode into the fields, not minding the mud. She strummed a song and she sang, wordless and clear and beautiful. Every person there stood a little taller. Every person who could hear her felt a little better about herself.
Dead plants came back to life. Muddy patches restored themselves. Every plant sprung ahead a week, a month, two months in growth. The trees even stood up taller.
Crops came ripe which had been already written off as a loss. The plants leveled themselves into straighter rows. The grass was greener. She danced among their whole housing tract, never once getting lost, and when she was done, she bowed to them and smiled, waiting, expectant.
They praised her work and they tasted the food. They sniffed at the flowers which were blooming and they tasted the apples which had ripened early. They praised her again, and again, and again.
And then she said, “then I’ll take my payment, or I’ll take a place to stay and then I’ll take my payment in the morning.”
And they hemmed and they hawed and they complained the price was too dear. “How about the boots and the hat and maybe a little snack?”
“Food for the road and boots for my feet, a blanket for my shoulders and a hat for my head,” she repeated. “That was the price we agreed on.”
“But we’ve got so little food and so few blankets,” they complained.
“But that was the agreement,” she countered. “Food and a blanket, boots and a hat.”
“But you used magic,” they argued. “It’s easy. All you had to do was sing.”
Some among them muttered and grumbled and shifted and worried at this; some among them hissed and turned and looked at each other.
“She really did some amazing work,” one countered. “She did what we couldn’t,” another pointed out.
And then a third said “I think I have some good road food at my place,” and a fourth said, “I’ve got an afghan my grandmother crocheted. Come to my place; I think it’ll go well with your outfit.”
The four there shared looks even as the others said “don’t let her cheat you!” and “we agreed we weren’t going to…”
“You agreed,” the first one interrupted. “Not everyone did, and we’re not actually a democracy. We agreed on that, too. We could vote a leader in each month. That’s what we did, not this.”
The woman looked between them; the smile on her face made some people nervous and some angry. It made some of them stand firmer and some waver, and in the end, it made all of them shout.
And then that fourth one, the one with the afghan, offered a hand to the woman with the pipa; the woman took it. The third one, with the road food, followed, and the second one, who wasn’t shouting anymore, followed behind.
The woman strummed her pipa as they passed by some of the kids, and some of them stood up taller and some hunched over heavily and others stayed just the same. She strummed her pipa as one of the children grew inches, a foot, two feet in moment, and then
Then the woman paused and looked at the people with her.
The fourth picked an afghan and a jacket off the line; the afghan was of scraps of every color of the rainbow and some that the sky had never seen and the jacket was patched with pieces and bits of fabrics from all over the world. “This should keep you warm,” she murmured.
“You meant it,.” The woman looked, for the first time, surprised. She strummed her pipa backwards, which it is not meant to have happen, and the discordant sound made all the children in the town jump.
“You meant it,” she repeated, as the third came out with a loaf of bread and some cured sausage. “You four.”
The second had found a pair of boots. “These ought to fit you,” he commented. “They were my son’s, but he was away to college, and that was – that was California. I don’t think he’ll need them.”
The woman lowered her head in respect for a moment. “Thank you.” She strummed the pipa backwards again. The children jumped and whimpered. The first one, who had stopped shouting and hurried to catch up, frowned at her.
“Your kids will be fine. But the kids of those others-”
“Our kids,” the fourth put in firmly. “They did nothing to you. Nothing at all.”
“Your kids will be fine,” the woman repeated. She looked at her pipa. She looked back at the children. She strummed backwards one more time. “I’ll leave you a reminder,” she murmured, “that magic comes with a price, but because – because you, because you offered me more than you had to and more than you had, because you are kind.”
She slipped the jacket over her shoulders. “Magic comes with a price,” she repeated. She bounced on the balls of her feet. “And so does kindness. Thank you.”
She bowed, and was gone in a puff of smoke.
The rest of the town was still shouting. And the children – the children were confused, and a little scared, but they were fine.
All but one, who had been a toddler and now towered over all of them, full grown and adult and ready for an adventure, one, the son of the two who’d shouted the loudest against the woman.
He was laughing, though.
“Come on,” he scolded them. “Everyone’s heard the tale of the pied piper.”
The adults of the town were left confused, but every child there laughed.