Let’s Make a Deal
The well-worn path through the thick forest was dappled with the fading light of the weakening late autumn sun. The sounds of birds chirruping and flitting from tree to tree filled the air. A bubbling brook burbled away quite loudly in the near distance.
Lucifer sighed. Why any self-respecting “god” would make a home of such a rustic, uncivilized place was beyond his ken. Someone might think the smell of pine needles and decaying leaves was sweet perfume, but it made him wrinkle his nose.
He supposed there might be some charm to those smells on their own, if not for the underlying stink of mold and various sorts of decomposition. As he strode down the path, so packed down that his boots sounded like they were walking on stone, he began to notice the distinct aroma of dirt in the air, and just the barest hint of smoke.
He must be close. Yes … He could just make out the sounds of a fight coming from over the next ridge. He was just cresting the hill when the unmistakable crash and grunt of someone or something being throw heavily to the ground reached his ears.
“Who’s next?” boomed a great deep voice. “Come along! You can’t all be tired yet!”
Mumbled protests and pained groans rumbled through a crowd like distant thunder as Lucifer entered the clearing. “I would offer my services, Majesty, if you so desire,” Lucifer called out, a playful note in his voice and a sparkle in his striking eyes.
The gargantuan creature, who appeared as though he were hewn from solid oak turned and sized up the volunteer. When he took in who it was, he sneered. “I’m in no mood for your games, Morning Star. Leave this place at once. We’ve been clear that you are not welcome here. You never have been. And now you reek of your exile. The stench of Sulphur has no place on the wind of the Great Wood.”
He punctuated his pronouncement by spitting at Lucifer’s feet.
“Come now, Majesty. Is that any way to treat an angel in your midst? Especially one who comes bearing gifts?”
“I want no part of your gifts, or of angering your Father by trafficking with you. Now, off with you! If I’ve worn out my followers, there is nothing further to do here. And it is nearly my time. I must be ready.”
Lucifer waved a dismissive hand. “Very well then. If you’re really not interested …” He paused, allowing everyone present to hear the offer, as yet unspoken, start to evaporate. “I suppose the Holly King will be the one to benefit.”
A derisive snort practically echoed around the clearing.
“Go on with you! But I expect you’ll get about as warm a reception from him.”
A soft subdued laughter rippled through the other beings still dusting themselves off and licking their wounds around them.
Lucifer nodded, as though considering the words. “Perhaps you are right … But then, who knows? He’s ambitious … And the chance to rule the full year may be to his liking.”
Lucifer turned to go.
“You play a dangerous game, Angel. But you have captured my attention.”
“What unfortunate timing for you. I’ve been insulted and disregarded.” Lucifer drew himself up to his full height and squared his shoulders with a haughty tilt of his chin. “Good day.”
He turned as if to leave, more to hide his smile than anything else, as the subservient trees moved to block his path. Schooling his features, he gave an exaggerated sigh and turned back to face the Oak King.
“Very well,” he said, an air of longsuffering settling over his manner. “If you insist.”
“I believe that I do,” the Oak King said with dark menace. “What is it you were so eager to propose that you would now offer my enemy?”
Lucifer held out open hands, as if to say the Oak King was his preference for the offer anyway. “I wish to offer you my assistance in your upcoming battle for supremacy in the wheel of the year.”
The Oak King harrumphed impressively. “I need no help from any angel, man, or god. This time I will be supreme.”
“Really?” Lucifer asked with heavy skepticism.
“Yes, really.” The Oak King’s strange eyes narrowed. “I am ready this year. My reign will be unbroken.”
“Come now, Majesty,” Lucifer cajoled. “You cannot really believe that. It is the same every year. Each Winter Solstice is the same tired story; the Holly King will beat you and send you off to tend your wounds … Which you will do, biding your time until the dawn of summer, when you will return the favor.”
“What are you saying?”
“I am saying, Majesty, that this has been the same since time began. This has been your lot … Ebb and flow, dark and light, Yule and Litha, splitting the year and the power. This year will be no different …”
“Unless you have help. My help.”
The Oak King seemed to consider the angel for a moment. Then he gave a short nod. “What are your terms?”
Lucifer blinked. This was going better than he hoped.
“Simple quid pro quo.”
Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I