Arbitratus Short Fiction

On the tenth day of Fic-mas, someone tries to make a deal, and accidentally his intentions are revealed …

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?”

“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.” He waited a beat. “I help you defeat the Holly King, for good and all, allowing you to reign over the whole year, bring light and warmth as you choose, and you … Well, all you have to do is answer my call when I need you.”

“Need me for what?” The Oak King knew the answer, but he wanted Lucifer to say it.

“You know,” the angel said with a smirk.

“Do I, now?” The Oak King gave Lucifer a knowing smile. “Maybe you should lay it out for me anyway. It behooves one to be clear of the terms when it comes to entering into arrangements with the Lord of the Underrealms.”

“Very well, then, if you want to be that way … You back my claim to the Throne of Heaven when I am ready to make another bid for it. Happy now?” he said with a bit of true irritation.

“Seems a bit one sided as far as deals go, Morning Star.”

“I’m offering you dominion over the wheel of the year on Earth. All I’m asking is a little support. How is that one sided? Or perhaps I should say, how is that one sided in my favor?”

“You are offering me, a minor deity in the grand scheme of things, assistance in beating another minor deity. And this is a thing well within your power as an Archangel, fallen or no. And in return you ask that I help you defeat One who could bind me below with the Old Gods, or banish me to any number of dark dimensions, say nothing of His power to simply unmake me while creating a whole other universe. I am nothing in this fight between the realms. The humans have given me form and power. I’m a mote of dust to your Father!”

If it were possible for a tree to pale, The Oak King did then, considering the implications of even considering an arrangement of that magnitude with Lucifer.

“As far as deals go, this is a raw one.”

Lucifer sniffed. “If you only look at the negatives.”

“There are positives?” the Oak King asked incredulously. “I’m a realist. Honestly, Lucifer, I’m not seeing an upside here. And, much as I hate saying it, the Holly King is too smart for your offer as well.”

Lucifer decided to change tack. “Why is it you always lose and win, once each per year?”

The Oak King was taken aback. He stood blinking and scratching his chin in contemplation. “Well … there are many reasons …”

“No. There is but one.” His smile said it was obvious.

“Alright then. Educate me.”

“Because the humans like it that way, and so, being the people pleaser that He is, it has been ordained by God that it be so, that you share the title of King equally for all time.”

“No! No, that can’t be true!” he shouted.

“Ah, but it is. I have seen it written.” That was going a bit far, but it wasn’t outside the realm of what he knew to be true, and it certainly served the intended purpose. “And if we break this rule … this one decree … then we’ve,” Lucifer paused, hoping the Oak King would pick up his thread.

“Broken His hold on Creation … Yes, I see it now.”

Lucifer smiled, and no amount of telling himself to keep his true feelings hidden could keep it from being somewhat wolfish. “I knew you would.” He paused. “So, do we have an accord?”

The Oak King nodded. “In principle. But I want details of your plan. How will this be executed?”

“Simple.” Another smile, this one more conciliatory. “As the fight begins, read these words.” With a small rustle, a folded paper appeared in Lucifer’s hand. “Do not, under any circumstances, open this before your battle. The effect is immediate, and temporary.”

The Oak King took the paper, turning it in his hands, careful not to break the seal. “What happens when I read the words you’ve given me?”

“A spell that will grant you a portion of my primordial essence. A tiny sliver, but it should be enough to cast down your adversary.”

A sliver of the power of an Archangel was a great plenty. “We have a deal.” The Oak King spat in his hand and held it out to Lucifer. “The King of the Year will stand at your side and help you gain the Throne.”

Such an earthy gesture. With a small grimace of distaste, the Arch mirrored the Oak King’s gesture, and held out his hand.

“Let’s stop right there, shall we?” A firm hand gripped both beings’ wrists, keeping their hands from clasping to seal their arrangement.

Quite unable to move, and furious because of it, the Oak King roared, “Who is that would dare touch ME?”

“That would be Asher,” Lucifer said glumly as a grudging introduction. “He’s no fun at all.”

“Asher?” the Oak King asked, eyes wide. “But the Keeper is only a legend,” he protested.

“As for being Asher; guilty as charged. And I might admit to being a legend, but a very real one, for all of that,” the plain man, dressed all in black said with a wry twist of his lips. “And as such, this little bit of dickering over Creation stops now.”

Asher released their wrists and deftly plucked the paper from the Oak King’s hand.

“I’ll just take this, and Lucifer and I will let you get on with your preparations. Honestly, I don’t know why you’re bothering with this guy,” Asher nodded at the irate Archangel. “He’s a notorious liar, and besides, you’ve got this.”

“Wait, you really think so?” the Oak King asked, looking both a little startled and quite flattered.

“This is your year, my friend. Mister Holly has met his match.” Asher clapped him on the shoulder. “Now, if you’ll excuse us …”

There was a blinding flash and Lucifer found himself back in his apartments in Hell. The throne at the center of his receiving room a mocking presence that he didn’t want to look at.

It would have been better if he were alone. And mostly he was, save for the grating lordly presence of the man, the myth, the legend … the eternal pain in his ass … Asher.

Prying his lips open around a clenched jaw, Lucifer spat, “That was not your concern, Keeper!”

Asher replied with a tight smile. “That’s where you’re wrong.” He let the coldness of his voice quench some of the fire in Lucifer’s eyes. “And I assure you that if you ever directly attempt to interfere with events within my purview again, I will show you what a real exile looks like.”

He raised his eyebrows, waiting for Lucifer to respond. The angel simply started back, clearly caught between setting the cold levels of Hell afire with his anger and completely at a loss.

Asher prompted an acknowledgement. “Are we clear?”

Finally, Lucifer managed, “Yes, Keeper, we are clear.”

“Very good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a fight to attend. Someone has to be there to declare the draw, don’t you know.”

Lucifer pasted on a forced smile. “A pleasure as always, Asher,” he said in a small voice.

Something very like a smirk flitted across Asher’s face for a second. “Oh, and Lucifer?”

“Yes?” he asked heavily, frustrated by being thwarted at every turn in just trying to gain a moment’s advantage.

“Have a merry Christmas.”

“A what?” he frowned.

“Never mind,” Asher said, and this time the smirk was unmistakable. “It will make sense in time.”

Lucifer sat down on his throne, in the now empty reception room, rested an elbow on the arm, and his head on one hand.

“What the Hell is a Christmas?”

– End –

Oak and Holly Kings

 

 

 

 

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