Junefae 2018 Long Fiction 4; Old Threadneedle
This is the last Friday Fairy Fiction, a story about the fae of my Other Side of the Wood world.  To learn more about my fae, read here. To read previous fairy stories from this month's Junefae challenge, look here, here and here.  Shedskins are described in an early post here.

This will be the last month of frequent general access to new stories and drawings. I'll plan to focus on the known races of the Other Side of the Wood, expanding descriptions into very short stories whenever possible.  I'll also let folks know about the changes coming in August as I figure them out. Thank you for following my work!

All material © 2018, Heather Hudson

In the center of the threadbare table cloth, a tea service on a wooden tray sat like a fortress on a snowy plain. The fairy dozed in its little basket at the host's elbow, eyes closed, wrinkled face turned towards the sun.

"May I offer you some more tea, Lucy?"  

 "That would be lovely, Adatha." Lucy studied the trouser knee she was patching. "I don't know why Marfa has me mending these old things again, that boy of hers will be too big to wear them soon." She finished the last stitch and knotted the thread. "Mustn't complain, of course, just..."  She snipped the thread, held up a worn but clean pair of boy's trousers, much repaired.  "Ah well, it's a living, I suppose.  If you're careful."

  Adatha put aside the handkerchief she'd been embroidering and carefully topped off their teacups. "We shall need to freshen this pot up!  Pardon me for a moment, Lucy - the kettle should still be hot!"  She stood, carried the teatray back to the kitchen with slightly shabby dignity.  The fairy turned in its basket, following her retreating figure with drowsy, half-lidded eyes.

  Lucy studied the fairy.  It looked so old these days... The edge of the basket made it impossible to see whether...  She stood, leaning forward over the table to look down into the basket.  The fairy whimpered as her shadow fell over it and she drew back.

  "There was plenty of hot water left," said Adatha, returning with the tray, "and I've brought us more of that lemon balm shortbread..."  She looked at her friend's face.  "Lucy, whatever is the matter?"

  "Just saying hello to old Threadneedle."  Lucy kept her voice calm.  Serious, but calm.  Fussing at Adatha had never done any good, you had to stay calm.  "It's looking so old these days.  How's it doing?"

  "Mr. Threadneedle," said Adatha, "is doing fine.  Aren't you, Mr Threadneedle?"  She placed the tray on the table, then, from the tray, set a doll's plate and cup on the table in front of the basket.  "He doesn't  move as fast as he used to, but he's still a love and he still enjoys a biscuit and a cup of tea just like we do."  The elderly fairy climbed stiffly out of its basket.  It sat down on the table with the plate on its lap, slowly chewing on the morsel of shortbread.  Two handed, it brought the doll's teacup to its mouth, slurped its milky tea, put the cup back down on the table.

  "That's good," said Lucy automatically.  "I'm so glad."  Adatha carefully poured fresh tea into her cup.  "Thank you, you're too kind."

 Adatha refilled her own cup, put the pot back on the tray and covered it with a quilted teacosy. She sat down, drew up her chair with a thump.  "Mr. Threadneedle is a member of my family and there is absolutely nothing wrong with him."

  "Adatha... It... He's getting very old." How much could she say?  "He's... Not as quick as he used to be.  And he's getting very round."
  "As we all have these days."  Adatha put another piece of biscuit on the old fairy's plate and its withered face turned to follow her movements.  She petted its head gently and it leaned into her touch.  "Mr. Threadneedle is certainly old but he has years of good left in him, and," her voice turned sharp, "he is absolutely no danger to anyone."

  "He's rounder than he was last week, Adatha."

   "He likes his cookies."

  "He's going to go to spore.  Not now, but soon."

  "He most certainly is not!" The old fairy looked up at its mistress in confusion.  Adatha lowered her voice.  "Mr Threadneedle is very old, but he's obviously a very long-lived strain of fae and he's got years and years left.  He's been in my family since he was no more than an bug, and he's only now getting a little bit of a tummy. I expect he'll be helping someone with their sewing long after I'm in my grave.

  "That's good," Lucy said again.  She stared at old Threadneedle.  It definitely had more of a belly than it had last week.  

   Threadneedle put down its plate.  It rose slowly, went to the pincushion where it chose a very small needle that was still large in its hands.  It looked up at Adatha, who smiled and indicated a particular spool of blue silk on the table in front of her.  It unreeled a length of silk floss, clipped it off the spool with tiny teeth, threaded its needle.  It seized a handkerchief off the stack on Adatha's side of the table.   It dragged the handkerchief back to Adatha, sat cross-legged on the table beside her, drew the corner with the chalked guidelines onto its lap, and began to stitch. It worked slowly, perhaps shakily, but its stitching was still exquisitely fine.  Periodically its eyes flicked up, checked both women's faces, returned to its work.

  "Aren't they lovely? The magistrate ordered a set of six," said Adatha.  "And not at all tightfisted about the cost, either.

  "That's a mercy," said Lucy. "The last magistrate..." She didn't have to finish the thought, the two old ladies both remembered the last magistrate.  

  "That man!" said Adatha.  "And when he did order something, he had the most terrible taste.  Those colors!"

  "Not to mention the way he treated the Shedskins.  The Crane family simply stopped coming into town altogether until he was transferred and they do a lot of business around here."

  "They aren't really Shedskins any more, are they?  I mean, I know Mr Crane says he's a crane on his mother's side..."

  "I happen to know for a fact that at least one of his daughters puts on feathers and goes flying around on nice days, when they can spare her."  Lucy found a thread ripper, began to turn the collar of worn shirt.  "Don't signify, everyone should be treated fairly in court."

  "Very fine people, the Cranes," said Adatha. Lucy nodded, murmured agreement as she worked.

  "I don't know what I'd do without old Threadneedle," said Adatha suddenly.  Lucy looked up.  "I mean that.  I do not know how I would make ends meet.  I just don't."

"I know, dear," said Lucy.  "We'll just have to figure something out."

Art and text © 2018, Heather Hudson.

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