User:Posti/Paid With Interest

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Paid with Interest

Author: Bob Stein

Animal activists be damned, thought Wilfred Augustus Deevers, Lord of the Manor and gentleman farmer. Yet another glimpse of the russet-red tail ahead was proof he didn’t need hounds to track down a fox. Of course, he had a rather personal vendetta against this particular vulpine – it had eaten his champion Mille Fleur d'Uccle cock for dinner. Retribution was in order, and Deevers was not one to shirk his duty.

The little beast couldn’t have chosen one of the lesser birds. No, it had gone straight for Deevers’ prized bantam rooster, winner of Best Belgian in the Royal Poultry Exhibition two years in a row. Not that he cared for the bird – it had been a rather foul-tempered creature. However, the fox had also deprived him of the trophies and prestige that the cock might have earned him for at least a few more years.

Pausing a moment to catch his breath, Deevers squinted through the underbrush. They were still well within his property, though he couldn’t recall having ever entered this rather wild section of woods. More than a few of his friends would be amazed that one of his, um, stately physique, could follow a fox, much less run it to ground. To be honest, this was not the quickest such animal he’d ever encountered. Bogged down by a belly full of prize rooster, no doubt. He hefted his shotgun – indigestion would soon be the least of the beast’s worries.

There was a flicker of movement in the clearing just ahead. Aha! He had the poacher now! With as much speed as one of his bulk could manage, Deevers burst into the clearing with weapon ready. The fox was there, cringing, but surprisingly not running away. Before he could take aim, a most peculiar-looking bird suddenly flew between him and his quarry.

He blinked and peered at the fluttering creature. Not a bird. Bloody big for a butterfly. His eyes widened and he jerked back in astonishment. It looked like a person! A tiny person with wings! Casting about, he dredged up a memory from childhood picture books and fanciful tales spun by his nanny. A faerie? And not just one of the supposedly mythical beings. There were others hovering around the fox, which now perked its ears up and regarded him with what might be interpreted as smug satisfaction.

Well, no silly hallucinations were going to prevent Deevers from dispensing justice! At this range, all he had to do was point in the general direction. Jerking the weapon up suddenly, he tried to pull the trigger – and only to have his fingers lock up. The shotgun slipped from his hands, but did not hit the ground – it simply vanished in midair.

As he stared dumbfounded, his ears picked up a curious mix of birdlike chirps and whistles that somehow became words in his head.

The vixen is heavy with kits. You would take 8 lives in retribution for one that you cared nothing about.

Pregnant? No wonder the fox couldn’t run fast. That bit of practical knowledge was tempered by the realization that his hallucinations were talking to him. However, indignation quickly overcame fear.

“She murdered my prize rooster!”

She killed it for food. Murder is what you were planning for her and her kits.

“It wasn’t hers to kill!” Deevers was struggling to reconcile the situation – unable to quite accept the fact that he was talking to a faerie, he hung onto his righteous indignation like a bulldog. “She has deprived me of…” His voice faltered, not sure how to continue.

The faerie had no such trouble. Of what? A hunk of metal and wood, and boasting rights?

Deevers flushed, feeling a touch of shame. “It’s not quite like that. Now see here! I’m not the one at fault here!”

Perhaps. Tell us, mortal. Would you consider restitution of equal or greater value in place of the lives you sought to extinguish?

That caught his interest. Leprechauns were supposed to have pots of gold – perhaps these faerie had treasures as well. “What kind of restitution? That rooster was the best in England – he cannot be replaced.”

What you truly lost was the potential to claim honors and awards. We will restore that potential and extend it for the rest of your life.

Deevers narrowed his eyes. “How? No chicken can live that long.” Then he blinked, thinking of another possibility. “I say! The rest of my life? You don’t mean to turn me into a rooster?!”

While that solution has occurred to us, we prefer not to take life, even in the form of lost lifespan. So we make the other offer. What is your answer?

A cold hand squeezed Deevers’ gut as he finally understood just how much trouble he was in. Arguing with something that could turn him into poultry was not wise. In fact, he should probably turn and run screaming. However, he had to maintain dignity. Swallowing, he nodded curtly to the nearest faerie. “Your offer sounds quite generous. However, I would not want to take unfair advantage of other competitors.”

That will not be a problem, mortal. Any competition will be honestly won, for we will provide only the potential. You will have to work for your victories. Do you accept payment?

He hesitated. Given the likely alternative of sprouting feathers, he did not have much choice. “Very well.” He glanced around the clearing nervously. “I’ll take my leave, then.”

Not yet, mortal. We must fulfill our agreement.

Deevers shifted uncomfortably, his breeches suddenly tight. It took a moment for realization to hit, and he twisted around in sudden alarm. At the same time, his already stiff hands went numb, followed by similar problems with his feet.

A wave of disorientation caused him to sway, and he fell forward as the ground seemed to lurch under him. Curiously, he did not drop as far as expected – his hind end had assumed an odd squatting position. The sudden movement was too much for his breeches, which split apart to reveal a new and somewhat familiar appendage over his now-exposed buttocks. The horse’s tail should have looked quite out of place, but it was flagging above hindquarters with a distinctly equine appearance. He wasn’t squatting – his knees were bent the other way!

The ground pushed against him again, but this time he was braced with arms and legs… no, fore and hind legs. His already large body was becoming even more massive with each heartbeat, pressing what were now four equine hooves into the soft earth. The faerie swarmed around him, pulling lightly at the remains of his clothing. All that remained intact was his hat, which was pushed off by his ears as they drifted upwards on the sides of his head.

Incredulous, he lifted a foreleg and watched as pale fur swept over the flesh like a shaggy fire. It was difficult to accept that the massive hoof and thick cannon belonged to him, that this obviously equine transformation was real. Perhaps that was why he felt only a touch of fear, rather than the stark terror that might be expected. But why a horse? How could that possibly meet the terms of his agreement?

Twisting back, he found himself admiring the solid muscle and sleek hide that were now his. Obviously a draft breed of some kind, solid and short white feathering. The answer popped into his head even as his skull began to sink down behind a protruding face. A Belgian, obviously of the finest breeding. The faerie had been rather literal – the potential trophies for such a horse would carry the same title as that which he had lost, and a young animal would have a life span equal to what he might have had remaining as a man.

The faerie flitted about, creating a curious buzzing in his more sensitive ears. Deevers whuffled deep in his throat, blowing through thick, bristled lips. The transformation appeared to be complete now, yet the magical beings still plucked and patted at his mane and tail, and stroked his cheeks. Twisting around, he was surprised to see that his tail had been wrapped like that of a show horse, and a toss of his head confirmed that his mane was probably braided.

As he worked powerful jaw muscles, something narrow and pliable formed around the end of his muzzle. Trying to focus forward, he managed to pick out brown stripes against the pale blob between his eyes. Leather straps. A halter? One of the faerie grabbed his hat and flew up to place it on his head. They must have created holes in the brim, for he could feel slight pressure around the base of each ear.

He certainly had the trappings of a horse now. Except that he lacked the credentials to compete – even the finest steed was little more than walking dog food without a proper pedigree. Could they have overlooked something that basic? After all, they couldn’t create a past…

Deevers froze at a sudden mental image of other horses with scents that conveyed identity, trust, and companionship. A pasture, strange and familiar at the same time, humans he recognized as friends, but now saw as different creatures outside the herd. It was then he remembered and regretted his own inadvertent condition - no unfair advantages. Which meant…

Payment is complete, mortal. May you find happiness in your new existence.

He snorted indignantly as one of the faerie tugged at his lead, then whuffled in resignation and followed. This was his life now, the equine mindset already becoming familiar. Scents teased his nostrils, telling him that this was the way back to pasture and herd and - mares. Ears perked up and he moved with growing interest. After all, Augustus Lord Deevers, former human and champion stallion, was not one to shirk his duty.

The End