This story available on Apr 24, 2021

Render Unto Caesar

by

Chris Edwards

With hop and gyre and a scuffle and a squawk, with bird-bright eyes and mud-dark rags the host of the fae crept nervously into the great golden halls. At their head fair Titania’s toadlike mouth gaped open with nervousness, and beside her Oberon wheezed and flopped along on his fins.

 

As they approached the doors to the throne room, majestic angels in white robes and golden masks stood watching sternly. When the ragged company drew near, they pulled aside the great golden doors and a brilliant light shone forth from the court beyond.

 

Upon her burnished throne the Morningstar reclined, the fires of solar fusion playing about her in splendid array.

 

“Welcome, cousins. Always a pleasure to have you grace our halls.” Her words were mellifluous, but none could miss the sarcasm dripping from her tone. The angels smirked behind their glistering masks.

 

Titania swallowed hard. Once a year she had to come forth and stand between the paws of this great lioness. Every year there was some new humiliation to put her in her place.

 

“Golden One! We thank you for the generous gift of your divine protection, and make this humble offering to you.”

 

Lucifer said nothing, but the golden glow about her faded to a more mellow tone. Millenia had taught the fae queen that a little flattery was more likely to succeed than a lot; a somewhat alien concept to Titania, since she had her own folk flatter her at every opportunity.

 

Struggling goblins and boggarts brought forth great bulging sacks and emptied them onto the steps of the golden dais at Lucifer’s feet. One tenth of all the pathetic treasures that the fae had claimed this last year. Amongst them such wonders as a dead mouse, some baby teeth, a handful of berries already ripening to rot, various bits of shiny rock, colourful plastic and dirty ribbons. But all this treasure included not even one human soul. Titania’s mouth gaped wider, for although her memory was hazy, she remembered what happened during lean years when the offerings were poor.

 

One of Lucifer’s perfect golden eyebrows raised itself, “My teind seems a little light this year. In truth it seems to be nothing of any value whatsoever.”

 

The fae trembled before her, for they well knew the cost of angering the Golden One.

 

“Throughout all the ages of humanity I have tolerated your existence, your freedom from my rule – as long as you brought me my due. You’ve tested my patience before, but this… this is nothing short of an insult!”

 

Suddenly the sunlight around Lucifer became painfully bright and a terrible groaning came from the floor of the throne room. With a grinding crash it split open to reveal a chasm of endless darkness, into which one of the attendant angels fell with a piteous wail. The fae were knocked sprawling to grovel and gibber on the floor before the enraged Morningstar.

 

Lucifer stood and said In a voice that shook the cosmos, “Tell me now, little cousins, what possible reason can you offer for me to excuse this grave insult? Why should I not just sweep you down to the lowest layer of the pit to join that pathetic fornicator, Adam, in his misery?”

 

Titania’s lidless eyes bulged even further. Oberon gasped and rolled over onto his back, his pale, slimy belly heaving. At last the fae queen managed to squeak out, “The mortals, Golden One, they can’t hear us any more!”

 

Suddenly the ground stopped trembling and the deadly radiance faded from Lucifer, “What do you mean?”

 

Titania replied miserably, “Before, when there were less of them, it wasn’t hard to speak to them. But now... there’s such a tumult of them they only hear the whisper of our voices. Their numbers grow ever larger every day, and ours only dwindle.” Careful she was to avoid mentioning that the source of said dwindling was the cruel sport Lucifer’s cohort’s made of the fae.

 

The Morningstar threw back her head and laughed with a voice like the ringing of a great, golden bell, the echoes rebounding from the shattered walls of her throne room. “I see, so you’re asking for burnt offerings, firstborn children and so on, and you’re not getting anywhere?”

 

Titania shook her head sadly, “Not even the first coin they earn each year. Nor bread and milk, let alone souls or firstborn.”

 

Lucifer stooped down, one sharp golden finger wagging in Titania’s face, “Don’t be so quick to dismiss the power of whispers, o’ queen of the fae. A whisper can raise a doubt, and a doubt can be the trickle that wears away at even the most solid foundation.” Lucifer looked with cruel delight at her angels, who did their best to look stoic but squirmed under her golden gaze.

 

The Golden One leaned in and spoke softly into the shivering fae’s earhole, “My dear, it was a whisper that toppled God from her Throne and won me my victory.”

 

Again, Titania’s memories tended to be hazy at best, but she thought perhaps she didn’t remember it being quite the victory that the Morningstar painted it as. She wasn’t stupid enough to say so, though.

 

“Let me teach you the power of whispers, little one.”, Lucifer laughed again and the angels trembled.

 

***

 

Unseen, Oberon floated at the side of a human. They were doing inscrutable human things with the boxes of light which captivated them so intensely. His memory was even worse than Titania’s, and his whiskered face twitched as he summoned every ounce of concentration to recall the Morningstar’s words correctly. At last he darted in and whispered into the human’s ear, “Why would you let a stranger stick a needle full of poisonous mercury into your child? You know those vaccines give children autism? Big pharma are trying to hush it all up, and the doctors play along...” Surprisingly, for the first time in a long time, the human seemed to be almost listening. Then they went back to playing with the light-up box with intense animation. How disappointing, for a moment it had almost felt like the old days. He supposed he’d just have to try another.

 

But slowly, steadily, it seemed as if the humans were beginning to respond. The more they heard the fae whispering “They faked that whole school shooting, you know. Just to discredit people who like guns!” or “Everyone knows homeopathy works best for cancer, but the doctors don’t want anyone to know!” the more open they got to the next peculiar thing on Lucifer’s script. None of it made the slightest sense to the fae, but they didn’t care, because after about a month it began working.

 

Children began to die. The humans were deliberately killing their own children and the children of others. And it was because of what the fae had told them to do. It was an offering. And once the floodgates opened, it wasn’t just a few children dying, it was hordes of them. Children denied vaccines, children given harmful alternative medicines, children refused medical treatment in favour of crystal-waving or homeopathic water remedies. And along with the glut of dead children came the bleak, empty souls of those who’d committed these acts, each one writhing and screeching, filled with rationalisations about how they’d been serving some imaginary good. The fae didn’t care, it was all manna to them.

 

***

 

A year passed, and it was not the same ragged crew that approached Lucifer’s court. Now the fae stood strong and tall, well fed on sacrifice. On their backs they carried a hundred bags and each bag they threw at the feet of Lucifer contained a thousand dead children and a hundred human souls. Titania, regal and beautiful, was arrayed as befitted a queen. Oberon now walked on scaled legs and wielded a jewelled trident.

 

Lucifer looked down from her throne, a smile upon her lips, but perhaps also a look of calculation. Her angels looked distinctly uncomfortable, remembering the cruelties they’d visited upon the fae in the past.

 

“Golden One, here is your tribute. At our whisper, the humans have begun causing death amongst their own kind.”

 

Lucifer strode down and examined the offerings, which swamped out of her court and lay stacked across the rest of her palace. “You’ve done... well.”

 

“But tell us, Golden One, why do the humans turn upon their own kind in this way? They gain nothing and lose all.”

 

“Civilisation, rationality; humans were not made for these things. God never intended it for them. It chafes on them, they desire simple certainties, not troubling questions and endless complexities.”

 

“Shall we then continue as you have bade us?” Titania asked.

 

“I think perhaps it’s time to put the humans back down to a much more manageable number. So then, here are the words you must memorise for next year…”

 

The fae host, eager for more, lent forward to hear as the Morningstar spoke

 

“Make … America… Great… Again....”

Chris is co-author of the Tales from the Aletheian Society audio-drama podcast, and has been published in a few places - most recently in Issue 23 of Grimdark Magazine.

He lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with his family.

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