This one is a fantasy story, although only just. It was inspired by my experiences with various estate and letting agents over the years, with the most recent one trying to let a house with dodgy wiring and an expired gas safety certificate, to name the worst of the house’s faults. The ending is a little subtle, but people who’ve had any dealings with these people should get it.
* * *
Meesy and Stam walked down the hill towards the edge of town. They stopped when they reached a row of crude huts built near the river. A woman was waiting for them, a wide smile on her face. “Good morning, you must be the Skinners?”
“Yes, I’m Meesy and this is my husband, Stam.”
“Very good. My name is Daralyn and I’m the duke’s keeper of properties. I believe you’re interested in buying one of these fine dwellings?”
“That’s right,” Meesy said.
“Maybe,” Stam added.
“Let me show you inside. I think you’ll like what you see.”
Daralyn opened a flimsy wicker door and stepped into one of the houses. “This is your main living area, as you can see. Plenty of room to sit, sleep, cook, store your skins, keep a few chickens, let your little ones run around.”
Meesy and Stam stood shoulder to shoulder in the tiny space. If they raised their arms they could have touched the walls.
“What about the other rooms?” Stam asked.
“I’m sorry, other rooms?” Daralyn seemed confused.
“You said this is the living area as if you were going to show us more, well, areas.”
“No no, this is it, compact and easily maintained. You don’t want a lot of rooms, keeping them warm in winter will cost you a fortune. And all that maintenance, terrible.”
“What is it made of?” Meesy asked.
“It’s got all modern materials throughout, all wattle and daub with quality, hand-mixed mud and manure, none of your cheap straw construction like some use.”
“And why is there a hole in the roof?” Stam pointed upwards.”
Daralyn smiled. “The word we use for that is ‘chimney’, you don’t want to be choking to death on all the smoke when the fire’s going.”
“And what’s the floor made of?” Meesy asked.
“Made of?” Daralyn laughed. “It’s not made of anything, it’s all natural ground, untouched and untainted.”
“So, you just built houses in a field?”
“What were you expecting, foundations?”
Daralyn blew a breath out of her mouth. “Not at these prices. You want foundations we’re talking serious money. Besides, it’s just another thing to go wrong. I’m telling you, keep it simple, it’s what most people are doing these days.”
“What about land?” Stam asked.
“What about it?”
“Does it come with land?”
“Well of course it does, you’re standing on it.”
“No, I mean like a plot to grow a few crops.”
“Thought you were skinners?”
“We are, but we still need to grow food.”
“No land included. I could sell you some, plot out the back.”
“Same price as the house.”
“But we won’t get another house?”
“No, it’s the land that gives the value.”
“And how much is it, this house?” Meesy asked.
“Well, you can either pay 500 gold for it or five gold a month until it’s paid for.”
“And how long will that be?”
“Twenty-five years, if you live that long.”
“But that’s 1500 gold, that’s three times the price.”
“Do you have 500 gold now?”
“There you go then.”
“You said ‘if we live that long.’ What does that mean?” Meesy asked.
“Well, if you miss a payment or die before you’ve paid off your debt, the house and the land will belong to the duke.”
“Doesn’t seem fair,” Stam said.
“Well, you can live on the street, though I don’t recommend it around here.”
“We don’t really have much choice,” Meesy said quietly. “We can’t live with my parents with the baby on the way.”
“That’s the spirit!” Daralyn said. “And these things are only going to go up in price.”
“Of course, more demand, higher prices, you should know that, businessman like you.”
“So, we can sell it later and move on?” Stam said.
“Of course. Move up to something with two, or even three rooms. But you’ve got to start somewhere. And think of the baby.”
“Fine, we’ll take it.”
“Excellent! There’s a writ of purchase to sign, a bloody fingerprint will do if you can’t write. And I’ll need ten gold as a deposit and the first month’s rent, I mean payment.”
“I suppose we can manage that.”
“Great. You’ll love it here. All these houses will be full soon and you’ll have a nice little community.”
“And we can make improvements, add another floor, a better roof?” Stam asked as he counted out the gold.
“Of course, it’s your house, your land. Do what you want.”
A month later, Daralyn returned. Meesy and Stam were patching up one of the walls that leaked when it rained.
“Hello there. You’ve made this place look nice,” the property agent said.
Meesy looked at Daralyn accusingly. “Yes, it’s been hard work but we’re getting there.”
“That’s great. So, the Duke has decided to put a road through here so he can get to his boat on the river. All of these houses will have to be knocked down.”
Meesy and Stam stopped what they were doing and approached the agent. “What?”
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. The Duke says remove the houses, that’s what we do.”
“And where are we supposed to live?” Meesy asked.
“As it happens, some new housing has just come on the market, and I can get you in at a decent price.”
“And what about the money we’ve paid for this house?”
“Well, the Duke needs it to pay for the expensive road.”
“And these new houses?”
“Oh, they’re great, a real investment for the future.”
Later that evening two hooded figures crept out of town and headed to a small cave. Inside lived an old woman, rumoured to be a witch.
“We want you to put a curse on a land agent,” Meesy said.
“ALL land agents,” Stam added, “for all time.”
“And what is the curse?” The old woman croaked.
“We want you to curse them to always tell the truth and never lie.”
“Such a curse will require time and some expensive ingredients.”
Meesy offered the witch a gold coin. She took it and bit it to make sure it was real. “This will suffice. Leave now, no one can witness the casting of such a curse and live.”
The two hooded figures returned to the town while the witch prepared the curse. It was quite a simple spell for someone of her skill. She sat before a fire and called up her spirit guide, then chanted the spell in an ancient tongue. “Curse them, curse them all forever and a day, curse them to always… no, wait, never tell. Start again. Curse them, curse them all forever and a day to never tell the truth. I think that’s right. Oh well, I’m off to the tavern.”