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Chapter 2: Sherlock Holmes


The púca awoke warm, dry, and free of pain. The iron was gone from his body. He sniffed - burning wood, ammonia, and tobacco.

The púca opened his eyes and looked about. He lay on a blanket before a fireplace in a room filled with a myriad of mysterious objects. There was a wealth of furnishings and fixtures, some familiar and some he could not name. The walls were covered in colourful paper and the floor in piles of books, a treasure trove of mortal stories and knowledge for the púca to reach out and touch.

“Ah, good, you’re awake at last.” The huntsman loomed over him, metal weapon in hand, eyes glittering with eagerness like that of a falcon diving for a rabbit. “I have already introduced myself. Might you be so good as to return the favour?”

The púca settled into a wary crouch. The huntsman, Sherlock Holmes, had not harmed him. He’d tended the púca’s wounds and brought him back to his den. “This one is púca,” he answered in the speech he’d learnt by listening to the mortals of London.

Sherlock Holmes peered down at him. “Not a dumb beast after all. Intriguing. I’d thought perhaps some previously undiscovered ape or cross-species experimentation escaped from a laboratory… but with four simple words you have entirely disproven that line of reasoning, and confirmed the improbable evidence of my senses.”

Sherlock Holmes placed the weapon out of sight above the fireplace, watching the púca for any reaction. The púca’s stance relaxed, and the man’s lips curved. “Finally, a phenomenon which merits the full exercise of my intellect,” he murmured. The man began pacing about like a hound casting for a scent until his eyes lit upon one of the piles of books from the floor. “This set of references has proven utterly useless.” He stooped to snatch them up, stalked across the room to a window, glanced out, and then threw the entire set of books out before slamming the glassed window shut to block a bellow from below.

There was a wooden creak outside the door, then another in quick succession. The púca tilted his head and listened. A sharp knock.

“Mister Holmes, sir,” called a woman. “Will you and your guest be wanting tea?” There was a rattle at the latch, and the door began to open.

Sherlock Holmes dashed across the room, hurdling a low table in his path, and slammed the door shut. “Not now, Mrs Hudson. I fear he is not quite himself as of yet. Perhaps a hearty dinner this evening? A good joint of mutton is just what he needs to regain his strength.”

“Mutton? I would need to go out and purchase …”

“Yes. You should do so immediately, so that you may begin preparing the meal. That will be all.”

The woman muttered to herself and creaked away.

Sherlock Holmes turned, his weight still leaning upon the door he had forced shut. “My housekeeper,” he said quietly, “is both an excellent cook, and an insufferable busybody. That is the third time she has tried to get a look at you since I smuggled you into these rooms last night. Mrs Hudson is one of the few women in London steadfast enough to tolerate my experiments and eccentricities, but I suspect the sight of you would exceed even her prodigious limits, and I have neither the time nor the patience to find another servant.”

The púca rose from his crouch by the fireplace to stand on his feet, hissing with pain from his wound as he did so. He padded to the window and looked out. They were high above the ground. The leap was not impossible, but there was no cover nearby. The midday sun beat down mercilessly from the sky. The púca winced and backed blindly away from the window, blinking to regain his sight.

Sherlock Holmes was watching him, brow creased.

“Stay until sunset?” the púca asked him. “This one needs shadows to slip away.”

“An absurd suggestion,” Sherlock Holmes said, flicking the request away like a pesky fly. “I am not saying you should leave. I am recommending you change form. You are a shape shifter, yes? It is a supposition on my part, admittedly, but I did observe your transformation from a great hound into this shape in the alley. Unless the hound was an illusion, a glamour of some kind?”

“No, the hound is true,” the púca said.

“Well then. You have changed into this shape, which is humanoid, if still distinctly inhuman. And I know that your current form is a real, physical body. I did cut a bullet out of your shoulder, after all. Your flesh reacted to a cheap iron round as if it were muriatic acid. A most singular effect that merits further study.”

The púca stiffened, claws extending instinctively at the threat.

Sherlock Holmes noted the púca’s reaction with a raised eyebrow. “Or not, if you prefer. In any case, if you are able to take the form of a man, púca, I would implore you to do so, that we might both enjoy the lovely dinner which Mrs Hudson will be preparing for us.”

No threat here, the púca decided, beyond the burden of guest-right. Sherlock Holmes offered shelter and food, and the púca found himself yearning for it, for the warmth of this mortal’s hearth. What he asked for in return was … difficult. Three forms a púca might take: horse and hound and hands. Hands was a useful form, good for carving and singing and the writing of runes. Yet it was not that of a man. Sherlock Holmes towered above the púca, tail-less, with no fur at all except to thatch the very peak of his head.

It might be possible. The púca remembered when he was young, twisting his form to find the one that felt true. Taking the shape of a bay stallion, a white mare, a war mount with a wide back and blade-sharp hooves. He closed his eyes and reached for that unsettled state. He thought of the mortals in the streets, of Sherlock Holmes. Bones stretched and shifted; his shoulder burned with a fresh agony as the wound distorted. The púca teetered like a new-born colt on long, straight legs and felt the air drift cool across bare skin.

He opened his eyes to find Sherlock Holmes near enough to touch, eyes flickering over the púca’s form with rapt attention. “Good?” the púca asked.

Sherlock Holmes stepped back with a fierce shake of the head. “Not good. That is no use at all. You cannot possibly walk about the city like that. You would frighten children in the streets.”

The púca shrank in on himself. “Never tried,” he said. “First time in mortal form.”

Sherlock Holmes brightened. “Is it really? In that case, I assume you would welcome my suggestions, yes? Now, where to begin? What is most likely to draw unwanted attention?” He paced away, and then whirled round, immediately focusing on the púca’s face. “Ah. The human pupil is round, not a vertical slit. The iris should be coloured in shades of blue or brown. Green is an acceptable variant.”

The púca had never noticed such details. He considered the eyes of men, and twisted. When he opened his eyes, Sherlock Holmes nodded.

“Much better. Your fingers are twice as long as those of a man, and you appear to have an extra joint.” Sherlock Holmes held up his own hands as exemplars. They displayed a multitude of tiny scars from cuts and burns, the mark of an alchemist. “My own hands represent the upper extreme of normality,” he said. “Most men’s fingers are both shorter and broader.”

The púca re-shaped his hands to fit. They were stiffer this way, and less agile, but mortals seemed to manage well enough.

“Excellent. Now, your clavicle, or rather, your lack of clavicle, is a problem.”

The púca squinted at Sherlock Holmes. “‘Clavicle’?”

“Yes, the clavicle, the collarbone. It is –” Sherlock Holmes’ hands flew to the buttons of his garment, then stopped. “Wait.”

He spun about and strode across the room, pulling a fat, leather-bound book from a shelf. He laid it on top of a stack of books. The stack teetered. Sherlock Holmes grimaced and retrieved the book from its unstable perch. He cast his eye over the heavily-laden table top, shook his head, and then laid the book carefully upon the floor, prostrating himself on the carpet before it and opening the volume to a specific page.

“Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica,” he said reverently, beckoning to the púca. “Come see what I mean about the clavicle. Can you read? No? We’ll need to address that immediately. English and Latin to start, of course. Then French and Italian.”

The púca collapsed awkwardly to his knees, jarring the wounded shoulder, and brushed short fingers across the page of the book. There was a picture of a human body, all flesh removed, revealing the bones underneath. This was a treasure indeed.

“Magnificent, is it not?” Sherlock Holmes breathed. “It was published in 1543. The physiology is out-dated, but the anatomical detail of the woodcuts is breath-taking.”

That a man might, in one brief candle-flame of a mortal lifetime, amass such knowledge and then gift it to the rest of his kind in this way, to be passed from hand to hand through the generations, studied and added to … there was a power to it, a stubborn will to learn and grow and become that the púca had never seen among the fae.

They pored over the volumes for hours, Sherlock Holmes pointing out tiny discrepancies between the woodcuts and the púca’s form that they might be remedied. Once he could find no fault in the púca’s anatomy, Sherlock Holmes covered him in many layers of mortal garb, and seemed most pleased with the effect.

“Now, ‘Púca’,” the man said. “Is that your name, your title, your species, or a description of your current state?”

The púca considered. “Not a name,” he said.

“Well, you must have a name. I shall call you Watson,” Sherlock Holmes declared. “Doctor John Watson.”

The púca growled, deep in his chest. Only the Queen could grant a name, the greatest of boons. He had never earned one. Never would.

Sherlock Holmes showed his teeth. “After all, he certainly has no further need of a name. And the man had neither family nor any intimates who might gainsay its appropriation. ”

The man? Their prey? The púca edged forward. Only the Queen could grant a name, yes, but a huntsman had the ancient right to bestow the spoils of the hunt. Rack, liver, pelt … name?

“Yes, that should work out nicely. Watson was a retired army surgeon. Very respectable, if one failed to note his more unsavoury habits. And he was a survivor of the Battle of Maiwand. That should go far in explaining your wound, as well as any, hmm, peculiarities in your manner.”

That settled, Sherlock Holmes dropped into a chair. He picked up a pipe and began methodically filling the bowl with tobacco.

The púca whispered the name to himself; tasted it on his tongue. Watson. Doctor John Watson. A healer. A fighter. A survivor. Yes.

It was too much. Sherlock Holmes did not understand the gift he had given the púca, and so would not claim fair recompense. The púca, Watson, could not in honour leave this debt between them. He rose to his feet, crossing his wrists in a way that would convey gratitude to one of his own kind.

“You removed the iron,” he began. “Saved this one – saved my life. Gave me a name. A debt is owed.”

Sherlock Holmes lit his pipe and puffed on it contemplatively, eyes distant, tapping the bowl from time to time. The púca waited patiently as the smoke drifted across the room.

The man abruptly refocused on him, scent sharpening. “The shot was originally intended for me. However, if it is your nature to abhor a debt…” He leant forward. “I have been compared to a hound, set upon the wolves of this great city. You would be uniquely qualified to serve as my assistant.”

The púca snarled; outraged that a mortal should think him so easily bound.

Sherlock Holmes did not retreat, but laid the pipe down to study him, gnawing anxiously on his lip as he awaited the púca’s answer.

The púca tested the air. Sherlock Holmes’s scent held neither cruelty nor greed. It was a pure, childlike curiosity. Sherlock Holmes had discovered a mystery, in the form of one exiled fae, and he yearned to explore it in the same way a lesser mortal might crave food, or wealth, or power.

The evening shadows had grown long and thick. The púca could escape to them now, leaving this warm hearth, and promised meal, and gifted name behind. Leaving Sherlock Holmes. Or he could stay.

“Assistant,” Watson said. “I could be that.”

Sherlock Holmes took a breath.

“For a time,” Watson cautioned him.

“For a time,” Sherlock Holmes agreed quickly. He leapt to his feet, as if the energy within him could no longer be contained, and darted across the room to throw open the door. “Mrs Hudson,” he bellowed down the stairs that were revealed. “Where is our dinner? Doctor Watson has agreed to stay on as my assistant!”

Chapter 3

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
noirrosaleen
Sep. 24th, 2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
This is *fascinating*. I can't wait for more!
keerawa
Sep. 25th, 2012 02:57 am (UTC)
Thank you! I feel like a bit of a tease, but the serial format seemed so right for this story, I had to try it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )