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Chapter 4: Young Master Holmes


The snows came and went, came and went in a monotonous whirl and I felt myself fading away.

A mortal girl became lost in my forest. I led her home. She became a wife, and then a mother, whilst I watched. Her husband left, gone to soldier. I had been a soldier once. No, not I – Watson. Holmes had taken that name back, had he not? The wife was a widow, now. She raised her children and grand-children to show me respect. I helped the family – brought firewood in the depths of winter, herded their sheep away from the bogs, mucked out the barn and scared off the wicked boy who would take a young girl’s virtue. In return they remembered the púca in their prayers and always left a bowl of milk outside the barn for me. It was a thin diet of habit, rather than true belief; barely enough for a púca to survive upon. Yet survival was all I had.

Until one day, when I heard a name whispered on the wind. Sherlock Holmes. I listened closely. ‘Twas not just one of my old stories, his name being read and remembered. No. This was a living mortal’s true name, spoken with love. I followed the scent of it past villages grown to great cities, across roads black with cold tar and thick with roaring horseless carriages. I slipped through shadows grown sparse in the strange bright lights of this new world.

There were manor lands that tasted of him, a great house, a babe with sparse dark curls asleep in an elaborate cot.

“Is it really you, Sherlock Holmes?” I asked the infant, as moonlight cast my shadow over him. “Is it only your name reborn here, or your spirit as well?” The little one stirred in his sleep, but did not answer me. I breathed in his scent, a sweet mix of mother’s milk and innocence. It was enticing. Suddenly I understood those fae who stole babes away from their mortal families. I allowed myself to imagine it, just for a moment. Taking this tiny Sherlock Holmes with me to raise as my own. But, no. I’d no teats to feed a babe. No knowledge to feed Holmes’ hungry mind. The trip here had proven me ignorant of the mortal world. And I’d no right. My Sherlock Holmes had invited me into his life. This little one had not.

“If you need me, I shall come,” I promised, and left him to his family.

I returned to my forest. It was much reduced from what I had once known; fields and roads had devoured it bit by bit over the years without my notice. I was restless, my senses keen. I had drifted through the years, but now I felt the passage of each day. Was the babe well? Was he truly my Sherlock Holmes reborn? Was today the day he would call for me?

I paid close attention to the farmer girl’s descendants, listening to their conversations, the music they played upon the radio, and the stories that played out like a seer’s magic on their television. The fledgling medico-legal science Holmes had nourished with his countless monographs had raced ahead like a stampeding carriage. Aeroplanes allowed men to fly like birds, faster than the speed of sound. Mortal men had walked upon the face of the moon. Mary Shelley’s gothic novel had proven prophetic, as surgeons replaced men’s diseased or damaged organs with those harvested from fresh corpses. I had once read in journals about the successful trials of aspirin to reduce fever and pain. Now they had vaccines to prevent and medicines to cure illnesses that I had seen claim the lives of dozens of men, women, and children under my care.

I wanted it. I wanted it all. I wanted to know, and do, and be, everything that this mortal world had to offer. And that was when, at long last, I heard the call. Tonight. Now. Sherlock Holmes needed me. I leapt from shadow to shadow with a speed I had not approached since the Underhill.

The boy was pale and slim, with wild dark hair. He lay on his back in the grass behind the stables, eyes squeezed fiercely shut. The moonlight turned the tears slipping down the side of his face into precious gems.

I tried to take the form of a man, but I had avoided it for too long, its every whisker and pore a bitter reminder of him. The shape felt strange and clumsy now, the joints all wrong. I remembered Holmes saying, ‘You would frighten children in the streets.’ I had no desire to frighten this child, so I took my hands form. It was smaller and should be less threatening to a boy. I crouched down beside him. “Young Master Holmes?”

The boy threw himself upright, face twisted in fury, then confusion. I expected the boy to bolt, but instead he stepped closer, eyes flicking over every inch of my form. “You sound like a servant,” he said, voice high and imperious, “but you look … what are you?”

“Púca,” I answered, wondering if I should have taken on some approximation of human form, instead.

The boy walked in a circle around me, just outside of arm’s reach. I stood still, but felt my tail curl anxiously between my legs. “My nanny told stories about things like you,” the boy said from behind me, scent rich with a heady curiosity. “Mummy fired her for talking rubbish.”

Holmes finished his inspection and stood in front of me again, staring up at me, just a touch shorter than I in this form. “Why are you here on the estate?” he demanded.

“You needed me,” I answered.

“I don’t need anyone,” the boy snapped instantly, and I would have believed him if I’d not seen the tears.

“I can see you do not need a person,” I suggested carefully, “but perhaps you need a púca?”

“Why? What’s a púca for?”

I considered. I had been a sheep-herder, a wood-cutter, and a guard dog in past years. But none of that was my true purpose. A Boswell, an assistant, a friend to the most brilliant mortal I’d ever met – that’s what I was for. “Oh, púcas are very useful for all sorts of things,” I assured the young Holmes.

“I suppose you could help me with my experiments,” the boy conceded. “What would you need in return?” he asked.

“In return?”

“Yes, I assume there’s some sort of deal to be made? I can’t give you any clothing,” young Holmes said. “I remember that from the stories, although why I’d want to, I’ve no idea. Everyone wears clothing; it’s very boring. Your fur is far more interesting.”

This ‘deal’ would make things easier, I decided. “First, you must keep my existence a secret.”

The boy nodded. “Easy enough. Now Mycroft’s gone off to school”- and there was something guarded in his tone- “there’s no one left who might deduce you. What else?”

“You need to teach me all about the modern world.” I had sleep-walked through the years since Sherlock Holmes had gone where I could not follow, and the world had changed profoundly during my period of abstraction. There was so much to learn.

“Well, I can try,” Holmes mumbled, “but it’s not my fault if you’re not clever enough to keep up.” He froze as if suddenly realising he’d spoken aloud, and glanced at me uncertainly.

The boy reminded me of my own Sherlock Holmes, when I had forced the man to explain the chemical apparatus that stained his fingers and scarred every horizontal surface in our home. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Oooh, you’ve got dog’s teeth,” the boy exclaimed, standing on tip-toe for a better view. “Open your mouth and show me the rest.”

“Later,” I promised.

“Fine,” the boy said sulkily, sinking back down to his normal height. “What’s your third condition?”

“Hmm?”

“There are always three, right? So what is it?”

“Oh,” I said, a bit flustered. There should be three. Was that true? Or was it from the tomes of fairy lore Holmes had collected over the years? “You must leave out a saucer of milk for me every night before you go to bed,” I said. The farmer girl’s family had always done that as a sign of respect.

“Milk?” said the young Holmes sceptically. “With those teeth?”

“It’s traditional,” I told him firmly. “And I’ve always liked milk, Master Holmes.”

“Agreed!” He held out his hand. We shook on it like gentlemen. “And you ... you can call me Sherlock,” he offered.

It was shockingly intimate, even when addressing so young a boy. But I quite liked the idea.

“That I shall, Sherlock.”

Sherlock smiled at me. “Now sit down and open your mouth so I can examine your teeth,” he ordered.

I sank down onto my haunches and allowed my mouth to gape open. I could hear his heart, the quick pulse of an excited boy. My own heart thrummed in time; I was alive in a way I hadn’t felt since last I had a Sherlock Holmes of my own.

Larktag has posted a marvelous illustration of the púca's meeting with Young Master Holmes on her tumblr.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
noirrosaleen
Sep. 26th, 2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
OH THIS IS EXCITING. (Small note - took his hands form? What's that?)
keerawa
Sep. 27th, 2012 06:14 am (UTC)
Yay! Glad you're having fun! Hands form is one of the puca's three 'natural' forms - horse, hound, and hands. It's the mall, humanoid form. I wonder if there's some way to make that more clear without going into an unwieldy exposition mode.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )