The Pasture Watch – Part Three: The Signal

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Dr. Tom Kikkert was friendly about the number of people he let in the room when they were those who needed to be there. He kept the true proverb, that “companionship is the purest medicine”. Otto’s room had warm brown walls: the doctor tried to avoid sterile white. Otto’s barrel-chested father sat by the bed and held his hand. Nearby sat his mother, who seemed undisturbed (“He is a boy, after all”). She was holding Otto’s baby brother, who also seemed undisturbed, and was pointing with interest at the various medical and magical things in the room: he had never been in this interesting place before. Kitty was sitting on a love-seat, and leaning, exhausted, on Else Verboom, Otto’s sweetheart; Else was a nice person to lean against.

In a larger town than Assendoorn there would be a natural doctor and a preternatural doctor, but here Dr. Kikkert served as both; a “biplane” as he called himself. He had Otto receiving intravenous anti-venom at measured intervals, and had a bronze medallion taped to his forehead to mitigate the initial impact of the curse. To Kitty the strangest thing was seeing Otto without his glasses on, though she had seen it often enough.

Between tending to Otto and doing tests, Dr. Kikkert would sit near the girls to hear Kitty’s account of the occurrence. She spoke thickly as he had put ice in her mouth: she had indeed bitten her tongue very hard. The ice also helped her focus on speaking clearly rather than on the terrible things she described. Dr. Kikkert often resembled an old Benjamin Franklin who was oddly at a loss for words; Kitty and Else liked him.

When Otto’s breathing had quieted and his speech had become coherent again, his father spoke with him. His father’s name was also Otto, Otto the First. He had a low, growling, storyteller’s voice, and taught history at Cancer, where Kitty and Otto went to school (it was named for the constellation).

“Why did you run at the scorpion, Otto?” he asked.

“Well, Kitty had already lost one of her goats today. And I knew it was dangerous, though I couldn’t see what it was, I guess because it was a spirit.”

“And you didn’t think how it would be dangerous to you.” His father said this not as if rebuking his son, but almost as if he was tranquilly boasting to all present. Else and Kitty agreed in sentiment with their eyes.

Dr. Kikkert brought from another room a small flag, and gave it to Kitty. It was white, with diagonal black bands separating it into four quadrants, each with an emblem. 

“Erect this flag at the entrance of the field, with a gift of good fruit below it,” said Dr. Kikkert, “this is so we may speak with the fairy, if God allows.”

She recognised from magic class that the flag was made of human hair yarn, and that one of the emblems stood for royalty: it was a flower, but always looked to her like a cup. She wondered why it was there.

“Do you think the fairy is good then?”

“No. That is to say, I can’t tell. But we must find out from one of The Folk, and the fairy is the only choice.”

He advised her not to tell anyone else who did not already know of the fairy (except of course her father), as it was disrespectful to such creatures to noise abroad their presence.

That evening was very busy for Kitty and Dolores Bauer. With extreme care they retrieved the body of Ari, the goat which had died, and buried her sadly. They fetched the rest of the goats from the pasture, which was an even more frightening and ticklish business as it seemed they didn’t want to leave. Then they put up a danger sign outside the gate, and a few steps inside the gate they set up the flag, with a little mound of beautiful pears, cherries, persimmons, and apples. The next morning the flag and the fruit were gone, and in their place grew a small sapling of a bay tree. It grew further, branching much, so that on the third day it was a bush as wide around as a large table, blocking the entrance to the pasture past the gate.

As Dr. Kikkert instructed, Otto and Kitty brought bay branches of their own to the fairy tree, on the evening of the third day when the sun touched the horizon. They laid their branches on the ground and stood on them. Instead of bowing, they held out their hands. Otto held out his left hand, his right being in a sling – not because of the effects of the venom, but to remind him not to use that hand. The curse was a potent one: a window spontaneously cracked when he stood near it, and the plants died on his bedroom windowsill. Before he used the sling to remind himself, he tried to pull on a shirt, and it tore like tissue; later when he leaned his hand lightly on the sink, it had broken off the wall.

They saw a soft light without any source play over the leaves of the fairy tree, and then the form of a man, no taller than a man’s finger, came and stood at the end of one of the branches. Kitty caught her breath, and covered her eyes with her hands; not because there was much particularly amazing about the man, other than his complete lack of clothes. Otto hoped the small personage would take Kitty covering her face as respect rather than insult, but felt he had better try explaining.

“I am sorry, with all respect good fairy…”

“I am not the fairy prince,” said the man, “I am the human signal of the fairy prince, come to speak with the great.”

“Yes, thank you good signal, I just wanted to say that my friend Kitty isn’t supposed to see a man who…” He hesitated, trying to think of a delicate way of putting it.

“I am sorry, my friend among the great. I will go, and the fairy prince will send the female human signal.”

“No! I mean, I’m sorry, with all respect, she may see you, but she must only see your face, your handsome face, with all respect…”

The human signal walked back along the branch and was gone. Otto took off his glasses in case the female signal appeared, until he heard the same voice speak again. “Here I am,” it said. Otto put his glasses back on, and saw the man face peering from a thicker place among the leaves. He whispered to Kitty that she could look. Once the two of them were properly looking at him, the tiny person began:

“Otto Kunger the Second, you are large, and your eyes are terrifying; Katharine Bauer, you are vast, and you are extremely strong; both of you have come to speak to the human signal of the fairy prince, and the fairy prince says…” here his face suddenly became so stern that, small as he was, they felt more shy and embarrassed than if they were being scolded by a father or teacher, “great ones, why have you taken away my people?”

After a moment’s awkward confusion, Kitty ventured to assume he meant the goats.

“We are sorry, good signal, we took them away to protect them, we didn’t want any more to die. Will you tell the good fairy prince that we are sorry?”

“The human signal is my ears as well as my mouth, the fairy says.” Then the face became heart-rendingly mournful in every line. “Oh, why could I only defend one of all my people? They were not used to me.” Then it became terribly stern again. “Why, great Otto, did you attack my guardian with such tremendous speed and strength?”

“I’m sorry, great… I mean, good fairy prince. I thought I was saving your people.”

“I would never hurt one of my people!” the signal cried fiercely. He stroked his small curly beard with a grim scowl, then swiftly hid his hand from Kitty, and his face was filled with abject guilt. Otto had told him only his face should be seen. Kitty decided to strike while the iron was blushing, so to speak.

“Oh please, good fairy prince, will you not help us heal great Otto, who was stung and cursed while trying to defend your people?”

“Mighty and tremendously heavy Katherine, he must kill my guardian, and eat him entirely, and take his place. The instrument to kill my guardian you will find among the roots of this tree.”

With that, the face withdrew, and the parley was abruptly ended. The sun was fully set a few moments later, and they were standing in grey twilight.

“So…” Kitty said uncomfortably as she and Otto looked at each other, “people do eat fairies after all…”

Go here to read: The Pasture Watch – Part Two: The Sting

Go here to read: The Pasture Watch – Part Four: The Cure

Go here to read all posted so far of: The Kitty and Otto Stories

I’m cross-posting this here and on Hope, Hearts, and Heroes: a blog of six authors in Romance and Speculative fiction.

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