Thank you to my Patrons for helping me choose today's fae! There were two fae in particular you guys liked. This is the one that won the coin toss...
All material © 2018, Heather Hudson
Cook was a big serious woman from the port city of Florn in the south. She believed in a lot of things - cold butter, discounts for cash and a number of domestic gods large and small - but until now she had not believed in fairies. She'd heard tell of the things, weird squeaky little bug-people that the gentry liked to collect in glass cages but she'd once worked for a man who'd bred fancy pigeons so that didn't seem unreasonable. Things existed, and if they were rare and silly looking, rich people would make a hobby of collecting them. She didn't have to believe in things if they just was.
This was different.
She had been sent up north by stage last year as part of the new Magistrate's household staff, and by and large had not seen anything odd at first. The local folk were decent, if rural, and the eggs were fresh. She'd found a farmer who cured his own hams to her standards and she'd paid a gracious visit to the local beekeeper, and generally established herself as a power in the local market community. All was as it should be. There were rats, of course, in the big drafty kitchen attached to the magistrate's quarters, but that was what cats were for. The day after she'd arrived, she'd instructed the stable boy to fetch her a good, murderous cat.
It had been a lovely cat, too, just a perfect ratter. It had been a slinking feral beast that carved a bloody trail of rodent murder through the kitchen and pantries, the cold room and the little room in the basement where beer was brewed. It was a lurking, unsociable presence glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, a flitting resident of ominous shadows, and the occasional half a mouse carcass it left behind was easy enough to toss out the back door. The number of disturbing brown pellets she'd had to sift out of the flour dropped considerably.
But cats, alas, must go Out, and this particular cat would on occasional go beyond the stable yard and and the magistrate's compound and roam about in the wild dark, having fights and, obviously, getting into things he oughtn't. And now look at him...
"What do you have to say for yourself?" Cook said aloud.
"Sorry?" The thing that had once been a cat wrung its little hands together, regarded her with moist, hopeful eyes.
She should have known something was wrong when her perfect ratter started rubbing up against her ankles in the kitchen. She'd wondered if it'd eaten something unwholesome, hoped it would throw it up and get it out of its system. A few weeks later she entered the kitchen to find it walking awkwardly on two legs, bracing itself against the wall with unusually long-toed paws. It had spoken its first words before the changes rolled over it, turning paws to scaled talons and unrolling wings from swellings she'd feared were abscesses on its shoulders. Apparently what it had coughed out of its system was being a cat.
Cook had tried to be discrete. She had casually mentioned to her local contacts that she'd heard that a friend's cat was acting oddly, not like a cat at all. The farmer who cured his own hams said it was best to just knock the thing on the head and toss it onto the fire immediately, unless it was turning into something useful in which case it should be alright until it started to "go to spore." The bee keeper said this sort of thing happened in waves, every few years, and as long as the creature wasnt giving off gold dust, it wasn't catching.
"Catching!" Cook had repeated in alarm. She hadn't realized that fairies were something you caught, like the flux.
"Not 'til it's old and senile," said the bee keeper. "They get a real big belly on them, like a puffball, before they go. Until then your friend should probably be fine."
"How long will that be?" Cook couldn't keep a dirty, infectious animal in her kitchen. The thought horrified her.
The beekeeper shrugged. "Who can say? Every one is different. Just keep an eye on the thing - when it starts to go simple and puff up, that's when you've got problems."
Cook had gone home that day intended to follow the pig farmer's advice, but by this time the cat was lurching around on two legs like a scrawny, furry, winged toddler and referring to her "Miz Cook" in a lisping voice that got clearer every day. In the end she just gave it a good scrubbing under the pump and told it that hands must be washed before touching anything in her kitchen. She hoped that would do. So far it had. The problem had come into her kitchen from a different angle, and was leaving little brown pellets in her flour.
"Cat," said Cook, "it seems to me that there are more rats around here than there used to be."
The cat-thing opened its mouth, shut it again, nodded vigorously.
"Cat, you have one job in this kitchen. You kill rats. You've always been a grand ratter. Why do I have rats now?"
"I do lots of things, Miz Cook!" said the cat-thing. "I can stir soup, I can peel taters, I can shell peas..." It waved its little hands in the air. "I will help you with all the things!"
"The rats, Cat. Kill the rats."
"Miz Cook," the cat-thing began. It seemed to lose the thread of its thoughts, started over. "Miz Cook... Killing... Killing is ick."
"Cat, what's got into you?" But she knew. It was golden and sparkly.
"Blood is ick, Miz Cook. But I can do many other things, Miz Cook! Just, please, not ick...?"
"Fancy that," said Cook. "Cat, I need rats killed. You were brought into this kitchen to kill rats. If I need rats killed and you're not going to kill them for me, we have a problem. Now, what would you do in my shoes?"
The cat-thing's face brightened. It patted her reassuringly on the knee. "I fix! No worries, I will help! You wait here!" It bounded for the door.
"Cat, what are you up to?"
"No worry Miz Cook! I get you another cat!"
All material © 2018, Heather Hudson