Resurrection Men: Fræt Hægtesse Part II
Dear Sir Bowler,
I trust this has found you well and in the utmost health. I write to you because I have heard you are the man to write to. I am formally aware of your profession and the company you keep with your cousin, Sir Dogfael. My name is Winifred Wynyn and I am a collector, a grand collector, and there is something more I wish to add to my congeries. I would like to pay you £10 and your cousin £10 for the nail work, half of which will be paid before you even take one step towards the church-yard. If you and Sir Dogfael agree to these terms please respond to the address on the fold and I will send a liaison to the Bell and Bull to pay you, assuming it is in this establishment you still pass the majority of your time. I am aware that neither of you steal possessions from the deceased and I will not ask you to do so, it is just a particular kind I wish to obtain; it will not be reported, noticed, or even missed, you will just simply be taking one thing from the ground and handing it over to me – like a very heavy turnip.
I do not think you or your cousin muck snipes nor a pair of mug-hunters. I only think you the most acceptable men to help me with the task. If I do not hear from you within twelve full days I will assume you wish to pass on these schillings, which although disappointing, would be allowed.
Believe me yours faithfully,
Winifred ‘Fred’ Wynyn
Piet and Humfrids read over their letter carefully. It has been written on laid paper, its parallel lines were perfect, seemingly ribbed from wires in the mold. It felt of the rich. This was the only direct correspondence they had had with Mr. Wynyn. The cousins had obviously accepted the job and word of their decision reached Mr. Wynyn within eight days – another man in his employ was waiting for them at the Bell and Bull on the ninth. He was very quiet and had his appendages tucked so tightly into himself he had the appearance of poorly made wooden poppet. If it had been just a couple years earlier, Humfrids would have been unable to conceal his snickers. The wooden man-boy tells the cousins to call him Skip; this is something Piet tries very hard not to snicker at himself. Skip was dressed well – better than either Humfrids or Piet had ever dressed in the entirety of their lives – and he spoke with nearly no accent at all. Humfrids claimed to detect some hint of an Eastern dialect, Piet swore Humfrids was making that up to sound smart, “East of what, Hum?” he asks. “East of your pudder off,” Humfrids mumbles.
Wynyn’s employee stayed for less than five minutes and gave the diggers a peculiar looking bag right before leaving. The bag appeared to have been sewn together with some mammalian interior tissue of sorts, but it felt silky to the touch. They did not know exactly what it was. Inside they found £10 and a small scrap of paper folded in fourths on which it read, Fræt Hægtesse.
Mr. Klent was proving to be more than slightly helpful. Piet had his doubts upon seeing the condition of the butcher, but his knowledge seemed to only be matched by his courtesy and love of spirits. Humfrids explained to Mr. Klent that he and his cousin had removed many unique and disturbing individuals out of the grounds of London – nearly twenty different locations – and with everything they had seen, neither one of them believed in witches. Mr. Klent listened intently. After twenty minutes he had to retrieve his ear trumpet from upstairs. Piet had seen a few different hearing devices in the year past, but none as small as Mr. Klent’s trumpet. It was made of silver and curled once outwards, not extending beyond itself. It was just only ten centimetres long with a wooden tip that the butcher inserted inside his ear cavity to better make out the cousins’ words. Piet assumed the old man did not usually require the trumpet, but they were speaking more softly than was normal as not to wake the butcher’s wife.
Mr. Klent sat quietly and attentively listened to the boys in his kitchen, waiting for them to finish. “…and that’s when we knocked on your door.” Humfrids says.
Mr. Klent removes the trumpet from his ear as he leans back in his chair, it’s creaking is quickly drowned out by the butcher’s sigh.
“Well, if ya’ boys are been truthful about the s’capades you have taking part in over the course of past years, then I’m surprised you han’t come across a witch. I mean, bullocks, boys – its bloody witches, figure that’d be the first goddamn thing you’d see,” Mr. Klent stops, presses his face into his hands as if they were made out of refreshing, cool water and talks to the cousins through muffled palms, “- an m’ even more b’wildered b’yurr lack of bulif n’ th’m.”
Piet turns around and looks up the steps as if he sees someone who is not there and speaks lowly, “So you’re saying witches are real?”
Mr. Klent leans into meet Piet, “Christ. Yes.”
Humfrids smiles and Mr. Klent turns his attention towards him, “What are you snickering at boy, you are equally daft.”
The smile fades from Humfrids face. “So are we agreed on this fact?” Mr. Klent asks. The cousins nod in accordance, “Good. Now I wish that was the worst thing out there. In fact, many witches are quite lovely; there are light witches and there are dark witches and the lights outweigh the darks by countless numbers – tis a shame how they are treated – I know you’ve heard what they were doing to them in the America?”
“The trials?” Piet asked
Mr. Klent nods. “They burned many; handfuls were not even witches, just poor lasses the church thought were loose.”
Humfrids becomes rigid, “Well, I don’t think we should blame the church, Mr. Klent.”
Mr. Klent struggles to stand up and hobbles towards the younger cousin and hovers over him, “I will accept your ignorance due to your age, but the “church” (he says the word so tartly that he spits all over) is responsible for more atrocities in this world than any of these altered beings combined. Never forget that!” Mr. Klent shouts. And immediately noticing the increased volume of his voice he ducks beneath an invisible beam, waiting for the stirring noise of his wife which he does not hear.
Humfrids cowers in his chair, “I’m sorry, sir.”
Mr. Klent pats Humfrids on the shoulder before struggling back into his chair. There are a few minutes of silence as the butcher catches his breath. Piet breaks the silence, “Mr. Klent, you said witches were not the worst?”
Mr. Klent takes a few more moments to regain his breath, “I did, son.” A bereaved look glamours across Mr. Klent’s face; it was as if he had forgotten someone he loved very dearly had died and he was just remembering it then – “One of the most disconcerting things I know is what is written here on your piece of paper.”
Mr. Klent gets up and makes a kettle of tea. When it whistles, he pours three cups and adds whiskey to each of them. Both Humfrids and Piet are taken back by the strength of the leaves. Mr. Klent grabs his cane and slowly paces back and forth in front of his butchers table, “First thing you need to know of the Fræt Hægtesse is that they are the elders of this world. As far as I am conscious, there are only a two or three left, and from what you told me of what your mysterious employer is paying you to retrieve it, it makes sense. They are remarkably rare… And They are immortal.”
“Then why are we retrieving one from the ground?” Humfrids asks.
“Well, they can be contained; is quite a perilous process t’ capture one,” Mr. Klent stops to think a moment, “I have only read of one ever being successfully wrapped before.”
“Wrapped?” Piet asks.
“Mhmmm,” the butcher wheezes through his pursed lips in order to keep the whiskey in his mouth. He swallows and continues, “the process is called wrapping. Once the Fræt Hægtesse is held, it is wrapped in papyrus that has been soaked in Henna – ”
“Like a mummy?” Humfrids interrupts.
“Yes my boy, like a mummy.” Mr. Klent takes another sip of the spiked tea, “The skin of a Fræt Hægtesse is well, not like skin at all, but rather more like a very thin papery sheath that covers their sinew and bones out of necessity. You see, if they ‘ad any sort of immune system they wun’t live long, but they dun’t, they are ‘mpervious to diseases, to sickness. You see, besized been used as a dye, Henna was employed both internally and locally by the Egyptians when dealing with jaundice, leprosy, smallpox, and most important in is case, affections of the skin.”
Humfrids and Piet hang on to Mr. Klent’s words as if they were the last words they would ever hear. The butcher goes on, “It was used t’ create an instant scab to close open wounds and burns on large ‘reas of the body due to its intense an’iseptic prop’tees.”
The cousins are confused.
Mr. Klent smiles, “The Henna reacts with the papery sheath of a Fræt Hægtesse, you see, freezing its appendages and torso, making it unable to move. Like it is encased in stone.” The butcher pauses to sip, “And You must know this, besides being utterly frightening in ‘pearance and alt’gether deadly, Fræt Hægtesse is clever and is riddled with intelligence, and it will most certainly try to talk with you, confuse you.”
“How can it talk if it’s wrapped up?” Piet asks.
“The only part the Henna does not effect is its head; its head is made of sumfing different, sumfing more ‘kin to fingernails and teeth. Henna does nothing to this part of it.” The cousins are back on their branch.
“At one time these… these eaters were men, like y’ boys and m’self, but it was’nt til the travelers played with a book they wern’t familiar with, a false turn that… that transfermed this elders ‘t what it is ther now. As a much young man I was told the Fræt Hægtesse were the five eldest humans living, and f’r some chance or ‘nuther, they were all in B’lgaria t’gether when they right p’ssed on the travelers and the travelers did their magic on them.”
Piet sits up from his chair and approaches the butcher gently; not to startle or intimidate him. He places his hand on Mr. Klent’s shoulder, “So this one we’re after may be a man or a woman?”
“I suppose,” says the butcher.
Piet appears frustrated and takes a breath. “Mr. Klent, I am more than grateful for your hospitality and your knowledge, but is there something more helpful we should know if we do decide to chase these Schillings?”
The old man stands tall, as if he had never needed his cane, as if it was a prop he used to fool those around him. He returns his hand to his new acquaintance’s shoulder, “There most certainly is my boy… (his impediment seemed to disappear altogether) there most certainly is.”
The two cousins felt confident and ready for circumstance, that is until their soles resonated on the cobblestone path that lead in the direction of The Church of the Fauxefeld Fathers. It was then that Piet hinted that the job was once again making him uneasy, and although Humfrids teased and made fun at him, he too was not entirely comfortable with the possibility of resurrecting a devourer – after all – by the logical means of being an eater of witches, it most likely met a less than favorable encounter, and had thusly been left wrapped in a sour mood.
What set both Humfrids and Piet off into the realm of the peevish was the simple fact that neither of them had ever received any actual proof of a living, powerful witch, let alone someone or something that eats them, and what was even worse was that as they began to dig, it did not take long at all for them to realize that the Fræt Hægtesse had not been buried deep or in any sort of container. Whoever had the resources and power to confiscate such a thing did not have the wherewithal to even place it in any vessel whatsoever. And it was because of this that they knew they had come across what they were sent to retrieve when the tips of their shovels penetrated the Henna wraps and the oldest one let out such a shriek; a piercing scream that forced the cousins to drop their shovels and cup their ears and droop their heads, and when they raised their eyes they saw a long-limbed figure that owled above the loose dirt where the cousins were digging. Humfrids and Piet could see it was grey, even within the glow of their orange lanterns it was grey, and when the ringing subsided inside of their ears, they heard the thing in front of them breathing heavily and seemingly unable to approach them, it sucked in a great sniff and well within the shadow cast by their gaslights, it flickered long, drawn-out words, “Whhhhhy, yooourrrrrr noooooooooo witchessssssss.”