dogs and mud

The Australian

“G'day, mate.”

It started innocently enough. After all, the Australian student was good for a bit of a laugh at first.

It wasn’t long, however, until people started watching the Australian more closely. How he wandered where he pleased and never seemed to be missed of a night. He introduced himself as ‘Ned’, and he wore no iron. He carried no salt.

The Gentry would not touch him. When he passed them in the halls he was respectful, after a fashion. He’d nod his head or waggle an eyebrow, always polite but yet always familiar. It was beginning to make the fae uncomfortable.

I knew this because of Flit, my roommate. She’s one of those brave students. The ones that rarely make third year. She has a curiosity, a hunger for knowledge that the Lords and Ladies tempt like demons. I’ve bunked with her for a year now, but I still haven’t worked up the courage to ask what she sold her eye for. The eye-patch is fashionable at least, I suppose.

“I’ve never seen them act this way!” she whispered to me, making sure the strings of iron nails were hanging properly over the window, “They won’t even stay in the same room as him! And it’s like he knows.”

“Knows?” I asked, not quite understanding.
“Like he’s aware of it!” She elaborated, dragging the bag of salt from under her bed. “He looks the Gentry straight in the eye and grins at them like a dog in a puddle of mud!”

I went quiet at that. You never look at the Gentry if they don’t want you to, and grinning is very rarely the right thing to do.

“And they haven’t…?” I hesitated.
“Nothing!” she fumed, “Not a curse or an oath or a geas or a pact! Not a single task or favor freely given!”

I started watching him after that. Flit was right, of course. She always was. When the Australian passed the Holly-Haired Man who often appears behind the gym, the fae glared. A look of hatred upon loathing. If I had paid any more attention to the Holly-Haired Man, I might have missed it.

The Australian walked, without looking, right into a faerie ring. The grass crunched underfoot, and a few mushrooms were kicked free to tumble into the shrubs beyond.

The Australian kept walking, and where his footprints passed through the ring there was left pits of blackened grass, ash and charcoal mixed with something sour and dead. The death of magic.

I couldn’t tell Flit. It’d only send her mad with curiosity. If I wanted to know anything about what was happening, I’d need to ask the Australian himself. I manage to corner him in the cafeteria.

“Oh,” he said, when I brought up the fae. “Yeah nah, I was surprised y'got ‘em up here too.”
I admit i’m not following.

“The weird blokes, y'know,” he clarified, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at a frog-eyed boy eating lunch, “Much more social than ours.”

Australian fae? I hadn’t heard of anything like it. He grinned his toothy grin when I admitted as such, and patted me on the shoulder.

I understood a little, then. I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t already in my second year. After enough time at Elsewhere University, you start to notice things.

The boy felt like iron. It was in the land he was born in, in the dirt that covers it and the rocks that hold it up. Iron sat in his bones and salt lay beneath his skin.

He told me of the Gentry in Australia. How they have many names, most of them secret. how some will burrow inside people while they sleep and suck their blood dry, or take shelter in the cracks of rocks from the winds that threaten to break their thin bones.

“Mind you, sometimes you want to be sure, right?” he added at the end of his stories. “Iron in the ground is nice, but sometimes you just gotta drape yourself head-to-foot in the stuff and hope…”



A springer spaniel tail and feathers appreciation photo set