An animal’s would do in a pinch, but for real power, it would need to be human. I still can’t help but to find it curious. What they give away, what is no longer of any use to them is a treasure to us. Because we, of course, know how to use it.
The roots. The bone. The blood that once pulsed within. The essence of strength and health and prosperity.
It must be undamaged, unspoiled. A broken tooth or a rotten one has broken or rotten magic in it. It must be freely given. Not found, or there is too little magic in it. Not taken by force. Or else there is no magic in it at all.
I long for this to be over. I long to be rid of this burden I carry. This most dear burden. The burden of my task.
I am a Harvester. And it is the time of the Fair. And I have collected the most precious harvest of my life, or the lives of any of my people for generations upon generations. I have been set on a most grave mission. And if I fail, my people may fail.
Not many know our story. Though almost all know part of our story. Human children lose their teeth and the event is not bitter or frightening but sweet, for they offer that part of their power they no longer need to us. We take it and leave them with a small bit of prosperity. Only a small bit. Our power has waned and our gifts are weaker than they once were.
Once, we Harvesters had the strongest teeth in the world. We were not called Harvesters then. We were called by our true name, the Parvalidonts, which means “little mighty teeth.” Some among our kind think the name is too humble. Some think it is a too prideful. Some simply find it to be old-fashioned. I’ve always liked it, though I don’t mind being called a Harvester. There are worse things one could be called.
The Parvalidonts’ teeth, like themselves, were small, but those teeth could bite through anything in the world, metal, rope, wood. No lock could thwart them. No bars could keep them in or out. Their teeth were so strong that they would never fall out, so long as the Parvalidont kept those teeth clean and well exercised. They were a clever and eloquent people. And this quality too was attributed to their extraordinary teeth. The mightiest teeth in the world. Some ancient legends even tell of Parvalidont heroes who could bite through sunlight or water. Puzzling legends, those, for can’t everyone bite through sunlight and water? Perhaps it was a poetic way of describing their mastery of magic through their indomitable teeth.
It is said that they lost their magic when one among them let his teeth grow rotten and fall out. Why he should have done that, the stories curiously enough do not say. And though it was his own carelessness that caused his tooth loss, he complained to the forces that governed the magic of the world. And so he was granted a tooth to replace each one he lost. But when his new teeth grew in, they retained none of the magical strength of his original teeth. And he soon learned that he had brought a curse upon his people because of his ungrateful and reckless treatment of his teeth.
From that time onward, the Parvalidonts lost their magic and the strength of their teeth. If tried against too tough a material, their teeth would fail and fall out. Each tooth would grow back and if lost it would grow back again, throughout their lives. It was as if the forces that governed magic had softened the punishment just a bit. And yet, the Parvalidonts declined. They were a small people and without magic, they could not defend themselves against larger foes. They became a people who learned how to hide and sneak about, for they were still clever. And perhaps they were still eloquent, but none could tell, for they rarely spoke save amongst themselves.
Amongst ourselves, I can say from experience, we Harvesters are terribly chatty.
The Parvalidonts, our ancestors, disguised themselves as the earthly creatures they–and we–so uncannily resembled, mice and rats. They were clever enough to discover that it was possible to regain their tooth magic for a little while by scavenging the teeth of other creatures. And the most precious of such teeth were the cast off teeth of human children. But the magic did not last long. Sometimes a day. Sometimes only a few hours.
It is a sweet story that Harvester mothers tell their children now about the day that a human child saw one of our ancestors gathering up the child’s fallen tooth. The child was amused at what she thought was a clever mouse. She came closer, but our ancestors had grown shy and cautious and this one ancestor dashed away into a hole in the wall. The child picked up the tooth, approached the hole in the wall, and held out her hand. It was the first offering. And it is most certainly an embellishment to say that the tooth glowed with a creamy white light and vibrated with the great magic contained within. But considering what came after, such embellishments to this particular tale are not only tolerated but encouraged and celebrated.
Our ancestor remembered the courage of her people and dared to accept the child’s offer. The magic of that tooth should have lasted for a day, perhaps two. It endured for twelve moons. It endured so long that the one who bore this tooth became a leader among her people. Word of her encounter with the human child and the offering of the tooth spread.
Humans too are bright and eloquent. They are storytellers as we Harvesters are, as our ancestors once were, only the humans seemed to gain their powers through their tongues. Their teeth serve as the scaffold upon which the tongue could rest and fold and bounce to form their peculiar languages. And more peculiar still it is natural for them to lose their teeth, not from rot or disease or violence or accident, but simply as a part of their maturation. It is one rite of passage for their children to lose their teeth and grow new ones. But unlike us Harvesters, the humans cannot keep growing tooth after tooth. And so they too hold their teeth to be precious.
We are unsure when or by whom the pact was made between human and Harvester. To me it has always endured. The humans make a willing offering of their teeth to us in exchange for payment. In older times, the payment came in the form of a single gold coin forged with Harvester magic. The coin had value as currency. But if enough were gathered in one place, then one could summon a Harvester and request a boon. And some human mothers and fathers requested protection and strength for their children, which Harvester magic could grant. But, as I’ve said, our powers have waned. We don’t know why. But it is the reason we have been so passionate in our search for a way to regain our ancestral powers. Our magic and our mighty teeth.
Over time, we have come to be seen by most humans as humble and natural creatures. Many humans have forgotten what we are, for we look so very much like the mice and rats that often share an abode with them. Over still more time, mice and rats have been cast out as pests, and we Harvesters have had to do our work in secret and disguise ourselves in more pleasant forms.
Legends have arisen among the humans of how there was only one Tooth-Harvester and she looked like one of the fabled faire folk, shaped very like a human, wearing colorful and sparkling garb, bearing a crown sometimes and sometimes a wand of magic. A guardian of the innocent.
They have forgotten that we have the better part of our bargain. An offering of human teeth could not only restore the magic in a Harvester’s own teeth, but even provided other powers. We have tried burying human teeth and casting spells upon them in the hopes of growing more. Every generation, it seems, we try. Every generation, such trials fail. And harvesting is ever a necessity.
In the generation after the Parvalidonts became the Harvesters, the first markets appeared. They were not proper markets. They were no more than designated times and places where Harvesters who had not managed to harvest enough teeth themselves to purchase them from others. Though we are all called Harvesters, not all of us actually harvest teeth. Some forage for food. Others work in the forges to make the coins that we offer to children in return for their teeth. Still others craft the spells and study the histories that help us hone our magic. And so, not all Harvesters enjoyed the fruits of the harvest.
Much was learned in those times. Much was lost. For these markets were not organized. Thievery abounded. And though stolen teeth held no magic, there was always some foolish and desperate Harvester who hoped. For without the teeth, we lose our wits, our cleverness, our very selves. It is a necessity for us, like air, water, and food. And our leaders and our people feared that we would decline even further. That we would diminish and then vanish altogether.
Laws and rules were drafted to assure that Harvesters behaved with honor when trading in teeth. And to assure that trading did not take place in any underground markets, each Harvester was made to swear by the magic of the very treasure each coveted. The punishment for breaking their enchanted oath was banishment and the loss of all magic and strength.
The reward for keeping to the oath was the guarantee that every Harvester would share in the bounty of the harvest.
And so the first Tooth Fair was held and has been held once every twelve moons for generations upon generations. It is a lavish event. There is food and dancing and revelry. There is song and story. There are tricks and plays and of course, there are teeth. Exquisitely adorned. Perfumed. Painted. Gilded. Polished to pearly perfection. Appraised. Weighed. Offered and accepted.
Since the inception of the Tooth Fair, our people have thrived again. We are not as we once were, though some say that we never were as we once were, that all legends speak of greater powers and better times than the present. Some say we are better now, even with our waning powers. That we prize the treasure of our teeth more because we work to gather them and study how to use their magic. In the generation before my own, those studies led us to an inspiring discovery.
If we were able to harvest and collect the full set of teeth from three human children, we would have enough magic to build a device, a talisman that when used to perform a very ancient ritual could permanently restore our ancient powers. We would once again have the mightiest teeth in the world. We could once again be masters of our realm. There would be no need for hiding. There would be no need for harvesting.
Collecting three full sets of teeth may seem a simple task, but human children do not often offer all of their teeth to us. Some teeth are lost. Some are swallowed. Some are thrown away. Still, we began harvesting and collecting.
And because we needed a place to keep these most rare teeth safe and to assure that no one used their magic, the Tooth Fair became a permanent fixture in our capital. It became the storehouse of our people’s most precious treasure. And because all could visit and see the teeth in their display and feel the magic still untapped within, all Harvesters could share a stake in the quest.
When we had the first complete set, we felt the magic rushing through the teeth. Bound by our ancient oaths, we were able to resist the temptation to use the teeth while we continued the harvest. And we completed the second set. After that the leaders, fearing we might lose some teeth to thievery or deception despite all oaths, ordered that the construction of the talisman begin while we harvested the third and final set of teeth.
Slowly and painstakingly is the talisman being constructed. Keenly and untiringly is it being guarded. But not in secret. The talisman is kept in open view for all our people to see. It is set on a high pedestal. And all can know it is the real talisman, for all can feel the power radiating from it.
Each time a new tooth from the third set is harvested, it is brought to the Fair. And it is affixed to the talisman. It is called the Corona Dontia, the circle of teeth. Or some say, the crown of teeth, for rumors and tales began to spread about how this talisman would turn into a crown and choose the next supreme leader of our people. I prefer to believe our scholars and magicians. They say that using the talisman will break it. Its power once tapped and sapped will belong to our people. It will be in our teeth.
The talisman is not quite complete, but it is already the most powerful concentration of Harvester–Parvalidont–magic ever known. And there are those among us who covet this magic. Those who do not care about restoring the ancient powers to all Harvesters. The temptation is so great. It is almost overwhelming. I feel it myself. We all feel the talisman. And though it was meant to draw forth our better selves, it seems to be drawing out the worst in some. There have been attempts at thievery. A most desperate folly. For surely if stolen, the talisman would lose all its power. How can anyone be so foolish?
It is not my place or my task to judge. But I wonder, as others have wondered. Are we strong enough within ourselves to attempt what we have planned? Are we yet worthy of the gift that the talisman can grant us? Worthy of regaining our ancient powers? Are we certain we had them in the first place?
It has been so many generations upon generations. We don’t truly know what will happen when we use the Corona Dontia.
It has enough power now, I’d wager, to allow even the smallest of us to thwart our enemies. Enough power to hold even the meanest and weak-willed among us to the oaths and pacts that we have made. Enough power for us to forge magical coins, to cast spells of protection. I wonder if the complete talisman would have enough power to restore a great people to their former glory.
Such a small thing it is, that talisman. And an even smaller thing it is that I carry. The last tooth.
I break one oath to keep true to others. I have broken my oath as a Harvester. For I am bound by a stronger oath I made to protect my people. I am bound by an oath I made to carry the tooth of a child whose kind gift I harvested many moons ago.
I am not the one who has judged this should be so. But I choose to abide by that judgment. And I see the wisdom in my task. Perhaps it’s best for now that we remain as we are in the legends of the humans, a noble people who protect the innocent.
I stop for a moment. The burden is not heavy on my back, only on my conscience and my heart. I look up for a moment and squint at the setting sun.
The Tooth Fair lies to the east.
I travel west.
Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel