Explanatory intro 1: This is my first piece for my tea-inspired December writing challenge.
Explanatory intro 2: I come from the Isle of Man, where many of the folktales include the exploits of little old ladies that readers of Terry Pratchett would recognise instantly. They’re often named Nancy. The whole thing popped straight into my head when I picked my word (actually, I cheated slightly and picked two consecutive words, as you’ll see if you check the tea sachet for today). I’ve tried, not very successfully, to capture the flavour of the narrative style used for these old stories, but for what turned out to be about 20 minutes’ writing I think it’s not bad.
Lonaby was a peaceful village. The cottages were always neat and tidy, with never a straw of the thatch out of place, the young men and women always had a cheerful word for any passer-by, and the children played their games of spinning tops and hopscotch without any of the squabbling you’d see in Douglas, or even in nearby Foxdale.
There were many explanations given for this placidity. A propitious climate – and it was true that, nestled in under the flank of Slieau Whallian as it was, the village was sheltered both from the east wind and the soft rain that fell so plentifully on the rest of the island.
Some said there was a charm on the place, and indeed women would come and pray and weep and leave small gifts of flowers or a bit of cheese or a good herring at the foot of the old grey stone by the smithy, stroking its twined cross design like it was the head of the child they wanted or had lost.
And some said it came from the contented, gentle nature of the Lonaby folk themselves. Fair, they were, and straight and bright eyed and open of face.
But Old Nance knew the truth of it, as she’d learned from Old Peggy before her, and as she’d teach to the one that would come after her.
In early December every year, she got the men to dig a big fire pit near her cottage. And every year she had them lay out a huge iron plate that took four strong men to lift it. And every year she got the women of the village to make a vat of pastry as big as a pig, and to prepare taters and carrots and onions.
There was always grumbling at the work, but it was always good natured, because Old Nance had delivered most of them, and saved many a child from the flux or a broken leg, and she was always there if the cow was sick or a girl was sick in the mornings and no husband at her. So they complained a little but they smiled as they did so, and asked her what would be in the pie this year. And every year, she’d say “Well, you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?”
And every year on the seventh day of December, the whole of Lonaby came together at the end of the day, with bright torches burning and laughter and singing of songs, and they’d sit at the tables in the village hall, all lit by candles and lanterns, and the priest would give a blessing.
The delicious smell that had been wafting through the village all day would get stronger and stronger as the men bore the huge iron plate – resting on beams of wood and still hot from the coals – into the hall from the cooking place, and then everyone would eat their fill of the pie.
And somehow, every year, nobody wondered how Old Nance – whose legs weren’t what they used to be – had managed to get hold of so much goat for the filling of the pie.