Calming – Old things

I took a couple of prompts from the tea sachet this time, and the story fell into place immediately.


There was once a lad called Aidan and he lived at Maughold with his grandmother Margid, for his parents had both died when he was a little boy.

Now Aidan had a good bit of learning at him, for he’d been to school until he was nearly 14 and his granny thought he should be off to Douglas to work in a big shop or an office or something clean where he wouldn’t be out in the cold and rain all the time, but he was having none of it.

“Me da was a fisherman, and his da before him, and ‘tis a good job for a man so that’s what I’ve a mind to do”, he said, standing there before the fire for all the world as though he was indeed a grown man and not still a scrawny boy.

Margid was afeart for him, going out there on the big wide sea, for she was a sensible woman and knew well that a thing’s not to be conquered just for the wanting of it. But he was a stubborn lad, and so she watched him off in the small boat he’d had from his father, and said nothing against it.

And indeed, the lad took to the sea as though born to it – for hadn’t he been? He had a rare talent for finding the best fish, and soon enough he was bringing in enough for them to sell to the best fishmongers in Ramsey and to make a nice bit to put by. Or that’s what Margid wanted to do, but Aidan insisted that she spend some of the money on doing the house out nice as she’d often spoken of while he was growing up.

“’Dade Granny”, he said, “when I came to live with you I remember you’d paint me pictures with your words of what the house would be like when we’d made our fortune – all flowers in vases and a pianer and all them things you used to have when you were a girl.”

And it was true that Margid had married beneath her when she’d wed Cormac the fisherman, her that was a Miss Cannell from one of the big houses up Bowring Road in Ramsey. She’d had to give up a lot when she moved to the little thatched cottage near the shore in Maughold, and she still thought fondly of those fine things.

So she let him buy her new linen for their home, and a smart new tin to keep their stock of tea in, instead of a rough crock pot. And bright new plates to stand on the dresser in place of the old cracked ones. But when he took down the little box she’d decorated so long ago with pokerwork and looked with distaste at the fragments of knotted rope and worn wood and glass inside, she spoke up.

“That I’ll be keeping”, she said. “For I’m thinking I’ll have a use for it yet.”

“What use could there be in a bit of old rubbish like this?” asked Aidan scornfully. But when he saw she was serious he replaced it back on the shelf as careful as if it was the Crown Jewels, for Aidan was that fond of his old granny.

Well, it came about that he learned the use of that old ‘rubbish’ soon enough, for a few days later he was out at sea when a storm came up out of nowhere – a witch-called storm, sure as anything – a storm fit to topple chimneys and rip the thatch right off your house if it wasn’t tied down right. And Aidan trying to get into the beach with his catch but pushed back and towards the rocks every time.

Margid saw him struggling and turned her back and went indoors. And, sure his time had come, he wished he’d done as she suggested and taken a nice easy job in Ramsey or Douglas instead of fighting the sea.

But Margid hadn’t abandoned him – of course she had not. She’d merely gone inside to get her little box. She opened the lid and took the chain of old twine and bits of wood and glass in her hands, and then she stood there on the beach with the sea spray swirling all around her, and she spoke a few words… And suddenly, just there in that bay, in front of the shingle beach, it was if it was a different day. The storm was still all around, and the sky black as night out to sea and all the way up to North Barrule, but right in front of Margid and all the way out to where Aidan was in his boat there was a bright light like the sunniest of summer days, and the water was flat calm. Well, Aidan didn’t need telling what to do. He dug in his oars and rowed as quick as quick into shore and had the boat up on the beach before you could blink.

And then he gave his granny a big hug and they had two good big herring each for their dinner, and plenty of strong tea. And Aidan vowing over and over how he’d never again suggest they get rid of Margid’s old things.

Handwritten version of the story
Once again the protagonist wasn’t named until after I’d finished.

Market

A shorter one, this, because I actually did very nearly stick to the 15 minutes for a change!


You’ll have been at the market in Douglas, I’m thinking, the herring and the cockles and all them spuds and cabbages. Aye, and cloth of all types and boots and pots and pans and all the china you could ever need. And the Fair at Tynwald too – there’s not many on the island haven’t been there and eaten toffee apples and drunk lemonade and listened to the speeches. And there’s the markets in the other towns too, and sometimes the villages.

But I’d bet my best Sunday hat that you’ve never been to the fairy market – no nor even heard of it, I warrant. Unless you’re one of the lil’ people yourself, in which case begging your pardon, this is a tale for humans and no disrespect meant.

No, the fairy market isn’t meant for men and women, but only for Them Ones and all the other magical folk of the island. For indeed, if you’re a buggane and you’re after ointment to keep your teeth all shiny, or a phynodderee in need of a comb, or a fairy wanting a new dress, where do you get the best fabric? You can hardly be strolling into Looneys in Ramsey and asking them behind the counter to help you pick it out now, can you?

So the fairy market’s for other folk to sell to other folk. It’s held in the big field at the foot of Cronk Sumark four times a year, the solstices, and a great event it is each time. There’s chestnuts and apples roasted in the autumn and flaming torches lighting the market field in the winter, all fresh flowers in garlands in the spring and delicious rhubarb and gooseberry fizz in the summer. And music and laughter and a great deal of talking, for Them Ones are a solitary lot as a whole and they don’t get to chat with their neighbours like us humans. Indeed, for a buggane up there on the hilltop or a glashtyn down in the riverside reeds, ‘tis an awful lonely life.

And at the market they can buy whatever they want – wonderful things such as you could never imagine, come from the fairy realms and the workshops of magicians and the cauldrons of witches. Cloaks of invisibility, love potions, magic swords and seven-league boots aren’t even the half of it.

But as a mortal, you’ll never see the market, nor hear it, not even if you pass right by on the road under the hill there. For we aren’t all the same and we don’t all have the same talents in life – and if we did it would be a mighty dull world, I’m thinking.

Still writing.

Fortune – Listen

It occurred to me just as I came to the very end of this tale that I’ve completely forgotten to include baking in the last couple of stories. I did start writing a second part to Saturday’s piece, which included a bakery, but I wasn’t enjoying it, and this one contains nothing edible at all! Still, it’s my challenge and I’ll not include pie if I want to.


If you’ve ever visited the fortune teller at Tynwald Fair, you’ll know how it goes. You pay your money and the fortune teller brings out a green glass fishing float and tells you you’ll meet a tall dark stranger – or maybe a short fair one – and before you know it you’re back out on the fair field in the bright sunshine quick as if Them Ones had magicked you there.

Well, when Molly Joughin went to the fair with her Maddrell cousins from Greeba it was no different. Her and Tom Maddrell saw the fortune teller one after another, and they both had the same fortune – they were each going to meet a stranger very soon. Only when Molly was leaving the tent, the fortune teller took hold of her wrist and hissed, “Listen! You must listen!” But when Molly asked what she must listen to, no answer did she receive. The cousins could make neither head nor tail of this, but there were so many wonderful things to see at the fair that it was soon forgotten.

They were sat on the grass, taking turns at drinking lemonade from a bottle with a marble in the neck, when Molly saw her friend Aalish in the crowd. Childhood friends, they’d been, but Aalish’s parents had moved to Peel and they’d not seen each other for a year or more. Aalish was a pretty girl with red hair and blue eyes and white teeth, and Molly soon realised that Tom was talking only to Aalish, and she to him in turn.

And when Molly set off to leave with the rest of her cousins, Tom was nowhere to be found. “Gone to walk some pretty maid home to Peel”, said his mother indulgently. For Tom was her favourite. He was back home late that evening, blushing and smiling and keen only to discover from Molly all that she knew of Aalish. And she shared her knowledge willingly, for Aalish was an amiable girl and just the type to make a good wife for Tom.

In the morning Molly set off for her own home, ignoring the road and setting off up over the hill, past the mill and up onto the moors. For ’twasonly a couple of mile to her own home on the banks of the Colden stream. Born and raised on them hills, Molly was, and she’d been running wild up there from the moment she could walk. But on the Isle of Man the weather is apt to play tricks on you in the blink of an eye, and she soon found herself in a thick mist, barely able to see two paces ahead of herself.

She’d known where she was when the mist came down, but if you’ve ever been in that kind of weather yourself you’ll know well how every step can take you off your line, and how before long you can no longer say if you’re going uphill or down.

And so it came about that Molly was soon as lost as she’d ever been in all her 19 years. She wasn’t afraid, for she knew it would lift before many hours had passed. But she still had her best boots on, and could no longer see well enough to stick to the dry areas. For it can be boggy and damp up on the hills even in summer. So she took her boots off and knotted the laces and strung them around her neck, and tucked her skirts up into her waistband to keep them out of the mud, and then she stood and thought for a minute.

If she could find a slope, one way or the other, she’d soon know where she was, as she’d just have to keep going downhill a way until she recognised some wall or fence. But there seemed to be only flat ground with bilberry bushes and scratchy heather, and between them muddy puddles.

In the end she set off towards a patch of the mist that was maybe a bit lighter than the rest. And she’d not gone far when she saw a dark figure some way ahead of her. She was that pleased to see someone she almost called out, but as she drew breath to do so she suddenly remembered the fortune teller’s words. It was a tall dark stranger, right enough. But now she could see that the head appearing through the mist was that of a horse. She knew all the wild ponies on these hills and this beast was far too big to be one of them. But perhaps she could ask the rider which way she was headed.

Only… there was no rider, nor even a back for a rider to sit astride. And when she listened, as the fortune teller had told her to, she realised she could hear only one set of feet splashing across the boggy ground.

Her blood ran cold, and for a moment she thought she’d drop in a dead faint, but then she turned and ran, just ran away. Away from the glashtyn – the half-horse, half-man creature she’d heard of since she was small but never thought to meet.

She didn’t stop, she didn’t look back, and she managed somehow not to fall over in her flight. And soon enough she recognised a wall and then a tree and then another and before long she was in her mother’s kitchen, telling the story between great heaving breaths.

Now, later that day the mist cleared, and Molly and her father went back up on the hills to see what they could see. Plenty of footprints there were, of both man and horse – and possibly of glashtyn too. For who knows what Molly saw? There are certainly many more things up there in them hills than you might think, sitting in your nice warm home in the town.

And having writ, moved on.

Musical

I started writing one thing, ended up with another, and this isn’t the “I’ll write a double-length one that uses two days’ prompts to catch up” I’d intended, so I think I’ll maybe just cheat again and say this is today’s story (rather than yesterday’s). Then again, it is the start of a two-part (or more?) story, so… It’s a tough life, being a self-imposed tea sachet challenge writer (but not as tough as living with a total imbecile as your Prime Minister*, obvs, a position I’m thankfully not in).

*this will make no sense at all in a few months, but you can Google the date if you’re curious.


In the town of Ramsey, up there on the flat northern plain of the island, there are all kinds of shops. One of them is an antique shop. And as you’d expect, it’s full of quaint, interesting things. Cuckoo clocks and jewellery, dim dark paintings where you can hardly make out the subject, old walking sticks with carved heads, jugs and vases of all types – and all objects with a story to tell if only you had the ears to hear them.

Unfortunately, in those days the shop was run by a Mr Crellin, and although he liked to see old curios, he preferred to keep them on the shelves of his shop rather than to sell them. He wasn’t so hard up that he needed the money, and he owned the whole building and lived in rooms over the shop, so he had no rent to pay.

That meant he was very reluctant to sell any of the antiques, no matter how much money the prospective buyer offered him. The prices marked for each object were already extortionate, but if ever a customer agreed to pay such an enormous amount he’d look at the vase or necklace or painting or whatever it was and shake his head regretfully and say, “Now that it comes to it, I’m afraid I simply cannot part with it. No, it’s much too dear to me to let it go”.

As you might expect, many people were very cross about this because they thought he was just trying to get them to pay even more. But some believed him and offered him a still greater sum, if it was an object they particularly admired. Always in vain. Mr Crellin thought it was a very poor month if he sold anything at all, and on the day our story begins he hadn’t sold anything at all for a whole year! Every day he opened the shop, and every day he sat there all day behind his desk, admiring the beautiful objects around him, and every day he turned away all the customers who came in. This made him very happy, but it didn’t stop him accepting more stock for the shop – no, indeed it didn’t. Sometimes it was difficult to find space for it all, but Mr Crellin had come to be skilled at stacking it all up and squeezing in an object of just the right shape for a particular gap, just as if he was building a drystone wall.

Well, now, just like a wall, it so happened that there was a bit of a collapse one night, and a few small things slid from the top of one pile and down onto the floor – or what passed for it, because it was several layers deep in Persian rugs, which didn’t add to the stability of the furniture. Fortunately the rugs also prevented breakages, but a musical box that had been in the shop for at least 10 years and probably a lot longer landed on its side with its lid open, playing a plaintive tune.

The tune wound down after a couple of minutes, after which there was a brief burst of high pitched oaths from the box, and then a small figure climbed out of it and stood on the rug, stretching her back to get the knots out.

“Well”, she squeaked, looked around at her surroundings. “I’m glad to be out of there and no mistake.” This was, of course, the clockwork dancer from inside the musical box. She’d been shaken loose in the fall, but seemed to be none the worse for her ordeal.

Slender she was, blonde haired and blue eyed and with a long green dress the colour of the spring grass, with a golden tiara and a pair of white dancing slippers on her tiny feet.

Yet she stamped around on the Persian carpet as though she was a soldier on parade. An angry soldier. For she was most unhappy at having been kept imprisoned in the box for so long.

Because Fenella – a good Manx name given her many years before by a good Manx lass – loved to dance. She loved to see people smile as she twirled around in her box to the beautiful music. She loved to make people happy. What she didn’t love was spending year upon year folded double in the darkness of her box, with only dust filtering in and never a mote of light nor a note of a tune.

She quickly assessed the antiques around her and, seeing a lighter patch that she correctly surmised was the front window, hitched up her gossamer skirts and started the long trek to the front of the shop – and freedom.

Writing in progress

Tree

This is yesterday’s story for the tea sachet challenge, but for reasons* I didn’t get time to write yesterday. That’s the first day I haven’t, though, so I’ll let me off.

*Reasons being: lots of work to get delivered for today and a three-hour online dance party with a load of fellow IDLES fans. It was fantastic (but would have been even better IRL…maybe next year. KFG.)


There are many trees on the Isle of Man, and as many stories associated with them. But the one most Manx people know is no kind of plant at all – ’tis a number. For in the language they speak on the island, the number three is spelled “tree”.

‘Tis said to come from the Vikings who once lived here, and who brought their language with them when they decided to settle and stay here all year round rather than just raiding the place in the summer. But whatever the reason, it’s a fine number, and not just because of the famous three legs of Mann either. For it wasn’t so long ago that the best known three wasn’t the symbol at all, but the Three Sisters of Sartfell.

Nowadays Sartfell is a bit of a bleak place, away up there in the hills and either drizzling and damp or blinding sun or howling wind. And in truth when the Three Sisters lived there it wasn’t much better. But they liked their own company, and they loved the hills and the big skies above them, and the sweet mountain air with just the sound of the sheep and the skylarks for neighbours.

They had a neat white cottage in a hollow about where the plantation is now, and a vegetable garden that they grew in the old way with long rows of raised soil, and bladderwrack added to the one fallow bed every three years.

But they didn’t just live on the produce of their own little bit of garden, for the Sisters had come from a good family in the south of the island once, before they made their home at Sartfell, and they still had a bit of money at them for all they’d set their faces against their kin. Some said it was because they’d been found husbands they didn’t love. Others said they just didn’t want to live a life of duty and manners, for such was the lot of a genteel lady in those days.

Whatever it was, here they were, renting a cottage from James Corlett, one he’d been sure he’d never find a tenant for. And a repairing lease too, so when they took possession the place was not much better than a ruin, but in just a few weeks it had a new coat of limewash and a fine new stove inside on new laid flagstones and the chimney all repaired and cleaned, and the thatch as neat as a corn dolly. And then came the removals carts – for they had a fair few belongings too, and ye’d have thought they’d never fit all of it in the house, but ’twas all judged to a nicety and in it all went. Vases for flowers and dainty little tables and curtains of sprigged muslin and even a piano – only a small one, to be sure, but all the same, ’twas magical to be walking on the Beinn-y-Phott road over to Ballaugh or Kirk Michael and to hear Miss Alice tinkling away on it.

For all three of the Sisters had their own talents. Miss Alice was the musical one, who could lay her hand to any instrument and had a voice that could charm the birds from the trees. And she was greatly in demand for weddings and the like down in the lowlands.

Miss Moira was the artist, often to be seen sitting amongst the heather and stone walls of the high hills with her easel weighted down with a stone and her hat tied on against the wind with a bit of old string.

And Miss Eleanor could have been a pastry chef to the King of England himself, if only she’d have agreed to come down from Sartfell and compete with the other bakers in the kingdom, for there wasn’t a one who could make lighter puff pastry nor do a more beautiful bit of icing.

They had suitors, over the years, for even up there in the hills there are others around, and word of their beauty wasn’t long in spreading from the artisans who repaired their cottage. Many’s the man who’d call with a posy, all dressed up in his Sunday best no matter the day. And some of them were received kindly, and treated to Miss Eleanor’s delicious biscuits and kind enquiries as to his family. But just as often the would-be suitor would have his hand raised to knock on the door only to see the three of them flee in different directions from the back of the house, their long wild hair that never saw a comb floating behind them like banners, and their queer white dresses and overjackets they always wore concealing their forms like Mannanan’s Cloak does the island against invading foes.

It could never be said whether they had something against a given suitor or whether he’d just come at a wrong time, for there was many a good man never got closer to the sisters than hearing their laughter as they slammed the garden gate and ran out onto the moors. And there was certainly no catching them once they’d decided they were away.

Some say the Three Sisters were witches, but I’m thinking they were just happier in their own company than pandering to a husband – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Writing

Candles

Another piece for the writing challenge. Given that most of my readers on Facebook and Twitter aren’t Manx, I’m enjoying bringing in Manx personal and place names, and Manx creatures. Today we meet the Buggane.


Now it so happened that in those days there was a Buggane living on top of South Barrule. And this Buggane wasn’t a bad feller, for all his size and his huge teeth like gravestones and his eyes as big as the roundabout at Tynwald Fair and spinning twice as fast. He kept to himself, by and large, and only took the odd sheep when he was really hungry, which wasn’t often for he was getting on in years as even Bugganes do in the end.

But he had a terrible thirst at him for the drink, and he was no more careful than you’d expect once he’d drunk a barrel or two of whisky.

And this mightily displeased his nearest neighbour, an old widow woman who lived in the hollow just there where the Ronague Road runs over the Round Table and across down to Dalby. Widow Mylchreest she was called – for though she must have had another name once she’d long since forgot it. She’d been married to Ned Mylchreest who for many years was a fisherman out of Port Erin. But when the sea took him one stormy January night, she vowed never to live within hearing of the water again, and so she moved herself and all her possessions right up there on the hills where the only things she could hear, she’d say to anyone who’d listen, were “the sheep, the wind and the Lord himself”.

But for all that she was a praying woman she tolerated the old Buggane most of the time. Two old folks together, they were, and many’s the time you’d pass before her front gate and see the pair of them sat up against the wall of her cottage, sunning themselves or having a chat or enjoying a good thick slab of bonnag with white Manx butter on it.

As well as her baking, the Widow Mylchreest devoted her time to her little garden. All hedged about with neat stone walls, it was, and as full of flowers and pleasant smelling herbs as any apothecary could wish.

So you can imagine her dismay when one night there was a terrible crashing and shrieking all around the house, and when she emerged from under the bed where she’d taken refuge in fright she found her little garden all smashed up with giant footprints everywhere.

It was pretty clear what had happened. Two days before there’d been a wedding down under the sea off Bradda, and the music and singing had carried on all the while since. The Buggane must have been invited – or at least invited himself, for there’s not many brave enough to tell a Buggane that he may not do something. And on his way back he’d got himself all tangled up with her garden wall and thrashed about until he’d found his way out again.

“Indeed and me garden’ll never be the same again”, she said sadly, beginning to clear up the wreckage and see which of the plants could be saved and which there was no hope for. She wasn’t angry, for she knew that anger at what you can’t help just eats away at you from the inside like a worm in an apple. But she did regret not picking her raspberries the day before when she could have enjoyed them with cream instead of them being squashed flat by the Buggane’s huge hairy feet.

While she was working, she heard a familiar thumping noise coming down the hill behind, and soon the Buggane himself was looking over the garden wall with a very woebegone expression.

“Did I do all that?” he asked, and his whirling saucer eyes span even faster than normal in his shame.

“Aye, me dear, you did, and I’m thinking you must have had a fair party to have been in such a state.”

“I’m terribly sorry Mistress Mylchreest, indeed I am. And your poor flowers trampled and everything.” And he looked about to weep.

“Nothing that won’t grow again”, she said briskly, even though many of her plants had taken a long time to raise.

“I’ll put it to rights”, said the Buggane. “You see if I don’t.”

“I’m sure you will”, said the Widow Mylchreest, though she didn’t really believe it, for a Buggane’s hands are not made for repairing a flower garden, any more than they are for knitting a shawl.

But the old woman had forgot how a Buggane lives a good long time and makes many acquaintances – both friends and enemies – during those long years. And this Buggane had been an amiable sort, on the whole, and had a good many favours owed.

And sure enough, the Buggane let it be known that he needed a hand – or rather many small hands. And the next day when the Widow Mylchreest got up and opened her front door she saw such a scurrying and rushing and a flurriting that she had to rub her eyes to make sure she hadn’t imagined it.

There was new plants everywhere, fine flowering beauties and the biggest vegetables with the glossiest leaves you ever did see, and herbs of all types too and even a rosebush of the special type called “Governor’s Lady” which she knew for a fact only grew in the Bishop’s garden.

And all about them were crowds of lil’ people, pushing and pulling and digging and directing with such boundless energy that it made her feel tired just to watch it.

So she went back into her cottage and shut the door and sat by the fire quietly singing sea shanties to herself until the rustling and bustling outside had stopped. She’d have rather sing psalms, but Them Ones tend not to be too keen on that, and she did want her garden back.

Finally, there was a big sigh, then a ripple of fairy applause, and then a rushing noise as of hundreds of tiny feet skipping away. Then silence.

And then the sound of the Buggane’s heavy tread and his careful knock on the door.

“’Tis all done, Mistress Mylchrees’”, he said, when she opened the door. And indeed it was, as pretty as a picture with hollyhocks and peonies and delphiniums and all the things you’d want in a cottage garden, and even some you’d never think of, like a young palm tree and a walnut and a fig.

“Well they’ll never take”, she said looking at these intruders with her hands on her hips. “And if they do I’ll be long gone before they fruit. And what’s this?” And she pointed to a candle standing in a little lantern, fixed atop the wall. As she turned she could see there were others of the candles, all around her garden wall.

“They’re to light me way”, said the Buggane proudly. “When I’m off out I’ll light them for ye, and then I shan’t be crashing through your garden again.”

“Hmm”, said the Widow Mylchreest, though secretly she thought it a good idea, and like to make her garden a magical place after dark.

And indeed it was – and not just after dark, either, for those three trees all grew tall and bore fruit the very next year. And the Widow Mylchreest’s coconut, fig and walnut loaf was eaten and talked of in those parts for many a year to come.

Just because you’re free writing doesn’t mean you can’t cross bits out.

Weather

For the how/why of the writing challenge, see here.

This is part one of (?) two because I’ve been writing it for 20 minutes now, it’s late and I’m tired and I’m some way off finishing it.

Warning: contains one (1) witch and one (1) merman.


There’s some who say you’ve never lived until you’ve witnessed a Manx wedding, from the blowing of the cow’s horn outside the bride’s home the evening before to the procession to the church and the feasting and drinking that follows the service.

Imagine, then, how much grander a spectacle it is when the wedding takes place beneath the sea! Aye, for the finery of the guests and the wedded couple is wondrous to see, and the procession escorted by seals and fishes of all kinds, and the horn is a twisted thing from a gigantic sea monster, with the booming it makes fit to wake Manannan himself if he’s not sleeping sound.

And there’s the rub. Stormy weather when a lass from Sulby weds is bad enough. But when the bride is a mermaid and she’s wedding a lad with a tail as fine as her own…then the sea must needs be flat calm if the garlands aren’t to be washed clear to Ireland.

And so it came about that Patrick the merman from under Bradda Head had a keen desire for fine weather one day in June, and according to the custom of his folk he decided there was nothing for it but to visit Kirree the witch at Castletown.

Now Castletown has a fine harbour, and it was no problem for Patrick to swim in past the castle and into the shallow water beyond, but after that he had to strip off his scales – as all merfolk can when they want. He climbed onto the land and tucked the tail part neatly behind a creel, dressing himself in an old fishing net. Then he walked briskly on his own two feet, first into the town where he made some purchases, for there’s so much treasure lost at the bottom of the sea that a merman is never short of a little gold. And then he carried on until he reached the windmill where Kirree lived, in a cottage kept tidy by the folk all about, who were greatly afeared of her magical powers and short temper.

He found Kirree at home, and no more in charity with the world than usual, sitting on the bench outside her cottage and squinting at the mill sails spinning around and around, and smoking her pipe.

“Good day, mistress”, he said, all fine and handsome as only them from under the sea can be.

“Tis nothing of the sort”, she retorted, knocking her pipe out on the bench. “Tis a nasty chill sort of day that will only bring rain and winds to follow it.” For Kirree was a clever woman as well as a witch, and she could see as soon as looking at Patrick the kind of man he was, and what his errand must be.

Patrick was downcast, for if the weather wasn’t fine he wouldn’t be able to marry Cara, and he did so want her for his own bride and no more waiting to be done. Then he remembered the gift he’d brought, and he smiled at the witch and said, “But it could be a fine sweet bright day today, mistress, no matter the sky”.

The witch frowned at him but she hadn’t lived near on 300 years by interrupting people carrying small packages wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. Not least because a witch is always curious, and often hungry, and it was market day in Castletown, which meant fresh white bread at least, if not cake too.


…to be continued!

Honey

For the how/why of the writing challenge, see here.

There’s no picture with this one, because I had the plot (nearly) all worked out in my head as soon as I saw the word, so I typed it rather than writing it by hand. It’s taken me a while, because it’s a bit longer than normal!


Once upon a time there was a little mermaid called Cara, and she lived with her mammy and her daddy and her sister Mona in the clear Manx waters off the shore at Port St Mary. Well named was Cara, for the word means someone who loves to sing, and from the moment she was born Cara was always humming one tune or another.

As she grew older, her happy songs of the sea spray and the beautiful pebbles on the seabed changed to wistful airs of love, for Cara was mightily taken with Patrick, a merman who lived amongst the rocks down below Bradda Head. But Patrick was a handsome young chap with flashing dark eyes and gleaming dark hair, and he had many mermaid admirers leaving him pretty seashells and longing glances wherever he swam.

So Cara would sit on her favourite rock, off the shore at Gansey, and sigh and sing and sing and sigh, and all the while she would think of Patrick. Or envy the luck of her sister Mona, who’d been so fortunate as to find a human man to love and who loved her back. Often such matches failed, because the ways of them beneath the sea were strange to humans, and the ways of humans very stiff and unfriendly to them beneath the sea. But it warmed the heart to see Juan and Mona together in their cosy little undersea grotto, his tender glances and her making his tea over the fire that burned so brightly with mermagic. Cara often wondered if she wouldn’t do better to find a human man herself. But the heart can’t be driven with reins and whip, as me old granny used to say, and she’d begun to think she’d never find a way to capture Patrick’s affections when one day she did meet a human man.

For the little cottage near the sea that had once belonged to Juan and his human wife was empty no longer. A man had come to live there – a solitary man, with no wife at him, and his back quite bent with age, but he seemed no less happy for that. Indeed, he sang almost as much as Cara, but always bright and happy tunes, as he toiled at a row of boxes set amongst the potato patch.

His voice was so fine, and his joy so evident, that eventually it roused the sad young mermaid from her sorrows and she joined her voice to his in harmony. The man looked around, startled, for a moment before his eyes alighted on Cara and he returned her smile even as he kept singing.

When they reached the end of the song, he walked carefully to the edge of his garden where it became more water than land, and bowed politely.

“A fine morning to you, Mistress”, he said, “and made even finer by the pleasure of hearing you sing. My name is Eamon. And your voice is as sweet as the honey my bees produce, though I’m sure many have told you this before.”

Cara smiled, then sighed. “Thank you, sir”, she replied, bowing in turn as much as her seated position allowed. “Cara is my name. Though I know not what honey might be, and the one I wish to admire my voice the most seems unmoved by it. But it gave me pleasure to sing with yourself too.”

“Is there no honey beneath the sea, then, Cara?” And when she agreed there was not, he bustled off to his little cottage, which had a fresh coat of limewash and was as spick and span as any home could be, with the bees all buzzing peaceably around the gorse flowers.

Eamon returned with a large jar, and removing the lid he dipped a small spoon inside, bringing out a golden substance that was not quite liquid like water nor yet solid like stone. He stepped cautiously on each of the large boulders that led to Cara’s rock on the edge of the deeper water, and passed her the spoon, twisting it deftly so the honey would not fall onto her iridescent scaled tail.

Even before she brought it to her lips, the scent of the gorse blossom surrounded her and she smiled in delight. And then the taste! For wondrous though it is to be able to live at the bottom of the sea, there’s no sweetness there as we have in our apples and nectar…or our honey.

Cara was charmed by the flavour, and that night when she returned home she could speak of nothing else to her parents. She visited Eamon several times in the next few weeks, and each time they sang while she sat on her rock and he worked on his hives or tending the potatoes. And Eamon said the bees were producing even more and even finer honey than they normally did, and that it was all due to Cara’s sweet voice.

When she next saw Mona, she told her all about her new friend and his beehives and the wonderful stuff they produced. And Juan overheard and looked melancholy for once as he never usually did. “Oh, honey”, he sighed mournfully. “Indeed an’ I do miss honey.”

And Cara was very fond of her brother-in-law and wanted him to be happy, so the very next day she swam back to the rock near Eamon’s garden and waited for him there, singing a song that was a little more cheerful than was her wont.

At last he came around the curve of the track, carrying a chair roped on his back, and looking a little warm, but when he saw Cara waiting for him, he smiled broadly and strode towards her as if unbothered by his burden.

“A fine day to you, Mistress Cara”, he said. “I’ve brought meself a new chair, but ‘tis an outdoor chair so we can sing together, if that would be pleasing to you. For my legs aren’t what they used to be.” And he proceeded to untie the chair from his back and place it down near the water’s edge.

“Oh, how lovely!” exclaimed Cara, clapping her hands together as she admired the fine sturdy woodwork. “An’ I’m wondering if you could give me a little honey to take home to mammy and daddy and to Juan and Mona, for they’ve heard tell of it and they’re awful keen to try it themselves.”

“Indeed and I can”, said Eamon, “I thought of exactly that meself while I was at the market today fetching me chair, and I got a little pot with a lid on it that I’m thinking won’t let the honey out under the sea.”

So Cara swam back that night with some golden honey in the little pot, and Juan’s face was a wonder to behold. And Mona found it just as good – and even better the next day when Cara made honey cakes using a kind of flour cunningly ground from sea anemones.

Cara shared the cakes with her parents and all her friends, and instead of her having to swim after Patrick, he was now often to be found near to where she was, so pleasing did he find the sweet flavour.

But as to whether he learned to appreciate Cara’s sweet voice and temperament as much as Eamon did – well, that’s a story for another day.