The lost wings

This is a story my granny told me. She heard it from Maggie Molloy, who lived down by the pier, and where she heard it from I don’t know.

Many years ago, there was a master glass blower, who had been away to study his trade, and now was coming back to see his old mother, and set up a workshop here on the island. He’d travelled far and wide, and it was time to settle down. The ferry brought him late one evening. The moon was full, and the night was bright, and he decided to walk round by the shore for old time’s sake. He passed a group of young folk, splashing and swimming in the water, and they called to him to join them, but he laughed and shook his head and walked on. A little further on, he came upon a little heap of things he took for glass. He picked one up and looked at it closely. He’d never seen anything finer, and the craftsman in him was delighted with it. They didn’t seem to belong to anyone: tiny wings made of fragile glass that shimmered in the moonlight. He couldn’t resist one particularly pretty pair, and put them carefully in his pocket book, and walked on to his mother’s house.

Next day, after breakfast, he strolled back down to the shore, but there were no shimmering glass wings there now, just a beautiful girl, shivering and crying. The craftsman in him was delighted with her, she was so finely made, but the man in him felt pity for her, and took her back to his mother’s house, where she was warmed, and dressed, and fed on bread and honey in front of the fire. She couldn’t say who she was, or where she was from, but she was so pretty and dainty that of course he fell in love with her, and it wasn’t long before they were married.

There were two calls on the glass-maker’s heart – his pretty wife, and the tiny glass wings he had found. He spent his days making glasses and jugs and bowls, and his wife packed them carefully in straw to be sent to the mainland. In the evenings, he spent his time blowing the finest glass possible, and making tiny glass wings, just for his own delight, until he had a whole chest full of them in his workshop. At night, he listened to his wife singing, or watched her brushing her long hair, and thought he was the luckiest man alive. His mother grumbled, of course, that between the workshop and the wife she saw so little of him that he might as well never have come back.

Months passed, and then years, and the glass-blower and his wife had 3 pretty sons, and one beautiful daughter and they passed their days and nights happily enough, until one day the daughter went to explore her father’s workshop. She looked at his tools, and the lumps of glass he would make into airy bubbles of light, and eventually looked in the great chest in the corner of the room. Inside were hundreds of tiny glass wings. She couldn’t resist – maybe she had a craftsman’s heart, too – and picked out a pair.

Later that day, the wife found the daughter playing with something, and asked to see it. When she saw the little wings, she started to cry, and then she got the daughter to show her where she’d found them. With tears rolling down her cheeks she sorted through the chest, through the hundreds and hundreds of delicate wings, each finer than the last. Right at the bottom was that first pair, and she clutched them to her, crying all the while.

There was a full moon that night, too, and if you’d watched the house you’d have seen it lost in a whirling cloud of moths, and bees, and wasps, and flying ants. Every kind of flying insect swarmed around it, until those inside couldn’t see out, and those outside couldn’t see in. And in the morning, the wife was gone, as if she’d never been there, leaving nothing but three pretty sons and a beautiful daughter.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty, who asks for a folk tale about wings, inspired by flying termites who lose their wings after their first flight. This is a little long for flash fiction, I guess, but there you go. 

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Advice for new troll owners – for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange.

1024px-Theodor_Kittelsen_-_The_Princess_picking_Lice_from_the_Troll_-_Google_Art_ProjectMost people have no understanding of the level of maintenance required by trolls. They are in fact quite delicate, and require substantial amounts of care and understanding. Before you take your new troll friend home, please read this article. It could make all the difference.

Petrification: trolls are very susceptible to petrification – particularly the larger Cave Trolls. Be absolutely meticulous in applying sun block, and try not to let them out in daylight if at all possible. Twilight walks and early morning chases are much more enjoyable. Direct sunlight is the enemy of the troll!

Pests and parasites: trolls are prone to catching stone lice. These are nasty creatures, and can cause your troll companion to become listless and debilitated. The best way of removing them is employing a princess to pick them out of your troll’s fur. You can try this yourself, but centuries of experience do show that a princess’s delicate fingers are best suited to this fiddly task. If you can’t access a princess, any minor royal, aristocrat, or simply an overly spoiled teenage girl will make a reasonable substitute. NB: males are incapable of de-licing trolls, except for the Green-capped Mountain Troll.

Feeding: sedimentary rock forms the basis of the troll’s diet, but this should be supplemented with a variety of igneous rocks, moss, lichen, and bones. Human if possible. The calcium is very important for good strong teeth and hair.

Exercise: of course, your troll companion will require regular exercise. Mountains and moorlands are their preferred territory, but parks, playgrounds and, at a pinch, multi-storey carparks will offer acceptable alternatives.

Remember: a troll is for life, not just for Mother’s Day. Treat your troll well, and you will be rewarded with years of faithful companionship.

Happy trolling, everyone!

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange.  Go and have a look. It’s always good over there. 

Insomnia – for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange

I am caught in the net of the witch queen, Insomnia,
Who spools up my sleep like a silken thread,
And all the courtiers who trail in alongside her.

Anxiety is the first of her daughters
She takes up her place at the head of the bed,
Where I lie in the net of the witch queen, Insomnia;

Anger and fear, two bedraggled camp followers,
Shadow Insomnia, mark where she treads,
And all the courtiers who trail in alongside her.

The moon shines too bright, take a cool sip of water,
Don’t fight it. Read something, a book, say, instead,
As you lie in the net of the witch queen Insomnia.

I take note of the breath of the night time wanderers,
And the unsteady beat of Insomnia’s tread,
And all the courtiers who trail in alongside her.

The moon rolls on its way, past the wakening stars,
Sleep slips away until night time has sped,
I am caught in the net of the witch queen, Insomnia,
And all the courtiers who trail in alongside her.

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange. She hasn’t revealed the artist yet – that’s a surprise for next week. I’ve chosen a villanelle, which is curious, because I’ve just been over there and looked at the pingbacks and there’s another villanelle in there. It’s not the most obvious form to pick, so I wonder if there’s something about the picture? Anyway, it’s worth popping over there and checking out the contributions. Night_by_Edward_Burne-Jones_(1870)

The lady harpist

Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange771px-hans_thoma_-_fru%cc%88hlingsmelodie_1914Mrs Arbuthnot was always keen to inject a little culture into the village fete. One year she had produced a historical pageant. Two years ago, she organised poetic recitations, and last year there had been a delightful song cycle from a local mezzo soprano. This year she had come up with nothing, apart from an offer from the town’s brass band to do a medley of songs from the shows – “Very popular, Mrs A”, the band leader assured her.

You can imagine her delight, then, when Lady Shrewsbury contacted her and offered her the services of Evadne Pettigrew, celebrated for her performances on the harp. So delightful. So appropriate to an English summer afternoon. Mrs Arbuthnot accepted with delight.

The day of the village fete dawned bright and clear, and Mrs Arbuthnot surveyed the rectory grounds with satisfaction. Gaily coloured bunting fluttered in the breeze, and local ladies in summer dresses and bright cardigans loaded victoria sponges and jars of jam onto trestle tables. All was well.

 

Evadne Pettigrew was not quite what Mrs Arbuthnot had expected. She wafted onto the stage in a white robe and a wreath of roses, followed by two burly farers carrying her great harp. There were a few titters from the villagers as she took her seat and started to play. They soon stopped laughing, however, as the sweet notes of the harp rippled out towards them. Mrs Arbuthnot allowed herself a smile of satisfaction as tears started to flow down rosy cheeks, and grizzled farmers wiped their eyes with the back of their hands.

Nobody knows who noticed them first, but soon everybody had turned to look in amazement at the people in white emerging from the churchyard, and moving down the hill and over the stream towards them. It was Lizzie Jenkins who shouted “It’s the twins!”, and after that,everyone began shouting in reognition. All the dead of the village moved past them, saying nothing, but smiling at their loved ones as they approached Evadne, and gathered round her.

The music stopped, and the forms drifted away, fading into nothingness. The crowd were silent. Evadne Pettigrew was nowhere to be seen.

Written for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange. It’s an odd image by Hans Thoma from 1914.

 

Katia and the Garden of Death – for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange.

Once upon a time,when the world was younger than it is today, there was a girl
who yearned for wisdom.

Her name was Katia, and she lived in a village in the forest. There was one road through the village, and everyone knew that if you went west you would reach the village of Even, where they held a fair once a year. If you went beyond Even, you would find another village, and another, spaced out like beads on a thread, each with their village green, their inn, and their annual fair. As far as anyone knew, this went on to the end of the world.

If you went east, you would eventually reach Mornington, the largest town for miles. There was a market there once a month, and most of the villagers had been there. If you journeyed on beyond Mornington, eventually the forest ran out, and there was a great grassland, and if you continued over that you would reach a mighty river. If you followed the mighty river, you would reach the Capital, where the Emperor and Empress lived in a great palace. Nobody from the village had been there for many years. Anyone who had gone had never come back.

If you went north or south, there was nothing but forest, stretching on and on. Everyone knew that.

Katia was pretty enough and clever enough. She was a good enough cook, and a good enough housekeeper, and two or three boys looked warmly at her, so that she knew that if she chose she could marry a husband who was handsome enough and healthy enough, and have a home that was comfortable enough and a herd of goats that was big enough. Katia, however, wanted more than this. She wanted to know all the songs and stories in the world. She wanted to know why people are sad, and how the hare changes her coat in the winter. She wanted to know the language of the birds.

In the forest villages, winters are long and dark, and the villagers huddle round their wood fires to keep warm, singing songs and telling stories. There are many stories in the forest, but there was one particular story that burrowed its way into Katia’s heart. This was the story she thought about when she lay in her bed at night, or stirred the soup, or kneaded dough. It went something like this:

If you walk north through the forest, you may find the Garden of Death. Only a few people manage to find it, and of them, only a few are brave enough to enter. It’s a strange place. The gate to it is carved to look as if it is made of bones, and inside the garden peculiar plants grow, with flowers that look like skulls. If you choose one of these skull flowers and carry it away, it will teach you the secrets of the world.

Katia thought about this, and wondered if she could find the garden. It kept her awake at night, made her burn the soup. or stand still at the kitchen table with the dough forgotten under her hands.

Finally, she decided to try. She got up very early one morning, before it was really light, took some bread and cheese and a handful of dried apple and set out. It was hard going at first, in the dim light, and she tripped and stumbled often, but soon the sky brightened. She stopped to eat at noon in a small clearing, and then went on, keeping north all the time.

When dusk came she settled herself down at the bottom of a large oak tree, reasoning that she couldn’t tell which way was north in the dark. As she nibbled a piece of bread she noticed a strange, greenish light coming through the trees. She stood up, curiously, and made her way towards it. It wasn’t long before she came to a pathway made of stone slabs which seemed to be leading in the right direction.. She followed it, and came all of a sudden to a gate that was carved to look as if it was made out of bones. The story was true, then.

For a moment she paused, and then pushed the gate open, and walked into the Garden. All around her were skulls, and the eerie light was coming from them – streaming from the empty eye sockets. Then the whispering started. The first skull she passed whispered:

“I grew from the heart of a chef. Choose me and I will teach you to make pastry so light that one breath will send it floating to the tea table of the Empress. I will teach you to make cakes so soft that they will make the Empress weep. She will load you with diamonds and pearls and praise you above all others”.

And Katia paused for a moment and thought how wonderful that would be. But she moved on, and the second skull she passed murmured:

“I grew from the heart of a great soldier. Pick me and I will teach you swordplay, and the placing of troops. I will make you a mighty general, and the Emperor himself will load you with gold, and praise you above all others”.

Katia listened, and thought how wonderful that would be, but she moved on. The third skull she passed whispered:

“I grew from the heart of a poet. I will teach you all the songs and stories of the world. I will teach you why there is sadness, and why there is joy, and how the seasons change, and the language of the birds”

And Katia stopped then, and put her hand to the stalk of the skull, and picked it, saying:

“You are the one for me!”

When she got home the following evening, her parents were worried, and angry, and finally overjoyed to see her, and everyone in the village gathered round and wondered at the skull. Over the days that followed, the skull talked to Katia, and Katia alone, and taught her all the songs and stories of the world, and the language of the birds. Katia learned why there is sadness, and why there is joy, and how the seasons change. She started to look around her, and realised that people were sad because they were trapped in stories they felt they couldn’t change.

One woman in the village thought she was Cinderella, but no handsome prince was coming to rescue her. Katia talked to her gently, and a few days later the woman headed off to Mornington and apprenticed herself to a milliner.

One man thought he was a woodcutter, defending his daughter from wolves. Katia talked to him softly, and a year later he was dancing at his daughter’s wedding.

The days passed, and the years passed – as they do – and Katia could no longer be called a girl. The young men who had looked at her warmly had found they felt a little cooler towards a woman who spent her nights talked to a skull, no matter how magical it was. They married other young women, and had children of their own now, but Katia did not regret the choice she had made.

People from outside the village heard about her, and travelled to see her. Eventually, even the Empress came, and Katia listened to her, and talked to her gently – but what story she was trapped in, Katia never told.

Katia grew older, as is the way of things, and by now the young men who had looked on her warmly were old and stooped, and their children were grown, and their grandchildren growing. The villagers were proud of Katia, but perhaps they praised her more than talked to her, and feared her more than loved her, but still she never regrettted the choice she had made.

Eventually, when Katia was grown old, and her strength was gone, and her golden hair had turned silver, the skull whispered to her and said:

“The time has come. Take me back to the garden”.

And Katia looked into the skulls empty sockets and answered:

“Yes. It will be our last journey together”.

Next morning they set out, before it was light. This time the skull lit the way, and Katia did not stumble or trip. She found, to her surprise, that the further she walked the stronger she felt. By noon she was striding like a woman in her prime, and by dusk she was skipping like a young girl. If she could have seen herself she would have seen that her skin was smooth, and her hair a golden cloud about her head, as if all those years had been but a dream. And as dusk fell, she saw the eerie light again, and she carried the skull along the stone path, to the gate carved to look like bones, and the Garden of Death.

Katia opened the gate, and carried in the skull.

“Set me down here, by these purple flowers” said the skull, and Katia dropped a single kiss on his shining dome and set him down.

“Now” said the skull “You have a choice, Katia. You can go back to the village, and be with your own people, or you can stay here with me”.

And Katia smiled as she looked at the skull who had been her constant companion for all these years and answered:

“I am the wisest woman in the world. I know all the songs and stories of the world, and I can look into people’s hearts. I think I know my own story, and I think I know where it ends”.

And she curled herself into a ball on the ground by the purple flowers, and let herself sleep.

 

793px-%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bb%d0%b8%d0%b1%d0%b8%d0%bd_img606This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange. It’s not at all micro. Sorry.

The Journey – microfiction for Jane Dougherty

Sometimes he wondered at how heavy they had become. At first, when there were just one or two of them, they had each seemed as insubstantial as mist, and he had hardly felt their cool hands on his arms or neck, had scarcely heard their whispers, that moved through the air like wind through sedge grass. Now they clung to him like ivy to an old wall, and all he could hear was their insistent murmurings – “The princess, the princess” they whispered, pushing him on.

“We are her dreams” they told him, “Her memories. We are the stories she tells herself. How can she be herself without us?” And they cling to him, begging to be carried, to be taken on the long journey to the lost princess.

In the beginning, he had trusted them, but with the passing days he grew to hate them, and to fear them. There were more each night, holding out pale arms to him, and he couldn’t refuse them. He wondered if the princess would welcome him, and his strange company – if ever they should find her – or if she would turn from them, preferring her forgetfulness.

But still he journeyed, as if this forest had no end, and his destiny was to walk these twisting paths for all eternity, seeking a princess who had forgotten her own story.

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge. The image is by John Bauer. Check out her site – her entries are really great stuff.996px-john_bauer-ha%cc%88sten_ledde_han_vid_betslet