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. 

Advertisements

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.

#writephoto The enchanted castle – for Thursday photo prompt.

waiting“It’s a fairytale castle!” Miss Priscilla said, clapping her hands, as they pulled up outside Mandeville Castle. Her father laughed, and patted her cheek. Her mother said nothing. Prue, sitting up by the coachman, sighed inwardly. Miss Priscilla was 15, for goodness’ sake.

After that it was castles this and princesses that, and with nobody else to entertain her Miss Priscilla assumed that Prue would always be available to make “Just a few tiny fairy cakes for a royal tea party”, or to “just stitch some more lace onto this dress, and then it will be the perfect ball gown”.

Mrs Bennison looked up from her novel from time to time, and said “I’m sure Prudence has enough to do, Prissy. Prudence, do tell her if you’re too busy”.

And Prue nodded and bobbed, but kept quiet. She rather thought that it would not be a good idea to say “no” to Miss Priscilla. Not if she wanted to keep her job. Mrs Bennison would smile vaguely and go back to her novel until it was time to ring for tea.

By the end of the third day, Mr Bennison was referring to Princess Priscilla, and Miss Priscilla herself had explored half the castle, worn all three of her party dresses, and eaten enough cake to satisfy a whole tenement of children. That was when she discovered the library. There was a charming little step ladder on wheels that Prue could push around, and then hold steady while Miss Priscilla clambered up and pulled out dusty book after dusty book. Most of them were dull – hardly any even had illustrations. It was nearly teatime when she reached for the thick black-bound book on the seventh shelf up, and pulled it towards her. Prue heard the gasp.

“Prue, Prue, look at this! It’s a book of magic spells. Look!”

And she jumped down the last couple of rungs, and showed Prue her find.

After tea, Miss Priscilla went back to the library, and stayed there until dinner time. At bedtime she chattered happily to Prue, who was brushing her hair and folding her clothes, and not really paying much attention, until:

“So that’s my plan, Prudie, dearest. I’ll be the princess, and you can be the wicked fairy. I’ve written the spell out for you, so you can mix it up properly. “Sweetest singer”, it’s called – isn’t that charming? Tomorrow afternoon, about 2 o’clock, you can come and find me in the highest tower, and you can cast your spell on me!”

Prue sighed as she read the spell. It was all stuff she could find in the kitchen, she reckoned, though her reading wasn’t the best. There were a couple of words she was guessing at, but there! It was only a game, after all.

She sighed again, at the foot of the winding staircase up to the highest tower. It would have to be the highest tower for Miss Priscilla, but she hadn’t been on her feet all day, and Prue had already had words from Cook about doing what she should be doing, not making messes for Miss Priscilla. Still, the clock was striking two, and she set off, clambering up the stairs with a tray bearing one brown glazed jug full of magic potion, one glass of fresh lemondae, an empty sherry glass, and a plate of fairy cakes with pink icing.

Miss Priscilla was so excited to see her, and delighted with the magic potion.

“It smells perfectly horrid!” she exclaimed. “We’ll drink it first, and then we can have the cakes to take the taste away!”

“Oh, no, Miss, I couldn’t”

“Of course you could,” she urged. “Just think, you could become a famous opera singer! How wonderful would that be?”

And so, giggling, they shared the sherry glass between them.

When Mrs Bennison rang the bell for tea at 4 o’clock, nobody appeared. When she rang again, and then again, Cook presented herself, complaining that “that Prudence” was off playing games, and leaving all her work behind her. It wasn’t Cook’s place to serve tea. She was not happy at all. Miss Priscilla didn’t appear at the tea table, either, but Mrs Mandeville vaguely supposed she must be busy somewhere. It was Mr Bennison who became alarmed when Miss Priscilla wasn’t at dinner, and it was Mr Bennison who roused the household to search for her, and for Prudence, who also seemed to have disappeared – as Cook kept complaining.

It was James, the second footman, who climbed the highest tower, but there was nobody there. The girls had obviously been there, he reckoned, judging by the broken glass on the floor, and the tray of cakes and lemonade on the little round table by the window. He was a kind hearted lad, and he carefully opened the window and let out the two greenfinches he found pecking at the fairy cakes, and then went down the long spiral staircase to join the search of the cellars.

 

This is for Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

Microfiction for Jane Dougherty – Spring

799px-Harald_Slott-Møller_-_Spring_-_Google_Art_Project

My mum thought they were blessings. She told me the story often enough – the three fairies darting through the window, waving their wands over me. The three blessings:

“May birds always flit about her and fill her days with song”.

“May flowers spring wherever she walks”.

“May her life be filled with laughter”.

See? I know them off by heart. They don’t seem much like blessings to me, though.

I was politely asked to leave school after the first day. Lily says there are still hollyhocks growing where my desk was, and they have to mow the dining hall once a week to keep the daisies down.

Even if I was in school, nobody would want to play with me. It’s those stupid birds, flapping and pooping and standing on people’s heads. It’s OK when it’s blue-tits, not so great when it’s pigeons. And once it was a flock of geese.

Lots of laughter, though. Who wouldn’t laugh at the girl who leaves a trail of honeysuckle up the High Street?

So this is where I come most days. I sit with my feet in the water and watch the water lilies flower and float away, like little boats off on an adventure. It’s quite boring, really. But I have a good view of the road here, and I’m waiting, because one day someone will come – a fairy queen, or a witch in disguise, or a handsome prince. Someone who can lift these stupid spells.

This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge. Number 14 – unbelievable. She’s given us this intriguing image, and some words that I’ve chosen to ignore. The picture is Spring by Harald Slott-Moller. I hope it all works out for her. 

Woman in the Sun – for Jane Dougherty

The first rays of sunlight would bring her transformation. She waited, breathless, at the window for the first glimmer of fire to appear above the horizon.

Behind her, the Prince lay sleeping, tumbled across his golden bed. She had played her part well. He would always remember her, she told herself, and smiled grimly.

In her left hand she held her prize, the emerald that contained the kingdom’s soul. With her right hand she pulled her robe tightly round her slim body, and stepped forward. This body irked her and she longed for flight.

A sudden noise behind her made her turn, startled as a deer. The Prince had woken and was smiling at her. He dangled a chain between his fingers. The diamond swinging from it sparked as the first light of sunrise hit it.

Her hand flew to her throat. He’d taken it from her – but how had he known? Without its power she was trapped, wingless, in this fragile body.

The sunlight that spilt around her mocked her now. She reached out involuntarily, but the Prince just smiled more widely and closed his hand around his trophy.

“Come here, my love”, he whispered.

1024px-caspar_david_friedrich_-_frau_vor_untergehender_sonne

This was written for yet another inspiring prompt from the very wonderful Jane Dougherty. The picture is by Caspar David Friedrich. Jane inspires some great pieces, get over there, check her out and give it a go!

 

Far far away – microfiction#10 for Jane Dougherty.

In the city there is a fountain. Under the fountain there is a serpent.

If you can tell a good enough story the serpent will grant you a wish.

To reach the city you must walk over seven hills, ford seven rivers, and battle through seven forests. Don’t speak to anyone – not the beautiful girl who offers apples, or the old woman who asks for bread. Don’t turn aside to pick the roses that grow beside the path, or to warm yourself at the fires the woodmen make at night.

When you reach the city, the gate will be locked. Prick your finger 5 times and write your name on the gate in red blood. The gate will open for you.

You must enter the city barefoot, at dawn.

The city is made of glass, and shines in the sun as if it is made of fire. Buildings will shatter around you at times, cutting you. You must stay silent. As the sun strengthens, the glass will burn your feet.

When you reach the fountain, you must wash yourself and then tell your story. If the serpent offers you a wish, you must first refuse politely.

Then wish yourself home.

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction challenge. The image is by Theodore Kittelson, and Jane has asked us for a fairy tale. I don’t know if this is quite a fairy tale, but I started writing something else, and 200 words is JUST NOT ENOUGH. So this strange little thing emerged.

For anyone who’s interested, Stella is fine, but having a bit of a rest at the moment. I  have worked out a couple more episodes, and may well post them, but I think we all need a bit of a rest from her…

Snow Geese – for Jane Dougherty

Where are you going, my brothers?
With your wings spreading out
Like the clouds that roll in from the north
And the snowflakes drifting down from your wings
Like sparks from a fire?

Where are you going, my brothers?
Wheeling high over the wide world
Heading west with the sun
While I wait, weaving my words into cloth
Hiding myself from the glare of the sun?

Where are you going, my brothers?
Your wild cry splinters the air.
The wind murmurs under your wings,
And the thread murmurs under my hands
And I wait here for you.

This is written for Jane Dougherty who has given another glorious prompt. The picture she chose shows 7 geese flying over a winter sea. My first response was to be reminded of a fairy tale – the one where the sister has to weave shirts out of nettles in silence to break the spell on her brothers. Like all fairy tale heroines, she is beautiful and stoical, and quite literally suffers in silence. But sometimes she must have felt a bit frustrated, surely?

NaPoWriMo 21 – A voice from a fairy tale

Sleeping Beauty

We’re just the same age,
Her and me. Sixteen, I was,
A month ago. Or at least…
Well. You know.

She’s fond of me –
There’s not much laughter
For a princess, but sometimes
We giggle like two girls.
Two ordinary girls, I mean.

I did her hair up
For the party.
She is lovely.
A proper beauty –
Not just jewels
and gowns with her.
And kind.
And when she sings!

Anyhow. I did her hair.
I put the crown in place –
Me! From the village!
“That’s something to tell them”
I remember thinking.
“I held the crown”.
My little brother, Johnnie,
He’s the baby,
He’ll look up at me –
His eyes are bright, grass green –
He’ll ask me “Was it heavy?”

Except he won’t now, will he?

And then she left the room,
All glowing, sparkling,
Like a jewel herself.

And I sat down
Just for a moment, like,
To rest my feet.
Saw my face in the mirror
Like it was a pond.
I felt so sleepy.

After that, darkness,
And my dreams – kissing Jack,
My wedding day, 3 daughters
Running down a hill, and then my boy
A glimpse of my own hands,
Old and twisted, a blackbird singing.

Such sweet,strange dreams –
All gone now.
That’s how it is with dreams –
They shatter when you wake,
Like a glass bowl.
Shards everywhere.

I went down yesterday.
I had to see it. My old home,
Changed, like you wouldn’t know it.

An old man, all bent over
Hobbled up. “I’m your nephew”.
All gnarled and wrinkled.
Johnnie’s boy. And when I looked
At him, I knew.

Nobody else could have those eyes.