Angel in my heart

(Last night, I was thinking about my younger son (almost 30) and the rumours that the Duchess of Sussex might be increasing again and some other things and this song began “playing” in my head while I was on the edge of sleep. Then my sweet niece reminded me of it this morning while I could still call it back.)

I just got an angel in my heart.
You’re mine
To raise
and count the days and ways
you grow
To see the world
through your eyes
with the surprise of each sunrise
and watch the world unfold.
You’re mine
‘Cause I just got an angel in my heart.

13 Nov. 2019

Tutelary Spirits and Luck-makers

Tutelary Spirits
6 Samhain

The Apple-tree Man and, to a lesser extent, the Glaistig are tutelary spirits. Most of the beings I call Otherfolk are, to some extent or other. They are bound to a certain spot, locale, bloodline, people. A tutelary spirit can cover a large area, such as Britannia, or small, like a Brownie.

Although they are bound to one place, however large that locale may be, there is evidence that a tutelary spirit can be carried out of their bounds; encased in statue or artefact, possessing those belonging to them, or even by embodying an avatar. One classic example of this behaviour can be found in the myths concerning Zeus. Invaders from the north carried their tutelary spirit into battle with them. After conquering, they consolidated their victory by forcing the submission of the native tutelary spirits via the ceremony of marriage. The stories of Zeus’s infidelities are not evidence of moral depravity or even sexual addiction on his part, but a pratical method of oppression.

The historical record seems to indicate, however, that there is a limit to the amount of influence a tutelary spirit can effectively wield and that such a spirit when inflated beyond its powers … dwindles into an echo in the darkness.

Tutelary spirits are effective in the local where their powers and abilities can be focused to individual purpose and need.

As implied, tutelary spirits are guardians and protectors. Guides and counsel. They may be worshipped as minor deities; or they may simply be given their due as powerful neighbours.

The Apple-tree Man, as his name implies, is a spirit of nature who watches over fruiting trees … all fruiting trees, not just apples. Once a year, during the Yuletide, the local community would wassail the trees in the orchard; trooping out with song and dance and food, they would leave tributes of bread and honey at the base of the oldest tree in the oldest orchard, wherein the Apple-tree Man was thought to dwell, and pour a pitcher of new cider over the roots.

The Glaistig is a confusing spirit to describe, probably because the name is used for so many different spirits. The word itself basically means “Grey Lady” and that covers a LOT of ground. Mortal ghost haunting, tutelary feminine spirit, mortal witch, helpful domestic spirit, or visiting Gentry Lady. The Glaistig mentioned in the story posted on 1st Samhain is a wild spirit of the moors who watches over deer. She is a lusty spirit of the fields with a keen appreciation for male company and a wild anger when her appreciation is not returned. Or she may be a spirit angered by the actions of hunters against the beasts under her protection.

The Apple-tree Man is a domestic spirit, benign and helpful, a spirit of agriculture. The Greenman, a tree spirit like the Apple-tree Man, is a tutelary spirit of forest trees. Neither benign nor inimical. It will not go out of its way to threaten men, but neither will it assist people in general, although, it might be kindly disposed to an individual who shows it respect and deference. In that way, the Greenman is not so different from the Apple-tree Man. The Apple-tree Man is kindly disposed to those who wassail it and tend to its trees throughout the year, rewarding them with a bounty of fruit. The Greenman will assist those who show it respect and ignore those who are irrelevant – who do not belong to it. (The Greenman is implied in the oak tree.)

The Glaistig and the Greenman are wild tutelary spirits, not concerned with mankind but with other aspects of Creation.

These stories are taking place in the Borderlands, the lands between the Borders. The Borders in question are those to Tìr nan Òg (Land of the Young, Faerie) and Tìr nam Marbh (Land of the Dead, the “real” world). The ancestors of the people living in the Borderlands were refugees from Tìr nam Marbh. Some were escaping the Romans, some the early Christian church, the last, and largest, group were fleeing the witch-hunters. These refugees brought their own gods, their own tutelary spirits, their own customs and ways.

The land between the Borders was wild. Not tame. Not benign. The tutelary spirits had their spheres of influence but those concerned the wild beasts and plants, the waterways and all they contained, the peaks and forests and plains. Not mortal homes. Not mortal communities. Not mortal agriculture.

Mortals did not belong in the land between the Borders. They did not belong to the land. Nor did they belong to the tutelary spirits of the land, water, or air. In the section of the story titled “Wizard”, the speaker resorts to a prayer-spell in which she asks for protection … or the power to protect against … hill-troll, water-hag, and piskie on air. These are the three elements of Gaelic folklore. The three main elements. When speaking of weather, they will admit to seven but I haven’t been able to suss out exactly what those seven elements of weather are. I just know that when there’s a storm of seven elements you better hope that your house stays on its foundations or it just may blow you into Faerie!

A further word on that prayer-spell. I am not clever enough to create anything out of whole cloth – I need yarn or thread or fabric on which to base my creations. The prayer-spell used is based on one to be found in the first volume of Carmina Gadelica, #10. It is one of my favorite prayers in the volumes, in fact. If folklore wasn’t clear enough, prayer and spells like this one are a clear indication that Otherfolk were NOT on the whole friendly or helpful spirits. Even Brownies have their dark side.

In the (invented) history of the settling of Border, the wild tutelary spirits, called Otherfolk as opposed to Gentry and Lords and Ladies of Tìr nan Òg, initially ignore the intruders. They are neither benign nor inimical. As the new-comers begin felling trees, hunting beasts, tilling land, the spirits who are displaced or discomoded take notice. They begin to push back … much as they initially did in our world. Otherfolk of the Borderland are stronger than those of our world which might be the reason why the magic faded here, starved of spirit, strangled.

It is for reason of that death of magic, as much as the short lifespan of humans, that the mortal realm is called “Tìr nam Marbh” – Land of the Dead. In our world, Rome conquered the known world and Rome was a place bankrupt of true spirituality. A city full of people terrified of the countryside with no real ties to the land or the tutelary spirits that abounded. Rome attempted to impose their own tutelary spirits on conquered territory, succeeding enough to break the ties the natives had but not enough to forge new ties with their foreign avatars or idols.

Refugees to Borderland brought there own idols and local deities, but these were not native to Borderland. Mankind had few protections.

People died – by accident, by wild-animal encounter, by encounter with angry Otherfolk.

Birthrate dropped – pregnancies were terminated out of season, women and infants died in birthing and babies died of illness or disappeared. Few children made it to their maturity.

But increasingly, children did grow to be adults in the new land. Some formed ties with the local spirits, befriended them, accepted them and were, in turn, accepted by them. Some children were found to have uncanny abilities. Celtic Christians accepted these children as blessed because early Celtic Christians accepted magic -both human and Other – as not evil. They called these children luck-makers and communities with such inhabitants, treated fairly, flourished.

Other communities saw the luck-makers as demonspawn. Changelings. They tortured them, trying to their “true-born” offspring back. They murdered them. These communities withered and died.

By the time this story takes place, luck-makers are fairly common and birthrates are rising … slowly. There’s still a lot of disease and accident and life is hard. Think a Chaucer-type of lifestyle in the back beyond and Elizabethan closer to population centers.

In a dream, I saw one tutelary spirit trying to stabilize a sinkhole in order to give a group of travelers a chance to escape from death at the hands of a rival spirit. I had a sense of a patchwork of helpful and inimical nature spirits throughout Borderland and that the numbers of the former were slowly growing allowing mortals to survive and thrive.

Here endeth my lecture.

The wizard (story continued)

04 November 2019

Three weeks after the goblin raid, the wizard came to Toppermare. Not that I saw him. My life was busier than ever, what with watching the littles and the work I was still doing with Healer Cally.

The wizard rode into the village in a hired coach, not as impressive as a dark cloud by any means but far more reassuring for those who saw him and likely far better for his continued health as well. The coach drew up before the village hall and the wizard stepped forth. He was a well set-up man, not old as wizards go, clean-shaven, dark of hair and eyes, dour of aspect, and gloomy of garb. He looked like chief mourner at the funeral of a rich old uncle whom nobody liked.

He was seen by some youths on the village commons. Since they were supposed to be at harvest, they weren’t in any hurry to tell anyone.

The only people not at harvest were … well, I wasn’t because I was watching the littles, but we were in the orchard, not in the village proper. The only people in the village were the constable on patrol and the village luck-maker and it was the luck-maker who was in the village hall when the wizard entered. As soon as the luck-maker caught sight of the stranger, he knew exactly what he was and he bolted for the back door, convinced that necromancer had returned and the goblins were coming and not staying to see the truth of the matter or to hear what the stranger had to say.

As for the wizard, he sat himself down at the high table, in the very seat that Headman Mastersmith himself uses when the village elders meet in council, and the wizard took out a book and commenced to reading. And that was how they found him when they came in; Headman Mastersmith, Master Ranger, Brother Calum, and the constable.

I think I knew, in a way, that the wizard was come to visit because I got to feeling very twitchy that day. I practiced with the littles running to the Apple-man’s tree and drawing a circle round us for protection. I still carried the stick the Apple-tree man had given to me that day, keeping it nearby whatever I was doing. Ma wanted to toss it in the fire but Healer Cally talked to her and that was that.

The first I knew about the wizard was when he came to the orchard, accompanied by Headman Mastersmith, Master Ranger, Brother Calum, and the constable, a young man of an age with my eldest brother, not long in the position. I had just landed at the bottom of a child-pile, giddy with laughter and trying to be gentle enough not to hurt the littles. I didn’t have the Baker littles, so there were only seven of them, ranging from the littlest just able to walk to three, all boys, almost of age to attend Lady school.

Took me too almost too long to figure out that the shivery shakey scared-rabbit sensation was something other than giddiness but once I did, I pushed the littles off, calling out, “Olly olly Apple-tree!” which was the signal for them to race there as fast as they could. I grabbed my stick up and followed, drawing a circle big enough to contain us all quicker’n quick. I set myself up in front, the littles behind, sitting between me and the trunk of the Apple-man’s tree.

It was only then that I saw what I faced and the familiar faces, too. I started to relax, then I called to mind that some Otherfolk can take the seeming of people one knows and just because I thought I recognized faces didn’t mean that the folks behind those faces belonged to them. And I purely did not like the look of the wizard. From the expression on his face, he didn’t much care for the look of me either. He looked as though he’d just stepped onto a cowpatty and him wearing his best shoes.

The littles were just then realizing that I wasn’t playing any more. The leader of the three looked out around my legs, as though I were a tree trunk myself, in order to jab at the wizard with a twig, he’d found and yelling “Mizzletof! You’re dead!” at the top of his voice. I pushed him back and tried to ignore the argument that ensued.

“What’s going on? Why are you here?” I asked, my heart in throat. If they were Otherfolk powerful enough to take the seeming of those I knew, then I would have no chance against them. Especially in that I had no idea how I had held off the creatures before.

The wizard left off glaring at me in order to spin dramatically around and engage the men from the village, demanding to know what we ‘brats’ were doing messing up the incident site and how he was supposed to get any kind of accurate reading with some moonchild working magic at random all over the place. Master Ranger tried to say something but Headman Mastersmith cut him off. The wizard snorted and turned back around again, his robe flaring out around him.

I wondered how long he had practised before he figured out how to get it to do that.

He strode toward me, toward us, stopping a few feet away, and he studied the ground between us, his dark brows drawing together over his eyes.

“What is this?” he muttered, clearly not addressing me or anyone else visible to sight. “It’s not a ward,” he mused then corrected himself. “Not any ward I’ve ever encountered.” His face was distorted by a grimace, but one of puzzlement, not anger. He bent forward, sniffing loudly. He did have rather a prominent nose for it. Shaking his head, he straightened, still speaking as if to himself, “I smell naught but apples.” He met my eyes, frowning greatly. “Who taught you the making of this?”

I shook my head wordlessly, afraid to say anything lest it give him power over me. His frown darkened.

“Let’s see how effective …” he said, taking another step forward.

I gripped my stick more firmly. “Stay back!” Master Ranger had begun teaching me to use it as a quarter-staff but three weeks wasn’t much time to learn how to fight. The one who might be that self same Master Ranger started toward us, calling out to the wizard that perhaps he should speak with me. The wizard ignored the offer, his nostrils flaring in derision.

“Or what?” he mocked. “You’ll whack me with your little stick?”

There were three littles of an age almost to go to Lady school, all boys. The leader of them, who had spoken before, answered the wizard from the safety behind my legs. “She’ll mizzletof you dead, just like the other big meanie!” he cried, poking forward with a twig again. I hissed at him, ordering him to get back and protect the others, not that I expected him to do much but I thought that might get him to obey. He was a bit of handful.

The wizard wasn’t looking at me anymore. His attention was fixed on the little, with an expression of puzzled irritation.

The villagers came closer. Or rather, the ones who might be villagers if they weren’t Otherfolk pretending. It gets confusing when you aren’t sure if anyone is who they appear to be. How do you speak of them?

Brother Calum held the Headman back so Master Ranger could speak. “Master wizard, this is the lass who encountered the goblins. She and these littles were here in the orchard when they appeared.” Mastersmith tried to argue some point, the wizard waved him to silence. He hadn’t taken taken his eyes off the littles behind me. I shifted into his way, breaking his view and ordering him to leave the little alone. My voice shook. I hated it, that it shook like that.

The wizard shifted his gaze up to meet mine. “What big meanie?” His voice rumbled, low and dangerous. It sounded like a threat. He was too close and the others … the constable was edging around the wizard, flanking me. I couldn’t keep them all in view.

Swallowing heavily, I drew in a deep breath and began to pray. I probably should have been along, I guess.

“Oh generous chief of chiefs, bless me and all anear me. Bless my actions that I may keep them safe … from every gruagach and necromancer, from their ill-wishing and curse; from glaistig and kelpie; from Gentry folk and goblins. From hill-troll and water-hag and piskie on air; grant to me the strength I need; preserve the ones I guard.”

It wasn’t a prayer taught in church and it wasn’t exactly the prayer I meant to be praying but it felt right.

The circle I’d drawn in the soil, surrounding myself and the littles, flared to my sight and the wizard flinched away, hand to his nose. None of the other four showed any reaction although they noted the wizard’s surprise and asked him what was wrong. I began the second iteration of the prayer-spell, but I heard the wizard’s response. He asked them who had the teaching of me and wasn’t too pleased when Brother Calum admitted that it was he. This answer did not please the wizard at all. In a loud voice, he asked … demanded … ordered, “Why isn’t she at Academy?”

My breath caught in my chest, interrupting the chant briefly. Then I took up the thread of it again.

It still hurt. After two years, it still hurt.

I earned a placing at Daingmark Academy. A commoner’s seat, true, but I was accepted. Not many were. I had been so happy and proud of myself when I received the letter saying I was accepted. I turned to Ma, thinking she would be happy for me, too, but she yelled at me and tore the letter from my hands and threw it into the kitchen fire.

Later Pa told me why. She wasn’t angry with me, he said, but because … I couldn’t go. There wasn’t money to pay. Even if I had won a full scholarship, it would have cost too much to send me to Academy.

The prayer was done. I felt spent. I fell down to one knee, letting the stick support some of my weight.

“Fool of a child.” I didn’t know … couldn’t tell … who spoke those words. They were softly spoken, intended only for me to hear and I didn’t recognize the voice.

My eyes were downcast. I had done what I could to keep the littles safe. Several of them were crying, trying to get me to pick them up and give them comfort, but it wasn’t safe to turn my attention away just yet.

“Look at me.” I raised my head slowly. It was so heavy. I looked up past the line … except it wasn’t a line in the dirt anymore. There was a … a soap bubble glowing between me and the rest of the world, enclosing me and the littles inside. The wizard knelt on the other side, his dark eyes … sympathetic?

“How old are you, child?”

I bristled. “I’m not a child. I have thirteen summers.”

He winced. “Too old,” he muttered. I felt affronted. First he calls me a child then he says I’m too old. Wishy-washy, I call it.

“But maybe …” he mused, his voice trailing off. “Lass, would you like to come to Daingmark Academy? To study?”

I knew he was cruel, but this was beyond cruelty. Yes, I had wanted that more than anything … two summers back when I was of age and eligible. I drew in breath in a hard gasp, then shook my head, and speaking a decisive, “No!”

He stared at me in disbelief. “Why ever not?” he spluttered, aghast that I would dare deny him. “You have a strong gift. You need the training of it!”

“I’ll see her properly trained.”

I was glad to see that the wizard was as startled by the newcomer’s voice as I was. I had been so fixed on the wizard and his … his temptation, that I had failed to see Healer Cally and Master Cider approaching. The wizard recovered quickly, regaining his feet and facing those new come to join us. He stood with his back to me so I couldn’t see his featuers but I heard the arrogance in his voice as he replied.

“A village hedgewitch. Is that the highest you aspire?” Turning again to me, he softened his voice into a wheedle. “At Academy, you could reach for so much more; the secrets of the Universe await … ”

“That’s enough, Master Wizard,” Br. Calum interrupted coldly. “Don’t make promises you haven’t the wherewithal to make good on.” To me, he said, “Lass, take your charges away to the churchyard. Now that Mistress Healer and Master Cider are here, we must needs get to business.” He turned his attention to the constable, directing him to help me take the littles away and then return.

I was fairly certain that the village elders were who they appeared to be but before I broke the circle, I wanted to be completely sure. I bowed my head. “Give us a blessing before we go I pray ye.”

Br. Calum gave me a crooked smile and sained me and the littles in the name of the Three. None of those around him screamed or burst into flames or showed the slightest sign of discomfort. Clamouring to my feet, I dismissed the circle and let the littles out at long last. Although, as long as the time seemed, not much time had passed since first I cried Olly on them.

“Wait!” the wizard commanded. “Before you go, tell me what happened to the necromancer.”

I had turned away, reaching down to pick up the littlest. At his question, I hesitated, then completed the action, settling her on my hip.

“What necromancer?” I asked carefully. Too carefully. He knew and I knew that he knew.

“The ‘big meanie’ you ‘mizzletofed’ to death.” His face was stiff, expressionless. I gave a little laugh, pretending unconcern.

“Oh, you know how littles are; always playing games.” I turned away in what I hoped was an obvious show of being too busy to answer anything more, when I heard him ask again. “What big meanie?” I would have ignored the question except there was an answer, of sorts. A confused babble of little-speak except these were the older littles. I spun around. He was talking to the three eldest littles. No. Worse. He was listening to them and showing signs of understanding.

“Leave them alone!” I shouted, rushing to get between the wizard and the littles. Headman Mastersmith stopped me, grabbing my arm.

“Let her go,’ the wizard said, standing and dusting off his knees.

“It was a mistake letting her have take charge of the littles again,” the Headman complained, glaring at me. “Filling their heads with lies. Mistress Baker was right, we should have strapped you proper.” He shook me, hard and pushed me away so that I stumbled and almost fell on the little that I was carrying. I didn’t hit the ground, but a cushion of air that felt as soft as a feather bed. The constable came to help me up. I didn’t know it then, but he was one of those who had been to talk to Pa about courting me when I came of age.

The wizard was watching Mastersmith. “Do that again and I will ensure that ill-luck follows you ever more.” The Headman blanched. Satisfied, the wizard turned to me. “Now. No more foolery. Tell me about the necromancer.”

“No one else saw anything except goblins,” I said defensively. The little was crying. I turned her head to my shoulder and rocked her, crooning softly while I watched the wizard warily. He waited.

After I got my voice back, I tried to tell people what had happened, how the goblins and the necromancer just appeared, out of no where, but no one wanted to hear. Ma beat me until I finally accepted what “everyone knew” as the truth.

He made a gesture. I almost saw what he did, but not quite. “Tell me what happened.” It wasn’t a request.

I could feel the words jostling to be spoken. I pressed my lips to keep them in. The wizard cocked his head, his brow creasing. He made another gesture, threads of light extending from his fingertips like thread on a distaff. It became harder to keep silent. He took a deep breath and made a third gesture and this time I saw it well enough to reach out to break the threads. Instead the threads of magic wrapped around my arm and up to circle my throat. Words spilled out.

“I knocked the necromancer off his cloud, he shattered and the sun came out and all the goblins screamed and then the men arrived.” I drew in a much needed breath of air, then glared, angrily demanding, “Happy?”

Mastersmith pushed his way forward. “Foolishness! There was no necromancer. She’s telling lies to make herself look the hero instead of admitting her mistake.” The wizard gave him a bothered look and made a movement with one finger and after that Mastersmith’s mouth flapped open and shut but no words came out. He looked very distressed as well he should, Mastersmith loved to talk.

After silencing the Headman, the wizard studied me, as if I were a strange specimen he couldn’t quite place. At last he sighed and shook his head. He turned to Brother Calum, ignoring the silent Headman. “I’m going to need to know everything she saw and did that day,” he said. “Starting with where the necromancer stood and ending with exactly how she ‘knocked him off his cloud’.” He appealed to the Master Ranger. “You know how vital it is to have that spell.”

Master Ranger nodded grimly.

“She has a chore to do. Let her get the littles settled back at the village proper and then she can come back and you can do what you will with her,” Brother Calum suggested.

“She’s a clever little lass,” Master Ranger mused. “She can read and write, not only the vulgar but Latin and Greek as well. What say ye that she be made available to you during your stay here, as an aide or assistant, like. You can query her at your leisure then.”

I protested, loudly. No one heeded. Healer Cally stated that I was to be her prentice … which shocked me silent again. She had said that she would see to the training of me but … Prentice. Did I want to be a village healer? Never go beyond the bounds of Toppermare?

While I pondered that my fate was sealed. I politely refused the constable’s help and betook me and the littles back to the village.

I wondered what it would be like to work for a wizard?

Samhain – Consequences

(Yesterday, I reported on an encounter with a necromancer. This is what happened after)

04 November 2019

I stayed up the oak trees for ages. Hours, at least. Somehow I’d climbed up still holding onto the stick I’d used to fight off the goblins. It was getting dark when I realized I was hearing voices calling for me in the glooming. And specifically the voice of Pa, standing at the base of the tree, calling up. He said he knew I was up there and if he had to climb up to fetch me down I wouldn’t have the liking of it. So I climbed down.

When I returned the littles to their homes, I hadn’t said anything about what happened. I hadn’t told about the goblins or the necromancer or any of it. The women weren’t much pleased to have their childer back early. Mistress Baker told me that she wasn’t going to pay me for watching Mary and the babe if that was the way of my watching. I didn’t care. I just … I had to get away.

Pa took me to the village hall. Everyone was there; menfolk, women, childer, youths, and even the littles. When Pa and I came in, they all stopped their chattering and turned to look at us. At me. Ma rushed up to us, yelling at me angrily. She grabbed me into a tight hug then shook me hard and ordered me to never do anything like that again. I think she would have hit me then and there in front of everyone except Brother Calum stopped her. He pulled me away from her and led me to the front of the room. To the spot where lawbreakers stand, before the high table. Headman Mastersmith was sitting in the justiciar’s seat with the villiage elders to each side. Master Ranger and Healer Cally were there as well and Brother Calum left me alone so he could join them.

They asked me to tell them what had happened.

I couldn’t speak. I had a lump in my throat so large it stopped my voice, so I shook my head. Mastersmith leaned forward. “This is what we know; from what we saw and from what the littles told us. You took the littles into the orchard and there a group of goblins appeared and tried to steal the Baker children away. You defended the littles with a stick pulled from one of the trees and you fought them off until the alarm was raised and help arrived. Is that correct?”

I started to shake my head then shrugged and nodded. I crossed my arms and hunched into myself, feeling uncommonly chilled. Some of the children yelled out, contradicting the account. “NO! There was a bad man. The bad man went poof!” and the like. Master Ranger caught my eye. “There was a wizard with them, wasn’t there?” he urged. I didn’t get a chance to answer even if I had been able. Mastersmith snorted with disgust.

“A wizard, indeed! Of course there was no wizard and you’d know that if you didn’t have the notion fixed in your head.” He huffed. “If there were a wizard with those goblins, then don’t you think things would have gone much worse? Do you really think this child could hold off a band and goblins and a wizard besides?”

Master Ranger shook his head head. He said something but Mastersmith spoke loudly enough to drown out his voice, glaring at me with narrow-eyed accusation. “As for you, missy! Just what were you doing with the littles so far out of bounds?”

Clearing his throat, Master Cider protested from his seat at the high table. “Begging your pardon, Mastersmith, but the orchard is most definitely not out of village bounds. It’s as safe a place as any.”

“Clearly not!” Mastersmith snapped back. A woman’s voice from the back of the room yelled, “It’s not as safe as the churchyard.”

“Well naught’s as safe as a churchyard!” Master Cider replied shortly.

In the end it was decided that it was just an ordinary band of goblin raiders, goblins whom I somehow managed to hold off until help arrived to save the day. No wizard. No necromancer. He had disappeared into dust by the time the menfolk arrived. They didn’t even give credit to the Apple-tree man which I felt was very short-sighted of them. Not that I said so. I didn’t say anything.

It was also agreed that I wasn’t responsible enough to have charge of the littles. Br. Calum protested this but Mistress Baker insisted. My sister two summers my elder took over the chore; she was cautioned to keep the littles confined within the churchyard precincts.

As for me, I was demoted to navvy at home; doing the heavy cleaning and fetching and carrying from dark to dark. No more lessons with Brother Calum because I wasn’t earning the siller with which to pay. That really hurt. This continued for about a week, then Healer Cally came to beg Ma for my services. After that, I was sent to the Healer’s hut as soon as the sun rose; to do whatever Healer ased of me. Which wasn’t as dirty or hard as what Ma had me doing by any means. Harvesting herbs, stirring simples in the stillroom, reading receipts for various ailments and descriptions of ills and treatments of the same. There was no mention of pay but it was better than it had been.

I think Ma was glad enow to have me out of the house again; I love her dearly but my presence grates on her like a small pebble caught in the shoe. Healer was pleased with my work and she said she was thinking to take me as prentice. I was happy that I wasn’t being punished more harshly. There were those, though, who were less than pleased with the way things were.

Mistress Baker, for one, thought I should have been strapped at least for taking the littles into danger; she really wanted to have me pilloried for it. It disgusted her that the only thing that she managed was to get the littles out of my care.

Meanwhile, the littles, themselves, kept running up to me in passing to ask me when I was coming back and didn’t I like them any more? I heard complaints from their parents that the littles were so much harder to deal with when they got home, out-of-sorts and difficult to settle. My sister whined that Sister Friswyth was forever snapping at her to keep the littles quiet because she couldn’t hear the childer reciting in the schoolhouse and when Sr. Friswyth wasn’t at her then it was Br. Calum claiming that he couldn’t hear himself think.

More importantly, it turned out that the apple trees weren’t happy with the new order of things. Master Cider informed any and all that the apple harvest was in doubt because the Apple-tree Man missed having the littles in the orchard and furthermore he … the Apple-tree Man … was inclined to be angry at the insult given to him and the orchards. To wit, claiming that they were out of bounds.

I suspect that Master Cider must have told him that because how else would the Apple-tree man know?

By the third week, I was back with the littles, all except Mary Baker and her little brother. Mistress Baker decided to keep them home with her instead of trusting me again. As far as I knew, everything was back to the way it had been. As far as I knew, but I didn’t know all and things were very different.

Healer Cally was thinking of taking me as prentice in truth and in binding. Master Ranger was waiting word from Lamrig Mark to have me tested for training as a Ranger. And several men had been to talk to Pa with an eye to asking for my hand. I did notice that some men were going out of their way to greet me or offer me compliments, which I thought strange enough that I decided to ignore it. Which I shouldn’t have, I suppose.

I was reaching the end of my thirteenth summer, my saint-day coming soon; in little more than a year, I would be choosing the course of the rest of my life. I would be of age to wed, or to prentice myself to a trade, or to sunder ties with Toppermare and seek my fortune elsewhere. But I wasn’t thinking of that, not then. I was just glad everything was back to normal.

And then the wizard came.


(based on the dream I had this morning)

03 November

I used to daydream about being an only child. Sort of an only child. I imagined being raised by a Cailleach in the back beyond, a retired Ranger-mage, far far away from Toppermare, where we lived. In my dreams I was a foundling child, rescued from marauding goblins, my family and home a mystery to all because, this is the most fantastic part of my daydream, because I had been stolen from Tìr nam Marbh, the land of legend from which our ancestors fled when the land was dying.

Not a word of truth about it. I’m one of ten, yes, TEN children, all born living, all surviving to grow. I know, it’s even harder to believe than the idea of goblins crossing the border into Tìr nam Marbh, but it’s true.

As I said, we live in Toppermare, near the conhospice of the Lady’s well and some think that has something to do with it. Pa trained as a Ranger in his youth but when the first of us was coming, he switched to village guard instead. Steady work and you get to settle in one place. Now he’s in charge of the Armory. Position of authority and responsibility.

Ma earns a little extra helping the local healer make charms to help other women to catch and keep their babes til birthing. I don’t know if it’s because of her or Lady’s well or what, but there are a lot more littles in Toppermare than usual. We top the list, but there are families here with five littles under roof and three isn’t all that rare.

As a general rule, though, there aren’t that many childer; most couples raise up two at most what with losing them before they quicken and birthing being hard. And that’s not even the worst of it. There’s always the worry that one of the Otherfolk might snatch a little away, or worse – that one of the Gentryfolk might take se away to bring up as hir own.

These are the worst monsters of all, the gruagaich, the wizards of Faerie. Those mortals stolen away and raised by Gentry over the Border in Tìr nan Òg. They trained in tripleag and siobhraiche, shaping the magic that flows through Tìr nan Òg and taught to rate themselves above mortals. Literally – above other mortals. They travel on clouds of water and air whenever they come over the Border into our lands, on the business of their sworn liege. They never let their feet touch the ground lest the sum of their years fall upon them of a sudden and they crumble into dust from which all mortals come and all mortals go.

Despite this danger, they do come. A plague upon the land, I wot.

The worst of lot are those raised by goblins in Tìr nam Baibh. These are dark wizards, trained not only in the magics of Faerie but in death magics as well. Necromancers, one and all. Where one appears the land is blighted and nothing grows for generations after.

Toppermare is about as far from the wild-lands as one can be … outside of Lamrig Mark, I suppose. It should have been so far from the Borders that the goblins would never dare raid, but one of the first things we learn at Academy is this, the Border is always nigh, as close as a dream and just out of sight.

I suppose we should have known anyway, the Rades come riding in their season and none are permitted to see them pass. Those who dare to stay outside and watch the Lords and Ladies going by run the risk of being snatched up on horseback and taken away, never again seen by mortal eye. And the Tribute Riders come once a year to collect their tithe. We never see how they come. We never see how they go. We hear the bells gaily ringing silver and know to cover our eyes and run away.

Which never really made sense to me. Have you ever tried to run with your eyes closed? It PAINFUL!

Pa was always proud of his brood, as he called us, though Ma grumbled about always having one at breast, one creeping, and one running. He saw to it that we all went to the local Ladyschool and he paid extra to Brother Calum to tutor my eldest brother in Latin and Greek, preparing him to enter St. Oisin Seminary to study for orders. When I was discovered sitting half-way up an oak tree with one of the books borrowed from Br. Calum, trying to figure out the Latin, Pa paid for me to get tutoring also, even though I had no interest in holy orders.

Unlike Charlie, I couldn’t spend all my time at my studies or reading. We childer had to help out, to make ends meet. I earned silver watching the littles, not my own brothers and sisters, that was expected of me as a matter of course, but others in the village.

It wasn’t too bad. Littles like me. They like the tales I tell. I used to tell them stories cribbed from lore and from the writings of Homer and Æsop, from Ovid and Virgil, and even from the writings of Aristotle and Pliny, though they preferred hearing about the creatures the latter told of than the musings of the former.

We were in the apple orchard one day, sitting under the Appleman’s tree. Me and a circle of littles. Mary Baker had her little brother with her, lying in a Moses basket, although he was younger than those I usually tended. I was telling them the tale of the tortoise and the hare when I felt the strangest sensation. A shiver like a ghost in passing, but bigger than any spirit I’d ever met. A film upon the world like a soap bubble around us, beyond us, inside. I saw a rippling like the sound of the bell tolling the passing of a soul and smelled a smell like something once seen and never remembered.

The sun disappeared and of a sudden a pack of goblins were there in the orchard with us. Five or six or maybe more, and a necromancer as well, riding on a black cloud.

The littles screamed. The goblins roared and I yelled and shouted for the littles to come behind me, between me and the trunk of the Appleman’s tree. A stick fell from the tree, almost hitting me but I grabbed it out of the air and laid about with it, slamming it into the goblin marauders. One of them snatched up Mary and another the Moses basket with her little brother within. I smacked the one holding Mary, knocking her out of his hands and the Appleman pulled him down into the dirt as far as his knees, leaving him trapped and screaming.

The other scurried away as fast as fast together with his prize, and likely the reason they chanced the raid in the first place. Tiny ones are much prized in the lands of Tìr nam Òg. He took the babe straight to the necromancer. The black wizard smiled and such a smile haunts my dreams to this day. He bent down to take the babe and in that moment I pointed the at him and at the goblin, I pointed with empty hand and stick and I shouted ….

In truth, I’m not sure what I shouted. I thought then and still think it was No. Or Stop. Or something of that sort. But the littles who were there said that what I yelled was nothing they’d ever heard before so maybe it was Latin. Or Greek. I don’t know.

What happened next …

The goblin stopped. Just stopped. Like a frog frozen in pond ice.

The necromancer was knocked ashcan over teakettle off his cloud and onto the dirt. He shattered into a million million pieces.

The shadow covering us disappeared, the sun came out, and the goblins began screaming in pain, covering their eyes and cowering down.

I kept the little behind me in the protection of the Appleman’s tree until the Ranger and guards arrived to handle the raiders. Then I took them each and one home to their mothers and grandmothers and aunts and left them there. After that, I climbed the oak tree as high as I could and if I cried then, or shook, or got sick, well, it’s nobody’s business but mine own, now is it?

November 2019 – Academy

based on my dream this morning

02 November 2019

There are seven villages in the district large enough to support a Lady school for littles under ten and yeoman farmers will often set up one of their better educated offspring to teach the deserving young attached to their holdings. In addition, most churchmen can be persuaded to instruct would-be scholars in Latin and Greek for a consideration, but they consider it beneath the dignity of their office to deal with those still struggling with Apple Ball Cat or counting more complex than one two many.

For most families of the district, living in small hamlets and hidden crofts throughout the wilding, the chance for formal schooling comes at age 11, when Daingmark Academy instates the next class of students. Not all of the young of the district are eligible; entry does not depend on prior instruction but on ability and potential. And silver. Even those who win a placement as scholar are required to pay for room and board, clothing, supplies and texts. It can come to quite a sum, which is why many of the smaller communities pool resources that they can pay to send one of their own, with the understanding that the Academic will thereafter return to teach younger siblings and neighbours.

Daingmark Academy is situated above the town of Lamrig Mark, an old fortified manse built by those with aspirations above their stations. They thought themselves the equal of the Gentryfolk who rule the lands between the borders of Tìr nan Òg and Tìr nam Marbh, rising up in rebellion agsinst the Lords and Ladies from this stronghold. They reaped the reward of their presumption.

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Samhain Trick or Treat

Fell asleep after work this afternoon and had this dream about the origins of trick or treating. The dream made me cry.

01 November 2019

Once a year, they come for the tribute, riding their fine horses ringing with bells. Part of the harvest; grains and vegetables, honey and fruit. Part of the works of the hand, crafts of carving, trinkets and fabric, gifts of food. Breads and cakes, tarts and pies, bags of sweets and crates of jam, and Mistress Woodcome’s apple tarts.

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