“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild,
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” – W.B. Yeats
Conla picked early sage in her garden. Her family traditionally made a lamb stew for their midsummer feast. Her mother, Bronwyn, was inside their house braising the lamb with spring onions and chives. Conla heard her neighbor’s voice, and turned to see him walking under their archway with its pink roses and purple clematis.
“I can’t find a thing! My jackets are missing their buttons. My trousers all have holes. My wallet and keys are missing again! Are you doing this to me?!” Conla’s neighbor in the white cottage next door was Seamus O’Flanagan. Their two houses were the only ones for miles in that wild part of County Wicklow. The American had retired and come to the old country to write and paint, in the county of his ancestors. His wispy white hair was standing up in the wind, and his cheeks were red with anger.
“I have not been out of this garden for the last week!” Conla insisted, insulted. “We warned you not to cut down your fairy thorn bushes.”
“I thought you were joking!” Seamus paused. “What do bushes have to do with my things missing?”
Conla’s mother came outside, past the rowan tree beside the door. She stood in front of the red rose tree.
“Hello, Seamus,” Bronwyn nodded. “Good day to you. Conla, I need the sage now.” Conla handed her mother the pungent green leaves.
“Your daughter is just telling me my keys are missing because I cut down those nasty thorn bushes!” Seamus scoffed.
Bronwyn looked at Seamus for a meditative moment. “You have angered the Sidhe, and they must be placated. A traveler is coming. You’ll need his help. Now please excuse me, my stew needs tending.” She went back inside with an air of impatience.
Seamus gave a long breath, as if only just remembering to breathe at all. “What century is this?” he inquired of the clouds, tilting his head back and raising his blue eyes to the sky.
“I have heard that a native American has come to Wicklow,” offered Conla, feeling some empathy for her neighbor, so far from all he knew. She decided to share as much as she thought he could understand. “He is of the Iroquois, and he has been asking for our fairy rock, the Carraig Sidhe. Rocks have great power to the native Americans just as they do here. My mother has given permission for him to come to the Carraig Sidhe tonight on midsummer eve. My family tends the Carraig Sidhe. You must come here tonight at the full moon. He will be here as well; he will have something you need.” Having done what she could, Conla turned away from Seamus and his speechless mouth, hanging open. She went back inside to help cleanse the house in time for their celebration.
Midsummers were the nights to communicate to the fae, the beautiful folk, living with and without them. The Longest Night was full of magic, and a time of blessing and danger. Seamus would need their help this night. Balance and peace must be restored.
The lamb stew cooked slowly into the night. The bread was kneaded with sea salt, left to rise, was shaped into rolls and was baked outdoors in Bronwyn’s grandmother’s ancient bread oven, heated with wind-fallen applewood. Conla and Bronwyn cleaned out closets, cupboards and dark corners. They lit candles they had hand-dipped in warm wax intermingled with lavender harvested on the last midsummer’s eve. As they sat together, they held hands around the bouquet of cottage roses, ferns and rosemary, and they imagined silently another year of peaceful harmony with nature. Then they offered thanks for their food, their home, creation and each other.
“What is imagined and wished for on midsummer evening will come true,” her mother said smiling. The crusty bread and tender lamb stew was the best Conla could ever remember.
“The fairies have been busy, spreading nature-rife and dusty regrowth as they pass by to harass Seamus. The herbs are the best I’ve tasted since I was a girl. I remember a war between the Sidhe and the pixies when I was a girl. So many magical clashes happened that year that the thorn bushes formed a hedge three-houses high. The herbs were as tall as cows. Some days, the dun cow’s milk was entirely cream. The weather was as unpredictable as a cat. We never ate so well, but Mother would not let us go out after dark in case we were caught in the cross-fire.” Bronwyn chuckled, remembering. Conla loved her mother’s stories.
After their late dinner, she and her mother walked to Seamus O’Flanagan’s house. He was waiting for them, complete with safari vest, bristling with dagger, flashlight, cellphone, microphone and recorders.
Bronwyn shook her head. “You would be better with rowan and blackthorn.” She made him leave his things behind or risk insulting the Sidhe. “Now, come with us. We must collect the fern seed in the moonlight.” Seamus looked dubious, but he willing ran his fingers along the fronds of ferns and then touched his fingers to his eyes as Bronwyn and Conla showed him.
“With the fern seed we can see the fae.” Conla explained.
“I’m not going to lose my eyesight, am I?” Seamus seemed only half-serious.
“You’ll be better for this night,” Bronwyn smiled, and collected some extra fern fronds. She looked sadly at the bank of the stream running behind Seamus’s cottage, where the thorn bushes had been. Together they walked to the Carraig Sidhe. Just like Plymouth Rock, the Carraig Sidhe disappointed Seamus. The undistinguished rock was small, sharp-edged and gray.
Bronwyn knelt beside it with Conla at her side. Through the trees came another man.
“You found it.” Bronwyn announced to the dark-haired man, gesturing to the Carraig Sidhe. He joined her, kneeling opposite, and she handed him the fern frond, demonstrating with her fingers what to do.
“I am Dekan Awida. You are Bronwyn?” Bronwyn nodded. The man continued, “Your sister told me you invited me. Thank you. I have brought the holly.”
“Holly?” Seamus asked. “It’s not Christmas!”
“Holly is my gift to the fae. I ask for their blessing on my journey and for the power of regrowth and strength for my people.” Dekan Awida had a deep, slow voice.
“All people are connected; our energy flows from the fae. For good or ill.” Bronwyn observed. “Seamus O’Flanagan, you must atone. You must offer a gift and a promise to allow the fairy thorn bushes to grow tall and strong again. You must not judge and act when you do not understand.” Bronwyn’s voice had turned stern.
“What gift?” Seamus asked, sighing. Perhaps he would be “touched” by the fae after tonight, but maybe he would be able to find his wallet and keys.
“For what you have done, you must offer three drops of blood to mingle with the blood of the fae. You must intend no harm here or at other times.”
Seamus had no chance to respond. At that moment, the full moon reached its zenith overheard, and the birds all started to sing a chorus of welcome. The air shimmered above the Carraig Sidhe as if thousands of fireflies were twirling in a dizzying dance. Fairies came from the lights in the hundreds, all sizes. Some flew into the trees, many touched the heads of Bronwyn and her daughter. One came directly for Seamus, and tweaked his nose hard. He yelped. Dozens clung to the buttons of Dekan Awida’s plaid shirt, his brown hair and his holly branch. The lights swirled around him, lighting up his dark eyes. A whispered conversation happened too low for Conla to hear. Then Dekan Awida bowed low, laid the holly on the Carraig Sidhe, and turned and left with a nod to Bronwyn and Conla. Conla never saw him again.
An elegant Sidhe as tall as he extended the holly branch to him. When Seamus grabbed it, he yelped, and three red drops slid into his palm. The tall Sidhe offered his own hand, also scratched by the holly. They clasped hands, and years dropped away from Seamus, his face smiling with a charm, undimmed by the aches and pains of age. Seamus intoned: “I promise that I will let the fairy thorn bushes regrow, undisturbed by me. I will plant roses, and embrace their thorns as well.”
“I hear the words of Seamus O’Flanagan. I, Oberian, son of Oberon, believe your words.” The tall Sidhe bowed his head for a moment. Another fae came and hit him on the shoulder.
“Come on, come on!” beseeched the smaller fae, who looked like a young boy. “We will have fun tonight, even if we can’t fill his flour with dung beetles!”
“Yes, Puck, you’re right as usual.” Oberian returned, grinning wickedly.
Puck turned to Conla. “Come with us, Conla. We will have more fun, you and I than you can ever have here in your world.” Puck asked Conla the same thing every year, since she was three.
“Nay, here I stay, missing you and eating stew.” Conla held her mother’s hand tight, and answered the same as she did every year. Puck brushed her cheek with a kiss, and flew off into the night with a swirl of lights.
Oberian looked sadly at Conla, as if he could see every hardship ahead of her. He turned back to Seamus. “For the thorn bushes, you are forgiven, and for the roses freely given, my blessing on you and yours. My folk will leave you be.” The firefly lights disappeared with the fairies as they all raced after Puck. The night seemed darker than before. Seamus was dazed, and he stood looking at his hand, where the scratches were gone. Conla and Bronwyn gave him a three-way hug. Then they held his hands and led him home. Seamus never lost his keys or his wits again. He always had an air of youth ever after.
Conla remembered that night as long as she lived. Part of her longed to play with Puck and never worry again, but every year until her sixteenth she made the same choice. She knew she could not leave her mother. Never again in her long days did the lamb stew taste as sweet.
Copyright 2013 Brenda Davis Harsham