Lainey Strachan is an overworked, stressed high school English teacher living and working 2 jobs in Buffalo, NY. She struggles to pay the bills for her and her grandmother, and help put her younger brother Calum through graduate school. Calum received a partial scholarship to attend Edinburgh University and attending to receive his MPhil with concurrent PhD in History with a focus on Viking and Scottish Studies (all because the fondest memories of his childhood stem from the Scottish and Viking
"Tell me a story Lainey."
Calum looked up at his older sister from his bed, blue eyes wide and sparkling.
"Pleaaase?", He whined.
Lainey sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Just one and then you have to go to sleep, ok Bud?"
Calum's mouth expanded into a large smile, the gap from his missing baby teeth making him look like a jack o'lantern on Halloween.
"Promise!", he practically bounced, "Cross my heart and hope to..." His face suddenly froze and started to crumble, as if something inside him had broken apart.
Lainey grabbed Calum by the shoulders and pulled him into her embrace.
"Shhh," she murmured. "Its alright. I know you didn't mean it. And she could still come back Bud! No one knows. Just remember, someday she could find her way home to us." Calum sniffled and Lainey laid him down gently, and put the covers back ontop of him. She smoothed the hair from his forehead as her eyes unfocused, lost in her fairytale before she even began to tell it.
"Once upon a time, in the wild woods of a medieval Scotland there lived the Lord of
Blackburn, and on his estate was an enchanted wood. Deep in the wood, hidden from the world lay a clearing, and in the center of this clearing was a wishing well.
Legend had it, that any maiden who entered this wood and stumbled upon the clearing would be spirited away by the devious Elf, Tam Lind, to Elfland and never be heard from again.
One day, Lord Blackburn's beautiful daughter, Jean, who was a headstrong young lass, decided to escape to the woods for some solitude and reflection. She gave her nursemaid the slip and disappeared into the wild forest, where she had never been before. After much meandering and exploring the new wilderness Jean stumbled upon a clearing. And in the clearing was a quaint looking well, perfect for wishing, surrounded by the most beautiful roses of all colors. Next to the well stood a magnificent pure white steed, grazing away at the lush green grass.
Mesmerized by such a scene of tranquility Jean stepped into the clearing, as cautiously and quiet as she could, so as not to frighten the horse. Indeed, as Jean approached the steed merely raised his head, gave a derisive whiny, and resumed his grazing. As if in a trance Jean reached out to the roses and stroked the velvet petals of the burgundy bloom in front of her. As she gathered the delicate flowers around the well she never heard the handsome young man approach.
'Ah, lass, I see you've discovered my hidden copse.'
Surprised and somewhat frightened, Jean jumped and turned around, having never
believed that Tam Lind truly did exist. But as she first gazed on the sprite she found
herself instantly smitten.
'Excuse me Sir, for I never meant to trepass. The flowers just seemed so inviting. My name is Jean and my father is laird of these woods. I thought everything contained within belonged to him.'
'Surely lass, if the Laird Blackburn is your father you knew of my copse? I am Tam Lind, and by the rights of this clearing am fully allowed to steal you away to my Elf Queen, as she stole me from this spot many years ago.'
'But,certainly Master Lind it is expected but not required that you take me away?', for as smitten as Jean was, she had no desire to be abducted to the Elfland. And as smitten as Jean found herself, so to was Tam Lind. He foud Jean almost unbearably beautiful, proud, and disarmingly guileful. He knew the fate that would await her if he took her to his Queen.
'Nay young Lady, I doona have to spirit you away on Milk, my steed. For I see in you an honest and noble heart, and wish it to bloom under this sky like the roses at my well. Go thee hence, down the path before us here,' and Tam Lind swept his arms in the air and a path appeared in front of them, leading from the woods to the meadows of her Fathers castle, 'and bewary of entering these woods unaccompanied again, for I cannot promise to be able to release you a second time.' With that Tam bowed before Jean, kissed her hand and whispered, 'But keep the roses you have pruned as a symbol of my faith and devotion. Now get ye hence, lest I change my mind.'
Stunned by his actions, Jean blinked and stumbled along the path until she made her way home, men at arms surrounding her, eyes wide in shock, hair mussed in disarray, with an armful of the must stunning roses anyonehad ever seen.
Months passed and as her fathers rage subsided Jean was given more freedoms around his keep. The roses she had gathered at Tam Linds well had faded and dried, but she kept the still fragrant petals under her pillow, and each night she met wth Tam in her dreams, in the enchanted meadow. They took walks through the forest and rode Milk at breakneck speed, their hairs blowing and tangling in the wind. In no time at all Jean found herself hopelessly in love with Tam, but was saddened when he could not return her affection.
One night as Tam rose from the fading green grass and his hand out to help Jean up he appeared sadder than usual. He took Jeans hand and placed it in the crook of his arm as they walked the outskirts of the meadow and circled in towards the well.
'Tam, I wish you would tell me what ails you,' Jean spoke softy, 'I've never asked for more than these dreams...'
Tam looked at Jean with eyes full of sorrow and tears. 'Nay lass, I shouldn't dare to give your heart hope unless I was free to love you properly in return. I've been selfish these past months, allowing you to love me and me to love you in return, knowing what I know of my limited future.'
Jeans eyes widened and she opened her mouth to respond, having only imagined Tam’s declaration in daydreams.
'Nay my sweet Jean, don't speak,' Tam placed a finger to Jeans lips, which had puckered into an O of surprise. 'I barely have the strength to tell you now, and if you say anything else I'll surely lose my courage.'
Jean nodded her head in acquiescence.
'You know I was stolen by the Elf Queen as a boy, but I have not told you why I haunt this spot. Every 7 years a powerful God of Darkness comes to Elfland and demands a sacrifice. He doesn't care whether the flesh be Elf or human and so I was tasked by the Queen to abduct with at least one human every seven years. You were the first to find my copse in the last seven years. But I couldn't send such a pure, strong and lovely lass like you to her death. And so, with the Equinox approaching two eve’s hence and no captive to sacrifice to the Dark One I fear that it will be I lain on the slab Marked fir Death. I couldna disappear from ye without telling you why I left, and know my sweet Jean, it was all for love of you that I put myself in your stead.'
With tears in her eyes,Jean raised her hand to cup Tam's cheek. His skin was soft as silk to her. 'Isn't there anything we can do Tam? I couldn't bear to lose you, not now. I don't know how to live without you!' she cried. Months of withheld passion now unrestrained, Tam crushed her against his chest and kissed the crown of her head.
'Aye,' he said, 'there may be a way. Two nights hence come to the copse by midnight's stroke. There our Elvin party will prepare for the sacrifice. Milk will be the third horse to enter the meadow, behind a black stallion and roan mare. You must pull me from Milk and hold tight to me, making your way to the wishing well. The Queen, on the stallion, will try to get you to drop me, by turning me into any number of vile and frightening creatures. Ye must hold tight, no matter what i appear to be. Only when she turns me into a red hot lead weight must you throw it into the well. Tis the only way to free me from the Fay. You must take the rose petals and bind them to your waist in a sack made from the altar cloth of your chapel, else the Elf Queen take you in my stead. This is the only way we can be together. Sweet, sweet Jean, have you the courage and strength to free me?'
Tam ran the pad of his thumb along Jeans jaw.
'Aye,' she breathed,closing her eyes to better relish the gentle touch. Her hand rose and cupped his along her skin, trapping it. She turned her face inti his palm and placed a firm kiss in its center. She opened her eyes and stared into his, clear and steely with determination. 'Aye, I've strength and courage enough for us.'
Tam smiled, the skin around his dark eyes crinkling. 'Aye, that you do,' he whispered as he bent his head and softly placed his lips on hers. 'I pledge you my troth, here and now. Free me and all the world of mine will be yours.' He kissed her again, deeper this time and Jean felt a stirring deep in her heart, as if her soul were trying to fly out of her body.
'Two days hence my Beloved.'
Tam released Jean and disappeared in the mist that had encroached around them. As soon as he disappeared Jean awoke. She touched her fingers to her mouth, still swollen from Tams kisses.
'Two days.' she whispered.
And at the stroke of midnight, two days later Jean found herself hiding in the shadows of the trees nearest the wishing well, clad in a hunter green mantle, wearing a pair of breeches she had 'borrowed' from the laundry. Tied securely around her waist was a roped linen belt, and attached to it an aged cotton pouch, made from the remains of an old altar cloth she 'accidentally' ruined the day before, spilling Communion wine and knocking an altar candle on it. The contents of the pouch rustled quietly beneath her cloak as she fingered the crushed rose petals like a talisman. Their fragrance softly encased her and she sighed in preparation.
As if on cue, the clouds parts and the moonlight lit the meadow in its soft glow, as the whuffled whinny of horses heralded the arrive of the procession. A black stallion entered the clearing 20 feet from Jeans hiding place. On him sat a regal bearing creature, cloaked in white, a glow only just brighter than the moonlight pulsating from it. Its hood was raised, but Jean could make out a feminine diadem encircling the creature's brow. 'This must be the Elf Queen,' Jean thought, 'and that rider in the roan mare must be her consort.'
The mare followed obsequiant behind the stallion as it began to circle the copse towards Jean. She saw a shimmer of white horseflesh from the corner of her eye and dug her leathered boots into the spongy ground, ready to spring forward to grab Tam off Milk's back.
The Elf Consort's mare had just passed in front of her when Jean took a deep breath and leapt towards Milk, who reared slightly in surprise at the intrusion. Jean had one moment to see the flash of a smile from the depths of Tam's cowl before she half pulled him off the horse, while he assisted her by trying to dismount at the same time.
As her arms closed around him, the Queen and Consort turned at the commotion behind him, and a murmur from the remainder of the Court still making their way into the copse rose from the surrounding forest.
'To the well Jean!', Tam whispered urgently in her ear.
'Yes, yes,' she replied, holding him tight and helping him across the meadow, 'I remember.'
At the same time a terrible rumbling, foreign language filled the air of the copse. Jean could not understand the words, but she knee what rage sounded like. The Elf Queen was not happy.
'M'reeth sa uoonla cwuain 'Da!'
Tam stiffened in Jean's arms and managed to croak out, 'Remember!' before he transformed into a wiggling, slimy salamander.
Jean hid her revulsion and continued to hold tight to Tam, moving quicker now towards the well. But as she neared it the Queen began to speak again.
'M'reeth sa liiaetr ptuieagh 'Da!'
The salamander squirmed and struggled in Jean's arms as Tam began to change once more.
The outraged cries of the Elves were dwarfed by the roar of the lion Jean found herself astride. Without thinking she grabbed huge tufts of its mane as it shook its massive head, bellowing and snapping at the girl on its back. Jean yelped in pain as she smelled its fetid breath and felt its sharp teeth graze her trousers, shredding the leg and scraping her calf. She held tight squeezed her eyes shut, hoping the lion was twisting them closer to the well and not farther away.
Behind her eyelids Jean saw a flash of bright red, as the Queen, and now her entire court chanted, 'M'reeth sa raeiu gtoiebf 'Da!'
The sudden silence of the lion's roar caused Jean to immediately open her eyes. She found herself next to the rose bushes, holding the shrinking mane of the subdued lion, as he turned smaller and denser.
Jean held tight as the lion continued to shrink and turn into a heavy lead weight thst
quickly began to turn red, as if it had been plunged into a blacksmith's fire.
Jean felt the skin on her hands begin to blister, and screamed as her heard her flesh sizzle where it touched the weight. She threw herself forward, gritting her teeth against the pain, white hot, tears streaming down her face. The rose bushes scratched at her face and arms as she pushed herself through them to the edge of the well. Her arms above the center of the well, Jean forced her hands, bleeding, blistered and blackened, to open and screamed one last time, as if her soul were being ripped from her body, as the heavy weight tore the burned skin from the flesh of her hands and dropped was a soft splash into the water of the well. As steam rose from the well Jean collapsed to the ground, her back against the well, supporting her from falling completely. She bit her lower lip, woozy and gazed at the ravaged remains of her hands, her palms skinned completely, the exposed flesh an angry, oozing red-pink.
'It was worth this pain to save him,' she thought, and lifted her head, looking to the night sky.
'But to save Tam you sacrificed more than your hands silly mortal. Your life is ours, and you will be given to the Dark One.'
The voice, Jean later tried to describe, was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It sounded like the soft coos of a new mother to her child, with the iron steadiness of a warlord, mixed in an accent of a language man would never understand. It was a voice that could create worlds or destroy them. And to know the owner of this voice feared an even greater being terrified her.
'I am ready Old One,' Jean whispered, her voice hoarse from her screams and tears. She closed her eyes, unwilling to look at the Elf Queen, for fear she would also be rendered blind.
Jean felt the Elf Queen reach for her upper arm, wrap her long thin steely fingers around it and stop.
'What is that around your waist Mortal? How could you know to bind yourself to the copse?'
'Tam....Tam told me...'
A deep rumbling from the bowels of the Earth began, growing in intensity, shifting the ground beneath her. Jean felt the Elfin Queen release her and she collapsed once more against the well. The meadow began undulating as if the grass would transform into the sea during a tempest. The light that had bled through her close eyes dimmed, and Jean dared to open them a bit, curious to see, if this was her last moments alive, what would be the cause of her demise.
The Queen had turned her back to Jean, her cowl thrown back, illustrious, glowing silver locks spilling almost to the ground. Her head was thrown back, and Jean saw the tendons in her long graceful neck tense in rage, and terror. From her raspberry mouth her words were thunder and finely spun sugar, words unprouncable the human tongue, incomprehensible to the human mind. Jean raised her raw and bloodied hands to her ears to block the onslaught of sounds no mortal was meant to hear. A drop of blood splashed on her bodice and she realized her nose had begun bleeding.
From the corners of her line of sight Jean saw the enclave of Elfin royalty, thundering on their steeds, circling their Queen, screaming in that awful language, swords raised in solidarity. The rumble from the earth grew stronger, made her body vibrate like a string on a mandolin just plucked, and Jean couldn't tell which was worse, the onslaught to her ears, or the pressure buildings deep in her chest.
And deep in the shadow of the moon, Jean saw the mountain in the distance move. It grew until it seemed to swallow the sky, until it appeared that there had never been a thing called the sky before, but instead, a thing; colder than the stars, darker than the blackest night. And still the shadow that used to be a mountain grew. It crept along the outskirts of the meadow. The elves, screamed and screeched, stabbing and making spells at the void of nothingness. But it was to no avail. The darkness enveloped the elves as completely as a fog rolling in, swiftly moving through the ranks, until it had devoured everything in the meadow, save the Queen, Jean, and the well.
The amorphous shadow drew in upon itself, condensing into a solid shape. The Queen had stopped her chanting as it began to assume shape, and the turmoil of the earth quieted. The night sky reappeared as the Blackness assumed a form, towering above Queen, part beast, with the silken tawny fur of a lion along its back and tail, cloven hooves and massive spiralled horns that grew from his temples, the rest of the him was pure male.
Jean gasped at his raw nakedness, and despite her pain felt desire. She forgot for a moment of Tam and their love, and instead wanted only to worship at the feet of the God in front of her. As if he sensed her longing, the God turned his face from the Queen to Jean.
Eyes that glowed with half banked fires seared into hers.
'You are not mine to have worship.' He did not speak aloud. His words were pushed into her thoughts, a silken balm, easing the ragged edges of her pain. 'Yours are not ready for my hunger. Yet. The time will come. I will be forgotten by all, and then one of yours shall raise me. And we shall worship each other, and create a new
The God stepped past the Elf Queen, who was frozen in place, from fear or awe, Jean could not guess and did not care. As he knelt to her, all she could do was whimper, from pain and need. His massive hand cupped her face and she purred at the touch. She wanted more of him, but she could not move her body, or her head. She too had been frozen in place. Jean wet her parted lips and spoke to the Beast with her eyes, beseeching him for mercy, pleading for release.
The Beast growled low in his throat, and fingered the pouch at her waist.
'You belong to another, it is not my place to take yours. Yet. Remember to yours that I do have honor, despite the lies from the Guardians. And more than honor, I will show you mercy.' His head drew closer to Jean, his eyes dropped to her lips and she wet them once more. The banked fires rose as he raised his gaze and looked in her eyes.
Jean felt as if she were falling, or flying. She was being devoured by the eternity she saw. His eyes defied description. At oncr they were cold blackness of space and the fire of the Sun, the delicate spinning colors of a prism and the amber eyes of all the wild creatures in the world. He was everything, and nothing, all at once.
'Yours will one day be my all,' he whispered and then his velvet lips touched hers and she exploded in a million sparkling drops of dew. Her mouth opened beneath his and he breathed into her. All her pains burned brighter for a heartbeat, and then disappeared. The pressure on her mouth eased and her eyes fluttered open.
Jean was alone in the meadow. She looked down at her hands in amazement. The burns, so severe she had seen bone were gone, the skin flushed pink with blood, and smooth, unblemished. She stood gingerly, using the stone of the well to help her up, her feet unsteady beneath her.
In the light of the full moon Jean saw a prone shape in the otherwise unoccupied
meadow. The shape groaned and stirred. Jean ran to the shape and heled it turn towards the sky. It was Tam!! He groaned again, and opened his eyes. Darkest brown looked up into greyest blue. His hand raised to brush a lock of hair from her face and she turned her face into his palm and kissed it.
'Tam, oh Tam! Is it really you? Are you finally free?' Tears sprang unbidden to Jean's eyes, threatening to spill.
'Aye my love. You are my savior.'
And thus it was, Jean led Tam from the enchanted meadow, and to her father's keep. They were married and had nearly more children than they could count. And they lived happily ever after."
Your stories Lainey. They captivated my little boy mind, influenced me to be who I am today. Without them I wouldn't have done what I did, or be where I am right now. And in spite of everything, I wouldn't change a moment of your epic fables, even if I knew what would happen because of them.