Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Marvellous Moments - Pop

These have always been known as pop flowers in my house ;)

The cottage was isolated, three miles from her nearest neighbour and the thought set Cara’s heart racing. In the moments between darkness and dawn, shadows faded, light grew and ephemeral shapes crept about her bedroom. She knew them for what they were, the night ghosts slipping between worlds, uneasy in even the palest dawn glow, but she was yet pathetically grateful for the armful of dog with her in the middle of the bed. 

Snaps grumbled low in his chest, straining a little at her hold on his collar. Both of them heard the movement again; a scraping and rustling from somewhere beyond the bedroom door. It was followed by a squeak, a muffled thud and the faint sound of speech. Cara held tight to Snaps, barely managing to silence his incipient barking with a hand around his muzzle.
‘Not now, Snaps, please. I know you are brave, and I know you want to see them off, but what if they are armed.’

Snaps’ liquid brown eyes pleaded with her to let him ‘get ‘em’- a phrase she used often when throwing things for him to fetch - but she remained firm. Cara’s mind raced through possibilities. She rarely used her mobile and was pretty sure it lay forgotten in a kitchen drawer. She was more certain the noises were coming from the kitchen. A glance around the room revealed little in the way of ammunition or weaponry. A determined, possibly armed burglar wasn’t likely to be stopped in his tracks by a brandished hairbrush.

A volley of loud whispering was followed by a huge crash. It made Cara jump and she lost her grip on Snaps. Liberated, he rushed out of the partially open bedroom door, barking wildly. Cara sat for a second or two, paralysed by indecision, then grabbed a glass bottle off of her dresser and sprinted after the dog, whose barks had reached epic proportions.

Cara skidded to a halt on the kitchen tiles, eyes wide, mouth agape and the perfume bottle in her hand raised high above her head. Weak dawn filtered through the open back door and she spent a long, confused moment absorbing the scene.

Two pixies, both dressed in scarlet and sky blue, were wrestling with a deliriously happy Snaps amongst what looked like the aftermath of an explosion in a talc factory.  Her pantry door stood ajar and she could see a degree of disarray within. An earthenware pot lay in three pieces on the slate floor, freshly milled flour sending up puffs of dust to dance in the light morning breeze. 

‘Snaps, heel’ she mumbled, Snaps blithely ignoring her until one of the pixies managed to gain his feet and push the dog off. He looked up at Cara, down at the disaster area of her kitchen and back again as the second pixie shoved off Snaps eager licks and came to stand beside him.
His voice was uncertain, probably due to Cara’s complete stillness.
“We’ll put it right, Mistress.”

Finally released from her befuddlement, Cars fell into a chair and shook her head, addressing the first pixie.
“What were you doing in my pantry at 4 in the morning?”
Leafin and Logan, twins by Treebo’s seventeenth wife – pixie marriage being a thing of instant passion and equally swift boredom – glanced at each other and one began to speak; Cara never did learn to tell them apart, bar one spoke constantly, the other seeming to feel his rare input more than enough in the communication department.
“Me and Leafin were after some yeast. Didn’t want to disturb ya so early like.”
“You failed.” Cara grumbled, heading for the kettle, “Coffee?”

She had recently discovered that pixies were coffee addicts, when they could get it, and the familiar eager grin crossed both faces. A couple of moments later the pair were sat on Treebo’s booster cushion – not that Cara would ever have dared to call it such to his face – sipping rich black coffee and Logan continued to explain.

“It’s pop time and we use yeast, but that darn farmer over Micklebury way sprayed his crops with some chemical stuff. We always scrape our yeast off the plants in his greenhouse but that spray made ‘em useless this year. Leafin ‘ere” he nudged his brother causing a tidal surge of coffee to spill onto the table top, “reckoned you might have some so we came to trade, but you was sleepin’.
“So you decided to creep about, breaking pots and scaring the heck out of me. You could have waited half an hour. I’d have been up then.”
The pair looked sheepish, covering their discomfort with large gulps of coffee. Logan made the decision that a word was required and managed to drop it into the slowly lightening day.
“Excuse me?” Leafin’s occasional sound expulsions always wrong-footed her.
“The pop’s gotta be made before noon see. Takes a wee while. Not much time to get it started if it’s gonna be ready.”

Cara rose, rolled her eyes at the shifting floury sands underfoot in the pantry, and grabbed a tub containing her yeast from a shelf. She placed it in the middle of the kitchen table and questioned…
The brothers shared a meaningful look, nodded and smiled, Leafin claiming the pot.
“You come with us, mistress, and you can see pop making.”
Cara’s curiosity overcame her lethargy. She scurried back to the bedroom, threw on jeans and a jumper and headed to the back door, Snaps bouncing around her ankles. She followed the pair and was further surprised to find her garden alive with a variety of pixies industriously combing through her borders. They appeared to be collecting as many convolvulus flowers as possible and placing them carefully into nets on their backs. At her questioning glance the pair grinned and headed down the path. By the gate, they held up the yeast pot and whistled.
“Done. Home now.”

Half an hour later, Cara was seated next to a large, well-scrubbed pewter cauldron. It was set in the middle of a clearing, and pixies bustled back and forth. Some poured in buckets of spring water, others dribbled honey from combs into the mix, and then a ring of pixie children encircled the cauldron.  Each held a next of the pure white blossoms from her garden. They began to dance clockwise, chanting.

‘Morning’s waning and around we hop,
Makings into the pot we drop,
Our weaving now none can stop,
For the hour has come and we must POP’

The last was screamed in childish glee and the circle came to an instant stillness. The nets were hoisted high above giggling heads, and the contents flung into the cauldron in a storm of white petals. The little ones, all with a pair of flowers in their hands ran about the clearing, seemed to choose an adult at random and paused.

Cara stared down into the nut-brown eyes of her pixling, smiled and waited. At some unspoken signal, all the children held up their hands, flowers held firmly by the base. A single shout ran around the group;
Tiny fingers squeezed firmly and dozens of blooms separated from their cups and popped into the air, a flowery fusillade which brought gales of laughter from the adults who fought to grab a flower keepsake. Then the mayhem stilled as a gold-garbed pixie blew a firm note on a snail shell. Queen Tarina, a vision in lavender from her hair to her petal-garbed toes – lavender being her colour of the month – glided up to the cauldron. One of the twins stepped to her side and offered her Cara’s yeast pot. 

For a moment, Tarina looked a little lost. Clearly she hadn’t been told of the yeast issue, but she gathered her dignity, unlidded the pot and paused. Cara wondered what everyone was waiting for, but Treebo, across the clearing, caught her eye and indicated silence before she could speak. 

A moment later a shaft of pure golden sunlight speared the trees and hit the cauldron. At the same moment Tarina shook out the pot contents and it was blessed by the light before falling into the cauldron. Two burly brownies hurried over and snapped a lid on the concoction and a palpable feeling of relief rippled around the folk. Tarina smiled, waved vaguely and headed back the way she’d arrived.

Treebo came over and grinned ruefully.
“Sorry about the boys, lass, but they meant no harm.”
“I know, honestly; I was just a bit thrown at that hour. Speaking of which, what was with the rush? Couldn’t it have been done tomorrow?”
Treebo looked genuinely aghast, shaking his head vehemently.
“Pop’s always been made on this day. Always will be. How’d it be ready for Spirit Night if we didn’t make it now?”
Cara smiled, accepting there was still so much she didn’t know. There were days she wasn’t sure she would ever know it all. Still, this had been a lovely lesson, and she thanked the twins for their trade.
“You wait til Spirit Night. See what happens when we opens that cauldron.”

The pair chuckled and the trio wandered off. Cara and Snaps watched the cauldron hauled away with the aid of a local badger, and set off for home. She wondered if Grace had written about Spirit Night in her journals. No doubt she had, but Cara decided, gently popping a white blossom between her thumb and finger, seeing it land behind Snaps’ ear, that she would wait and see for herself.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Marvellous Moments - Gold

Cara shifted position, easing out her back, a little envious of Snaps who dozed happily in the shade of an overgrown pergola. Her spine spoke in sharp cracks, but she had promised herself she would finish cutting back the bramble patch before sunset. A glance at the sky revealed a rapidly sinking sun and the first blush of violet. Cara set to with a will.

Five minutes, a pile of tangled, thorny debris and several new battle scars later, she sat back on her heels and stared at the odd little tableau her efforts had revealed. At the centre of the patch a smooth triangle of stone had been set up. Next to it, a toy-sized pickaxe sat buried in the earth. To Cara it looked uncomfortably like a memorial. Scratched into the stone were the words ‘Olla’s Gold’. The entire area was surrounded by orange flowers with vivid yellow centres.
“What is this, Grace?” 

She’d got into the habit of chatting to her late aunt, surprised by how often an answer to her question slipped across the surface of her mind from nowhere. But it wasn’t Grace who spoke now. Snaps shot up and pounded across the pocket handkerchief lawn, strewn with pink-tinged daisies, barking excitedly. This was followed by the gate clacking hard against its post and a barrage of gruff complaint.
“Get off me, ya moon-touched beast! If you want an answer, lass, call off your hound before I drown!”

Treebo batted ineffectually at Snaps, who was doing his level best to bathe every part of the little man, and Cara stifled a grin, using a dog bone treat as a distraction, hurling it into the herb wilderness. Snaps shot off, and Treebo smoothed himself into some semblance of dignity before sauntering over to the bramble patch. He’d developed a habit of visiting Cara most days, usually around tea time, Cara had noted, and today was no different.

“Can’t tell tales on a dry throat.” He stated with a pointed look at the empty mug beside Cara. She smiled, got up, eased out her knees, and headed into the kitchen. Treebo followed behind, occasionally shaking his head at her amateur gardening efforts, but he was soon ensconced on the cushion Cara had discreetly set up on a kitchen stool, which allowed him to watch her prepare tea. This usually included the dispensing of wisdom about how she was doing it wrong, but Cara jumped in before he could start up.
“So who was Olla and why is she buried in my brambles?”
“Buried? Ah, that’s no burial. Tis a marker.”

Relieved there was no small pixie coffin in the garden, Cara set the teapot on the table, followed by sandwiches and a seed cake she’d made out of Grace’s personal journal. She sipped quietly at her tea, aware she would get no more until Treebo had passed judgement on the delicacy of the sandwich presentation and told her her cake was ‘… no as good as Grace’s, but no bad, no bad.’ The rituals over, Treebo dropped off the stool and took up his new favourite spot in Grace’s rocker by the hearth. 

“Olla was a bundle of energy growing up. Drove her mother, Lenia, wild. Aye, she was ever into things she had no business interfering with, and ears! Ears so sharp she’d hear a mouse whisper in the middle of a thunderclap. Them ears got her into a spot of bother more than once, but Olla’s gold was probably the sweetest. See, old queen Lucani hadn’t long been set up and she was trying to make her mark on the palace under Dimwood Hill. She wasn’t a one for show generally, but she did have a little weakness. She was awful fond of gold. She had a personal team of brownies whose only purpose was to wander human habitats, looking for gold left unattended.

Lenia worked in the sewing room at the palace. Some days she’d have to take my niece, if lessons were out or there was no-one to watch her. On this occasion, Olla somehow got within hearing distance of the queen. Story goes, Lucani was complaining that there wasn’t going to be enough gold for the statue she wanted to erect in the throne room. She had this idea that sticking a golden image of Jejune would …”

Cara held up a hand; loathe to halt the flow but needing to understand.
“Who is Jejune?”
“Girl, you need to read your aunt’s journals and get to learning. Jejune is the Spring goddess of youth and vitality.”
A little abashed – Treebo was right, she hadn’t yet spent enough time on her education – Cara smiled, proffered more cake, and settled into the required respectful silence. 

“Where was I? Ah yes, Lucani thought a gold statue of Jejune would help put across the idea of a new, young queen, a fresh start. Anyhoo, Olla overheard this conversation and an idea got lodged in that mercurial brain of hers. She decided, on the spot, that she would find enough gold for Lucani’s statue.

Over the next week, Lenia being deeply involved in the creation of Lucani’s coronation outfit, Olla managed to slip away a lot, unmissed, and she spent her time searching for gold. Ya have to remember, she was only fifty-five, barely out of the cradle, and when she spotted them flowers she was convinced they were the perfect thing.”

“What flowers?”
“The ones round the marker, of course. Did ya think we just marked random weeds for no reason but fun?”
Cara shut her mouth and determined to remain silent. Treebo shook his head in mock despair and carried on.

“Olla borrowed a pickaxe from one of the brownie gold miners – I suspect he wasn’t aware of this ‘loan’ – and set off to mine gold from the centre of these flowers. She worked for three hours, hacking away at the blooms, waiting for the gold to drop. Frustrated, convinced she was doing something wrong, she decided to head to the palace and ask a brownie miner for advice.

To this day I don’t know how she knew where to go, but she bee-lined straight for the royal vaults. Stomping through the doors - open as there was a visitor to the vaults -  she stood four-square, hands on hips, waving one of her gold flowers and demanded;
“Why doesn’t the gold drop!”

The collection of brownies gathered in a circle in the centre of the rom, turned, aghast, and then parted sharply to reveal Lucani. She’d dropped in to see what progress had been made on the statue; the answer being not a lot. She stared at the small pixie girl, her feet brown with earth, but the rest of her…
“Little one, it seems the gold does indeed drop.”
Lucani directed a brownie to bring over a silver shield which was hanging on the vault wall. She knelt, held it in front of Olla and said,

The reflection revealed a tiny pixie girl covered head to ankles in a thick layer of golden pollen. Lucani smiled and looked thoughtful. She rose, took Olla’s hand, and started through the palace, heading for the sewing room. When they arrived she smiled at the terrified Lenia, whose eyes darted from her wayward daughter to the new queen, as yet an unknown quantity.
“Lenia, yes? Your daughter is very clever it seems. I wish to borrow her for the coronation, with your permission.”
A very confused Lenia nodded vacantly, and stared at her golden child in bewilderment. Lucani vanished back to her business and Olla was left to try and explain what had happened, Lenia undecided if she should be angry or grateful.

A month later, when Lucani’s coronation procession wended its way through the Fairy Wood, at its head, riding the queen’s very own pet fox, sat Olla, resplendent as Jejune in her paint of Olla’s gold.”
Cara smiled, loving the little insights into Treebo’s family and the history of the fae folk. She still had one question.

“Why is that little marker in my garden?”
“When you get to being wise, you’ll know we mark all important events with stones. Olla found her gold in Grace’s garden, so we marked it there with the stone.”
“The pickaxe?”
“That was Lenia’s doing. Olla, in her pride and excitement, took to carrying that axe around with her everywhere. Afeared for her home and the safety of the local children, Lenia made up a tale that the axe had been designated a sacred implement and had to be set up beside the marker stone for the sake of history. Olla wasn’t happy about it, but she couldn’t argue with tradition, so she thought, and the axe was left with the stone. Even had a little ceremony and all.”

Cara walked with him as Treebo headed out. He paused at the gate before passing through, nodded toward the patch of Olla’s gold and delivered a parting thought.
“Read the journals, lass. You are the keeper of Olla’s gold now.”
He headed into the night and Cara went inside, straight to the bookshelf.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Marvellous Moments #2 - Leaf

I saw these on a walk. I have no idea why they look this way but they inspired a new story from Cara and Snaps.

Marvellous Moments 2 - Leaf

“C’mon Snaps. The day’s too good to waste amongst boxes and paint fumes.”
Cara shrugged out of her shirt, already decorated with enough splashes to satisfy Jackson Pollock, took a moment to admire the calming green on the fireplace wall then headed out the back door, Snaps alternately running rings around her feet, or pelting off with gleeful barks.

She took note of the plants whilst heading toward the little gate which gave onto the woodland beyond her boundary fence. Aunt Grace had been an enthusiastic, if somewhat erratic, gardener, but most of the plants had been ‘set free’; Grace had been keen on the idea of one man’s weed being another man’s prized bloom. The garden sang with colour, Cara not even sure what half the riotous profusion was.
‘With all due respect to you, Aunt Grace’, Cara mused, ‘I may have to prune if I want to find the path!’

She waded through a drift of cow parsley, cautiously skirted what looked like a bramble thicket, set off a cloud of whirling dandelion seeds and plucked a mint leaf to chew on whilst releasing the rusty bolt on the garden gate. 

A narrow ribbon of worn earth ran left and right from her gate, a footpath used by people and animals alike. Crossing it, Cara stepped under the canopy of Fairy Woods. As a child the name had delighted and she held fond memories of running through it with Grace, both barefoot and laughing, searching for secret doors to the fae worlds, and catching occasional glimpses of the folk who lived there.
“Not likely to happen today, huh. Snaps?”

As ever, the dog was in transports of delight, running hither and yon, occasionally bringing back a particularly interesting leaf, stone or twig for Cara’s approval. Mostly he scattered about, wuffing and barking in pure joy, his volume not conducive to spotting the naturally shy woods folk.

She had always been fascinated by the variety of trees in Fairy Wood. Larches stood shoulder to shoulder with birch, oaks sat ponderously in small clearings, holding court with ash saplings and venerable hazels. The stream – which ended in a tumbling rapid and green pool – was rarely seen but through a whispering veil of flighty willow fronds. At the far edges of the wood stood a row of pines which had always made her think of a barrier against the world, of Tolkien’s Ents.

She reached hands out as she walked, brushing leaves, feeling the multitude of textures and shapes. Insects formed an orchestra to accompany her steps, but after a while she began to hear another sound, something discordant. 

Pfft. Not an insect, at least not one she knew. Pfft, pfft. It was getting a little louder and she thought it came from overhead. Gazing upward she noticed a peculiarity. A stand of sycamores were currently shading her but one stood out from the rest. Pfft, pfft. Trying to locate the sound she found herself staring at the strangest leaves she’d ever seen. No smooth green here. Pfft, pfft. Instead they were mottled, making her think of a stippling technique, but this was no Seurat.

Pfft, pfft. Instead, the artist turned out to be a small, frustrated pixie, spattered with green and furiously shaking what looked like a miniature spray can. Perched next to a semi –coloured leaf, it took him a moment to notice Cara’s attention.
“Erm… I’m not here?” he ventured uncertainly.
“Yes you are and I remember you. Treebo, right?”
The pixie frowned, scrambled over and dropped to sit at the level of her face. He turned his head this way and that, frowning, and then grinned.
“Cara? Yes, I see it now. I forget how much you people grow, but your eyes haven’t changed. It’s been a long time.”
“30 years or so. Can I ask… what on earth are you doing?”
“Painting the leaves of course. Tarina will be passing through tonight and everything has to look perfect, but I ran out of paint!”
“Yeah, old queen Lucani retired. In all honesty she went a bit odd. Decided to go live behind the rapids and attempt to become a water goddess. Tarina is the new queen and she’s a bit …” he paused, looked around as if expecting spies, “of a brat. She’ll grow out of it. She’s only 300 and going through her awkward phase. Still, everything has to be just so.”

Cara paused, studied the trees and grinned.
“Fancy a visit to Grace’s house?”
“Not sure I have time. Need to go back to my tree and get more paint.”
“It’ll be worth it, and Grace’s is nearer” Cara wheedled and grabbed a handful of Snaps’ collar as he flew by, “I’ll even give you a lift.”
If there’s one thing a pixie can’t resist it’s a ride on a dog. Treebo shrugged, leapt onto Snaps’ back – much to the surprise of the dog – grabbed a handful of fur and they set of for the cottage.

On entering, Treebo quietly doffed his cap and bowed his head, Cara also falling silent for a moment.
“She was a good woman, you know, Flippin’ peculiar, but good, and respected the Folk. She is missed.” He said softly.
“I hope I can step into her shoes and do them justice.”

Treebo nodded, clearly reserving judgement, and Cara led him into the back bedroom, which she was currently turning into a work room. A green work room.
“By the gods, it’s the same colour as my leaves!”
Help yourself” Cara smiled, nodding to the open paint pot on the floor. Treebo refilled his odd little reed and nut paint sprayer, grinned and bowed.
“Got to go, little Cara, but don’t you stay away. We miss having our local crazy human.”
He sped out the door and disappeared down the path, leaving Cara laughing and hoping she would eventually earn the respected place her Aunt Grace had once held amongst the fae of Fairy Wood.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Marvellous Moments - Story #1

A story which occurred to me when I picked up this feather whilst out walking. Feeling the wind push against it, trying to lift it, was a marvellous moment for me :)

Marvellous Moments #1 - Feather

Cara stooped, grabbed up the feather lying on the tow path and swiftly held it aloft to prevent Snaps liberating it. At six months, her retriever was living up to his name, retrieving everything and snapping it up to be presented at Cara’s feet with a goofy, tongue-lolling grin. She hurled one of his battered tennis balls into the undergrowth and he was off.

The feather, twirling in her fingers, probably belonged to one of the rooks who held chaotic court in a stand of nest-laden oaks on her left. She wasn’t clued up enough to know for sure, but the black had a shimmering hint of blue down one side, dancing in the dappled sunlight. A stray breeze caught the feather when held up to the light and she felt the ghostly tug as it tried to break free. Cara tucked it behind her ear, spent 5 minutes rooting Snaps out of the water weeds and ambled home.

Just after midnight, Snaps decided he really, really needed to use the amenities. Cara was pretty sure it had more to do with the intriguing scuffling, rustling and calling which emanated from the wild patch she hadn’t yet got round to clearing out since moving in. Still, it was a still night, a full moon swimming in a star-speckled sea, and sleep was elusive. She watched the dog hurtle down the back steps and disappear into the gloom, accompanied by several excited yips and wuffs. 

Settling onto the porch swing, running a hand through her hair, Cara was surprised to feel the stiff prickle of her feather. She chuckled, wondering if she might actually have slept with it tucked safely through a curl. Once again the wind tugged playfully at the feather, Cara marvelling at the force. It almost felt like she could take off with maybe one or two more, so strong was the pull. She closed her eyes for a moment, twirling the feather against her lips.

Slowly, by degrees, Cara began to feel light, ephemeral, as if a breath of breeze would whisk her away. Her hair seemed to stream back, tendrils tickling at her eyelids, cheeks and neck. She caught the scent of damp leaves, rich earth and mossy bark. An owl screeched, a fox screamed, and far below something scuttled, hunted, fleeing. She felt her body turn, passing within inches of a tree branch, leaves whistling by, occasionally dripping the night’s rain. Her wings stretched, flexed, curved and straightened, aiding her flight. She had never felt so free, so light, so alive. 

Alighting within the rookery, she felt the warmth, scented the musky feathery oneness of her mate beside her, head cocked, inquisitive, questioning with those intelligent eyes. Who are you, for you are not she? He shook out his feathers, crowed softly and dipped his head twice. It felt like dismissal but she had no desire to go. This was life, unfettered, raw and wonderful.

She felt a coldness. A damp insistence at her wing tip… her… fingers? A low, uncertain snuffling, heaviness against her wing… arm? A low wuff and she was back, Snaps bounding off and back now equilibrium was restored, licking her hand. His attentions caught her off-guard, the feather slipping from her grasp and streaking into the moonlit air. A shadow crossed the moon, a rook, flying home after its strange adventure.
“Thank you” Cara whispered, her mind still floating, her heart light as she returned to the house, Snaps grinning at her heel.