MY STORIES

The stories below were all born out of the nothingness that exists inside me. As an oral storyteller I write in a style, which aims for the listener to create their own mental pictures. It is far less descriptive than stories that are intended to be read. Please do not take and use any of them without my permission. That would be a breach of copyright. I am forgiving but my ancestors are not and might come to visit you in the wee sma hours o' the nicht.

A short collection of short stories


An ongoing series of informational entries

THE THREE FEATHERS 

(inspired by ma granny, the bird charmer)

February 14, 2018

The wise woman stood deep amongst the tall Scots Pines. Part of the landscape that was her home. She was almost a tree herself. Each line etched on her furrowed brow marked her age, like the rings on the trunk of her beloved trees. To many too count, but each one earned by a lifetime of servitude. Her long grey hair tied back with an old worn rag that had seen better years. A discoloured apron tied around her full waist. 


The old woman was the last of her line. No kin to pass the old ways onto. What she knew would die with her. All her secrets would be tied into her winding sheet and taken with her to the summer-lands. But that day would not be today. For today she had important work to do. She pursed her thin dry lips and let out a silent whisper that could only be heard by the wind from the East. Who came when it was called, for few knew its name any longer. The warm wind lingered around her and caressed her sunken cheek like a young lover in the dead of night. It brought with it three feathers, each from a different bird. Each with its own magic. She unfurled the tattered rag from her hair and wrapped the feathers carefully inside it, before she placed them in her large apron pocket. She thanked the wind and made her way back to her wee cottage on the shore of the loch. 


Her apron began flapping wildly in the breeze, or was it? For it seemed that something was moving inside it. She was glad by the time she got home, for by now it was almost too heavy to carry. No sooner had the woman shut the door when out popped the first bird. But no ordinary bird mind you, but a bird born from a single raven feather and some other magical bits and bobs that the old woman had in her apron. 


The bird never stopped talking. But unlike some people, what it had to say was important, for the shiny black feather had come from the first raven in the world. This bird told the old woman the story of mankind and all his ups, downs, roundabouts and ways that made no sense to cunning folk. Surprisingly it took no time at all. In fact, this tale was finished by the time the kettle had boiled, which was just as well as the old woman liked to chew on a muddy root and wash it down with a cup of hot dandelion tea. 


At the last slurp from the chipped cup, the apron began to move around again of its own accord and out squawked the second bird. A rather splendid white-tailed sea eagle. This made the old woman smile with joy. She was so happy that starlight shone from the gaps where her missing teeth had one been. She hadn’t seen one of these magnificent birds in over 100 years. The sea eagle didn’t use words like raven, instead it spoke directly to her heart and told her of mankind’s greed. How he took more than he needed and had almost hunted his kind to extinction. This was a sad tale and one she often heard often from other creatures, like wolf and bear. She was so angry that the kettle began to boil itself. No root, or cup of dandelion tea would help but she had one anyway.


There was no starlight left in the room by the time the apron began to flap around once more. A song could be heard before a bird could be seen. It was a little robin red-breast. He sung his story to the wise woman and a glorious song it was indeed. For it contained the most magical ingredient of all. HOPE. This is what had been missing from humanity for a long time and this little bird with his bonnie red breast had brought it back to the world. This good news called for more than tea, it called for a big dram o’ malt. 


The old woman savoured every drop of whiskey along with the song from the robin. It was time. Time for new stories. Time for new ways and time for the little robin red breast to spread hope all around the world. With that she opened her door and watched the three birds fly off into the night sky.


THE SINGING BONES

(inspired by my interest in the cunning folk o' Alba)

February 14, 2018

The bones sung; the cunning woman listened to what they had to say before carefully putting them back in the pot and placing them above the lintel of the door.


Sometimes their songs were more like riddles but today their message was clear. The old woman from Glenelg was told her one-legged husband would be dead before the next lamb was born on their croft. This message confirmed what the woman expected. She rewarded the seer with a single coin and a noisy cockerel, before hastily taking her leave to plan a grand funeral for her husband.


The seer’s infamy grew with each passing week. Soon she would no longer have to take cockerels in exchange for a prophetic message. Soon it would be only silver coins. It seemed that everyone wanted to know what the future held for them. Young women wanted to know when they would have bairns. Girls, the name of their future husbands.


But the islanders of Skye might not have been so keen to reward the seer if they knew where the messages came from. For they were god fearing folk, who held many superstitions. Granted, they were happy enough to come to have their fortune told, but they would not be happy to know it was the bones of a murdered soul that was doing the telling.


Nor would they be happy seeking the services of someone who had robbed the grave of a 13-year-old child. In those days, the stealing of bones from the kirkyard would be considered an unholy act. The cunning woman, Betty Macleod from Kylerhea, would be named as a witch. In truth that was what she had become, a practitioner of the black airts.


She heard the bones sing, as she passed by the kirkyard on a hot summer’s day.


“I would not lie in his bed, so my father held a pillow over my head and now I am dead”.


Now, most people would be frightened by such an occurrence but not Betty, she had heard the dead talk before. This restless spirit was eager to tell her terrible tale. How her father had taken her life after she refused his unnatural advances. Then claimed that his oldest daughter had been taken by a sudden illness in the night. Subsequently burying her body without fuss or further ado.


Cunning by name and cunning by nature, Betty promised she would tell the girls story if the spirit would do her bidding for a year. The girl had already lain in the grave for three months and was worried that her father, a widower, would turn his attention to her younger sisters. The ghost begged the cunning woman to help her immediately, but this plea fell on death ears, so she agreed to be bound for a year in exchange for help. But not a day longer!


Betty dug up some of the girl’s bones to complete the binding pact and kept them in a pot made of red clay and rowan berries. While they were inside the enchanted container, they were quiet but when the pot was opened, the bones foretold the future with song.


“A tinker will soon ask for your hand. Refuse him if you want to own your own land”.


The prediction of death, birth and marriage was a profitable business. It would be a year tomorrow since the deal had been struck, but the cunning woman had been infected with the sickness of greed and had no intention of honouring her side of the bargain. Exhausted from another busy day of telling fortunes, Betty fell into a deep sleep.


In her dreams she was visited by her grandmother Donald. The old woman had taught her the old ways and given her a book of charms on her passing. She harshly scolded her granddaughter for misusing the gifts, before telling her to look out for a chance to put things right. When she awoke the next morning, Betty vowed to help the spirit.


A knock came to the door. It was a young woman inquiring about a love spell. The cunning woman was just about to shoo her away, when she heard the bones rattle loudly in the pot and remembered her grandmother’s words. She invited the young woman to sit by the hearth and tell her a bit more about the man she had set her heart on.


“He is a widower with two young daughters and a fair size croft down in Armadale. He did have another daughter, but she was cruelly taken by a sudden illness just over a year ago”.


Fate will have its way! Betty agreed to help the woman, saying.


“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I will give you all the ingredients for a meal that will make you irresistible to this widower. I have more than enough cockerels and I am sick of their crowing”.


She prepared the love potion and gave the young woman strict instructions that it was only her intended that should eat it. Warning her not to taste a drop if she ever wanted to marry.


As it happened the crofters favourite dish was chicken broth, it smelt delicious. He could not wait to dip his spoon into the bowl and eat every drop. Complaining that he had not had a decent meal since his wife had died. Adding, that his late daughter’s cooking was so bad, that he often thought she would be the death of him.


It was the last meal he ever tasted, for he choked on a strange-looking-chicken-bone and died at the kitchen table. The next morning, Betty Macleod from Kylerhea, buried the rest of the bones in the girl’s grave and they sung no more.  


STORYTELLING FEEDBACK

“Magical storytelling that totally immerses you so that you fully believe that you are truly there with each of the characters in the story”. (Tahir Sharif)

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