EXIT UNICORNS

MERMAID in a  BOWL of TEARS

FLIGHTS of ANGELS

IN THE COUNTRY
of SHADOWS

SPINDRIFT

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Works of Cindy Brandner   

 

Prologue
Excerpt from Flights of Angels'

Chapter One

We begin over a great sea, the western ocean on the rim of the world’s history. Only stars light our way, for it is still night here, though our travels will take us toward dawn. This is an ocean of great storm-tossed waters, and strange still latitudes, where things disappear, never to be seen again. At its surface it is a bowl of tears, of loss and new hope and of families left behind, below the surface it is a place of mystery as unfathomed as the very universe. A place that is as much home to such as us, as the waning of the moon or the whispered heart of the forest.

For we are children born of seafoam and moon shadow, more dark than light and older than Time itself. We knew Leviathan before he had a name, we roamed the seas and the skies, the forests and the places of the earth as well as the places below it. We have been called by many names- angel, demon, faerie, spirit, ghost- to name a very few, but we are the unnamed and can only be summoned with wisdom and grace, and once in a great while, by pure need. 

But the sea, despite its allure, is not our destination. For we seek land- a land of myth and madness, of poets and politicians, rebels and raconteurs, of blood and brotherhood. A land unlike any other, half legend, half truth, wholly and terribly beautiful.

We fly through the night, until we see a line on the horizon, and we feel the relief of homecoming after such a very long voyage, after the faceless ocean undulating eternally beneath us. And so here we arrive, to the edge of a country of limestone cliffs, soft-faced with moss and nesting gulls . In we fly across a patchwork quilt of a thousand shades of green and low stone walls, with sheep dotting the dawn’s landscape. But do not let this enchantment fool you, for this is a land that has known much pain, whose fields are watered well and deep with blood. This is an old land, and our people have lived here long, some saying we were the small dark ones that dwelled in the trees, before the coming of the Celts, but we are older even than them. We knew this land before man, before God, before light.

Now we wheel North, which in this land is spelled with a capital, defined by political lines rather than geographical. Here lie the cities of industry- with musical names like Londonderry, Ballymena, Magherafelt, Newtownabbey and last, the city of our concern, Belfast- the name meaning sandy fort at the river’s mouth- a fitting name, for it was a city built on red clay, with politics girded in ropes of sand and lives that dissipated as quickly through the hourglass of time and chance. 

On a hill apart, wooded and enchanted, we see a house that sparkles against the first rays of sunlight- a house that looks as though mead maddened cluricaunes were involved in its conception and building, for the back half bears no resemblance to the front and surely that birdcage of glass and curling iron must owe something to the little folk. A house of wealth and taste, nevertheless, and no doubt, should we venture inside, we would find inhabitants of both imagination and discernment.

But even this is not our true concern, nor is it entirely where the story shall occur, no for that we travel a wee bit south to a soft dell of ferns and bracken and trees, in which nestles a wee, recently white-washed farmhouse from another century. Indeed this entire area looks as though it might disappear into the mists only to re-emerge every one hundred years or so, but the people that dwell within are real enough, to be sure.

We cross the wall, wooded and vined over with ivy and old roses, damp and misted on this mid-winter morning. Early as it is, we can see someone move inside the windows, and the scent of peat smoke and hot tea curls out in invitation to us. We accept gladly for it’s very cold this morning. It is a bit of a walk down, into this hollow that, come spring, will be filled with flowers, for their seeds can be sensed sleeping beneath the chilled earth. We spy a tiny door set high near a much larger one. This one is painted red, so that we might not miss it, and even has a small step for us to rest our weary wings and a mat of moss to wipe our feet upon. And so, badger bristle boots well cleaned, we enter.

The kitchen is snug and cosy, a fire in the hearth as well as the bone-warming sound of an Aga with a kettle boiling atop it. The floors bask in the fire’s heat and the scent of the tea, darkly fragrant and redolent of hills far, far away. Deep windowsills laden with green things greet the morning light as it pulls itself up and over- we stop for a sniff of the green- lavender, lemon verbena, thyme and rosemary. Above one window hangs a St. Brigid’s cross made of silvered reeds …ah yes, this is a house that knows how to show the welcome of the door to the small folk. 

And now, perhaps, it is time to look at the inhabitants of this home. Some are two-legged and some are four. In the kitchen now are a dog, a great grey woolly beast of a thing, watching a man pour out the tea, and listening with a sympathetic ear to the man’s morning chat, while keeping a keen eye out for possible crumbs falling to the floor.

The man himself arrests our eye, as he would in any room, in any country, for he is a young man, large and well-made, broad-shouldered and darkly bearded, with black curls and a certain twinkle in his eye, that tells us he is not entirely immune to the lure of the fairy world himself. And so it is that we must be extra careful not to be seen, nor sensed. But we linger a little still, because it is very pleasant here, with the fire and tea and toasting bread, and the dog and the first sounds of morning.

But we feel the lure of the stairs, just beyond the bookcase, for we are very curious folk and must needs know what and whom are in every nook and cranny of a household. The stairway crooks back on itself, like a twisted old elf, and this only makes it the more imperative that we travel up, up, up, past a window with eight sides- a most fortunate number that and so all views from this window will be happy ones. It is only five more steps up now to the top floor, still dark under its tightly thatched roof- ‘tis clear the inhabitants of this house understand the importance of the old ways.

In the first room there is a woman asleep, one arm under her head, the other tucked around her belly, a gesture as old as the world itself. The first rays of morning catch the edge of her jawline, and we see that she is lovely in the way that humans sometimes are- a way that has nothing to do with what they call fads or epochs. She is well matched to the man downstairs- for he is fire and earth and she is water and air, we auld ones can tell such things at a glance, or merely by scent.

She stretches and opens her eyes, looking directly through the air at us. For a second we fear she has seen us, for she has mermaid eyes and a water soul, and both these qualities are notorious for catching glimpses of that which is not meant to be seen by man. But then she sits up, rather awkwardly for a woman with such grace in her lines, and we see there is nothing to fear. For at present her gaze is all inward, which is as it should be, for she is with child, and absorbed fully by the tiny creature she harbours in the amniotic sea of her womb.

Ah babies, there is little about the human world we love more than those smelly, howling creatures. For they do still see us, but have not the words to reveal us. They communicate in the ancient way, through air and ether, with laughter and tears. If one can catch a bubble of their laughter out of the air, it can be made into a cloak that will warm one forever and never wear out.

We hear the quick tread of the man on the stairs now, followed by the soft pad of the dog’s paws, if indeed, something the size of a small pony can rightly be called ‘dog’.

The man enters with two mugs of tea, and the woman smiles at him, tilting her face up for a kiss. He hands her the tea and kisses her tenderly, bending to greet the inhabitant of her stomach with morning salutations and soft words of sweet foolishness, and so we know this is a child of love, much wanted. The woman strokes the man’s head, and looks at him with her heart there in her eyes. He straightens up and leans toward her for a goodbye kiss, but she gives him a look from under her lashes, and runs her hand up his thigh in a gesture that makes us smile knowingly, for this too is as old as the ages, and not limited to the ways of man. He makes a mild protest, something about being late for work and then succumbs, as he knew he would from the moment she touched him. This love is both fragile and strong as the tides of the sea and the movement of the planet. It is a thing of sacrament, and so we turn away for there are things we too are not meant to observe.

We return to the kitchen, where the heart of the home is found. Beyond the green things where we settle, is a field wherein we scent the stirring roots of fairy soap, an entire wooded field of it, what humans call bluebells- such a plebian name, for an ethereal flower. On the edge of the field, we can hear the murmur of water and know this is indeed a right place, for water guards the boundaries between worlds, between dreams and dimensions, between man and that which is not man. Water opens the doors to the unseen. The woods too are important to us, for they guard and protect, but they also hide, when hiding is needed. We sigh, for this is a good place to rest, and rest we must, for even among our kind, we are ancient, and feel the ache of bones and the pain of flesh, when the moon is dark and the tides run hard toward the horizon.

Altogether, it must be said, this seems as fine a place as an auld one might hope to find, to settle in for awhile and observe and see what stories shall be woven before our eyes. Perhaps you will stay, for having come this far, you too must be tired and in need of a rest. Here, come, there are wee chairs amongst the lavender, let us sit, and be still and see and listen…

 
© 2008 Cindy Brandner

 

…Brandner possesses a unique gift, shared only with the most effective writers in history, to weave a tale of intrigue, love and adventure, sewn into the fabric of real historical events. Her characters easily become a part of you, the images she portrays of Ireland with its rich and tragic heritage course through you long after the book has been put down…
-D. Lamarche, BC

 

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