I’ve really enjoyed this challenge and can’t believe I got thirty mini stories done! A great idea and well done to all at Word Bohemia for making it a success. Here’s today’s prompt.
They call it the Queen’s Heart, or in Irish, Croí an Banríon na Sidhe. It’s been on the edge of town for a hundred years. The old people would never move it, or let their cattle touch it. It was her heart, you know, and that was a thing even more cursed than their dwelling place.
My granny told me the story, when I was doing a project in national school. The queen was a vicious, angry woman, with one weakness. She loved a musical man. And when she saw one from afar, she tracked him down.
This young man, dark, handsome, gifted at a variety of instruments, seemed to be an exceptional person. Unlike myself, but we’ll get to that. The fairy queen tried every trick in her arsenal to entrap him with her, under the ground, have him play music day and night. But nothing worked.
He carried iron in his pocket. If she tried to get him lost in the fields on the way home at night, he turned out his jacket with barely a shrug and walked on. Though not especially religious, he’d sprinkle holy water on whatever path he walked.
And then the musical man met a woman he wanted. Another exceptional person. They found themselves tormented and blasted by the fairy queen wherever they turned. Mary Anne, the musician’s new belle, copied her fiancé’s strategies, but the queen was persistent.
“It’s no good, Michael,” she said. “We’ll have to leave this place.” It was the day before their wedding, and that morning Mary Anne had found herself under attack from the clothes she’d been trying to hang out on the washing line. Another one of the fairy queen’s tricks. Mary Anne had stayed calm and recited a decade of the Rosary, and a pair of her grandfather’s longjohns eventually loosened its grip around her neck.
“How about America?” Michael had been playing in Ennis and Mallow and everywhere that could be reached on horseback in under three days. “I know it’s far, but we have a bit of money, and she’ll hardly follow us.”
Mary Anne thought about it. She loved sunshine and wonderful fabrics, both of which were in short supply in Ireland at the time. About thirty seconds later, while spotting a will’o’the wisp circling her husband-to-be’s head, she grabbed his hand and said, “Let’s go, my darling.”
The paranormal activity ratcheted up in the weeks before their departure. Mary Anne’s sister had winked on her wedding day and whispered that she could expect very little sleep from now on, but the new bride knew that this was hardly what she meant. The fairy queen never let up. Never slept, never rested. Michael and Mary Anne were exhausted, and they both knew that this made them vulnerable.
She would try and attack their coach, the day they left for America. So Mary Anne decided. She would never tolerate this kind of harassment from a real woman, so why would she take it from something that didn’t even have flesh and bones?
She got their coach to stop on the way to the train station, in a field belonging to Michael’s uncle. It was the field where they said the fairies lived, and it was just outside the station.
“I want to talk to you,” she shouted in the air.
The coach driver glanced curiously at her, and muttered something about being late for the train.
“Won’t be five minutes,” she nodded to him.
And she appeared. No creature had ever been so beautiful, no woman so attractive. Blonde, etheral, wearing half-nothing. You know, the usual.
“Oh, it’s the pipsqueak,” the fairy queen said, flicking a ball of fire waspishly at Mary Anne.
“Yes,” Mary Anne said, dodging the missile without a backwards glance. “I’m hardly worthy to talk to you, I know. Please, forgive me.”
The fairy queen glanced at her nails. “I’m bored already. What do you want?”
“It’s not what I want,” she said, bowing her head humbly. “It’s what you want. And what my husband wants.”
“Well, now, it’s about time!” the queen said. “Bring him to me.”
“Go to him yourself,” Mary Anne said, beginning to sob. “He’s in the carriage.”
The queen rushed over to the coach, her feet not even touching the ground. Michael was as quick-witted as his wife, and jumped from the coach just in time, pulling the driver with him. Despite not even touching her skin, the iron-wrought wheels burned the queen, and the pair slammed the door on their foe and raced, with the coachman puffing behind, to the station and the waiting train.
Now trains and ships and factories and cars are the great enemies of fairies, and once Michael got on the train, the fairy queen knew she couldn’t touch him.
“… And you could try for a hundred years to kill a fairy,” my grandmother said. “And you’d fail. But between the iron burning her body and her annoyance, and, it has to be said, her heartbreak at losing Michael, the queen’s heart swelled up and up and up and blew the carriage to kingdom come. All that was left of Madam was that stone formation. Her heart.
“Now she’s not dead. They’re never really dead. And if a young man touches those stones, she’ll come back, and take him for her husband.”
Did I listen? Of course not. Would you believe that nonsense?
So one night- don’t ask me how long ago- I was coming home with the rest of the lads in the band, guitar a reassuring weight against my leg. We couldn’t get a taxi. Mikey sighed and told us he was on the other side of the county and we could wait if we liked. But it was a bitterly cold October night, where the wind was still and the moon huge, and winter was giving us a live action preview. So we walked through the fields from town.
“Hey, here’s the Queen’s Heart,” Alan said, a grin on his face. “Oooooh!”
“That rubbish,” Sean snorted. “Everyone knows that Paddy Carroll puts them there himself for the tourists.”
“Ah, yeah,” I said, suddenly feeling uneasy, “But they were real people, though, Michael and Mary Anne?”
“Yeah, they were my granny’s cousins,” Sean said. “But they went to America and got old and died. You can’t believe that shite!”
“Of course I don’t,” I said.
“Ah lad,” said Alan, “This is too funny. Wait til I tell Laura she’s got a mystic on her hands!”
“I don’t fucking believe in it!” The mention of Laura, the girl I’d been texting, infuriated me for some reason. I know better now, of course. Another trick. “I’ll prove it!”
I raced towards the heart and touched the stone nearest to me. The bottom of the Queen’s Heart.
Feeling bolder, I picked it up and held its cool solid weight in my hands. For a second I thought of throwing it at them.
And then she appeared. She looked like Laura, too, if Laura was perfect. I really liked Laura, but the Queen looked like her if she never got a spot, or tired, or sick. She looked like Laura would, if Laura was immortal and magic.
Another trick. Something that’s a thousand years old really does look like it first thing in the morning.
“Ahhhhhhhh,” the Queen said, and smiled. “Yes. You’ll do.”
She lent forward and kissed me and I became entangled in her arms, the scent of lilies and Laura’s perfume and everything sensual.
And here I am. In a draughty, miserable castle. Playing guitar every day, trying not to vomit in the queen’s four-poster every night. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but I really hope some of Mary Anne’s spirit lives on in Laura.