My name is Jacky Greencoat. I live on Bodmin Moor, near a village called Lynher Mill. There’s history here. Real history, that would make your mind curl up if you tried to take it all in at once, history that cries out from the standing stones, and from the ancient blood spilled here.
I’m a spriggan, one of the “little people”. Not like those pretty, fluttering and foolish creatures that you like to call “folklore” and decorate your china with, I’m the real thing. Once, fairies haunted every part of these moors, and they were creatures of such exquisite beauty it fair made you weep to look at them. They were bright, clever, dressed in such finery.… what a pity they were so stupid!
They had a king, Loen. He had spied a village woman who sent his mind and heart where it ought not have gone, and had been watching her in secret for many weeks. The villagers believed the fairy folk to bring terrible luck to whoever saw them but, when the woman saw him, she found him beautiful and mysterious and lay with him. He got her with child but someone recognised the boy’s fairy origins and called it an insult to their gods – demanded of their chief that the babe be sacrificed to appease them lest they be punished.
Loen flew into a terrible rage and, powerful elemental that he was, his anger drew down a storm upon the ritual. He was hit by lightning and, before he died, he charged his brother with collecting his remains – nothing more than dust – and keeping them safe until he was able to have his revenge on Ulfed, the village chief in whose heavy hands the blade had done its filthy work.
Since before your Christ-Lord was born, and two thousand years further back, my ancestors have taken care of the jar in which the king’s remains were kept. Until my dying day I shall see that no harm comes to the jar and to my king. Foolishness aside, he was king, after all.
So, you see? Real history.
I am well-known hereabouts, with my dusty green jacket which the cool dryness of the old mine will preserve long after I am gone, my duties passed to another. But I don’t go above ground often, except once every moon-cycle I am required to take the jar containing the king’s dust and bear it up through the layers of granite and earth to the place where he died, and where his son was slain. Here, Loen’s spirit weeps for what is lost; it is all that saves him from madness. If I fail, I fear I would not live to regret it long. Of course I do not do this task out of fear; we spriggans, guardians of treasure, bringers of storms, and oftentimes stealers of babies, are as deeply loyal to our leaders as are the beautiful ones – the much-lauded “small people” who are courted and lusted after despite their weakness.
But I have a secret! Yes, I Jacky Greencoat have a secret which will make Loen turn to me with gratitude: I can help him avenge his poor lost babe! Oh, I dance at the thought! Those pretty, elfin-faced creatures, who flutter so helplessly, who call to each other in dismay and sorrow that they cannot help Loen – those pathetic, pandered, charming creatures, whose exquisite songs take flight and colour the air silver on warm summer nights … they cannot begin to imagine how I will hold them in my fist then!
I will not whisper of my plan to Loen; I will bring his treasured remains up here to the standing stones tonight and I will listen to the wailing and sobbing of his spirit, then, when he is safe once more hidden in the old mine, I will begin my plan to lure the boy Thomas to the cavern below.
All is prepared. A giggle escapes me as I place the king’s jar reverently in the treasure chest at the back of the ledge, a little laugh you’d be more likely to hear coming from some foolish pixie than a respectable spriggan like myself. Tomorrow, I will be the one who Loen is pleased to call “friend” and “advisor,” I will be the one he turns to, once his revenge is claimed. And such power that will give me!
I’ll tell you how I did it, shall I? If you promise not to breathe a word?
I was above ground, gathering fruits to store for winter, and I heard children playing nearby among the standing stones. Hide-and-seek, chase….ageless games of children both mortal and elemental. Then I saw him, the boy child known to be the last descendant of Chief Ulfed. Almost mythical; never seen, only spoken of with hatred for what his ancestor had done. But as soon as I saw him my ancient self knew him for who he was and his lively curiosity gave rise to the idea that set me trembling; once the jar is opened the king will be able to rise up and out, and take over the boy’s body as easily as you like! The boy will be lost forever and the king will live once more.
All I had to do was find a way to get him down into the mine. I cast aside the idea of creating a storm to drive him to safety out of the wind and rain; He’d as likely run home and, besides, I needed him to do more than shelter, I needed him to explore. Deep down the tunnels, far below ground – a reason to bring him down to where he would be at my mercy. I mean the king’s mercy, of course….
Thomas looked to be about ten full-cycles old, a perfect age to be challenged and not to back down – but who to cast that challenge at his feet? Easy: his friend Michael. Michael had been in the mine himself and we had met – oh yes, my friends, we had met. It was several weeks ago and he had almost taken the precious jar with him, until I scared the little bugger off. The thing was, Michael still wasn’t sure that what he thought he had seen was real; we have a way of turning memories to shadows, it’s one of our best-used tricks, see? So then, how to get Michael to dare Thomas to come down into my secret hideaway? A night visit. A dream, the boy would have, and that would do it.
When the moon rose high that night I crept into Michael’s garden and, closing my eyes, I thought hard at the sleeping boy. It hurt, mark you! My goodness my head did scream afterwards with the strain of it, but it was worth it; the boy appeared at the upstairs window and stared down directly at me. He raised the window, the sash squeaking and straining against the old wood, then he leaned out and I whispered a few well-chosen words while he listened. As I left the garden and hurried back up across the moor to the old mine entrance, I knew that soon Thomas would be in my grasp.
The king’s grasp, that is….
And here he comes! Michael has thrown down the challenge and Thomas has risen to it! Soon the power of the king will be restored within the body of a human, and all thanks to little Jacky Greencoat! I must hurry out of sight, but first I will put the jar close to the top of the box, to make sure he finds it….
I sit on the back of a wide, cut-away shelf bored into the granite, waiting, my pitchfork at my side in readiness. The boy has already crossed the cavern floor and is heading this way. I’ll just make a tiny noise on this old box….there. Now he’ll come for sure. I can see his torch swinging around, looking for the source of the little scratching sound my fingernails made on the wood.
Thomas has found the jar. Oh, this is perfect! I step forward into the light of the torch and, reaching out with my long-tined pitchfork, I jab the sharp ends into the back of the boy’s leg. He cries out and then, Oh – horror! The boy still has hold of the jar and he stumbles back – I see what’s happening but I am unable to prevent it …. the jar smashes to the floor in a burst of shattered clay and dust. But such precious dust!
“NO!” I can feel myself boiling over with grief and dismay. The boy is backing away from me, I scream curses upon his stupid head, gathering up the pieces of broken jar and trying to pull together the treasured remains of the king. I stare about me at the floating grey powder; the king’s beloved remains scattered all over my green coat, turning it the same ghostly colour. Jacky Greencoat is so sorry, my lord, Jacky only meant to help.…
The boy is gone. But I am not alone; the cavern is full of fluttering sounds and gentle sobs. Intense sorrow on the faces of those piteously weak fairies, who now have no king. I try to tell them I meant no harm, that I grieve as deeply as they do, but they do not listen. They are calling to one another, spreading the word, telling of the dark deeds of a poor spriggan, who only sought to guard his king and give him the revenge he desired.
Now they turn to me and I grow weak at the sight of them, my bowed legs turn to wet mud and my hands shake as I drop the pieces of the jar back onto the floor. Fairies! Their fury blasts away all gentleness and gives them a terrible, blazing beauty. Incandescent in their anger, they rise off the floor as one, swooping down on me.… and their teeth! How, in those tiny, exquisite faces can there be a place for such horrors?
But I cannot wonder long because now, shrieking, they are upon me. I can feel each tiny, nipping pain and, although it seems as nothing, I know that before long I will be no more than a ragged shadow on the cavern floor, my jacket no longer deep green or even dusty grey, but glistening, deep red.
I fall to the floor, my face in the dirt, breathing in the dust, the dust, the … dust! Even as the cloying burnt taste fills my mouth, my tongue growing heavy with the caked, soggy mess, and my nostrils filled with choking powder, I can feel a new strength filling my heart and my head.
Loen! I can feel him like worms in my blood, filling every single vessel that threads through my body. Soon there will be no Jacky left, I shall be Loen through and through. The vicious, biting fairies are already starting to sense the change, and the agony of their biting is becoming less.
And now my coat clothes the body of a king. I straighten up, no taller than I was before, but now I am a giant indeed in all things that matter. My voice is huge, booming, echoing off every chamber wall. The fairies stop snapping at my flesh and hover feet away from me. One by one they bow down at my feet, and there’s still enough Jacky left in me to giggle at the feeling. Then tenderness fills me; such charm and elegance are theirs, my people, my subjects – I hold out my hands to them and some of them flutter down to sit on my hand, looking up at me through wide, beautiful eyes….
And wiping blood from their chins.
© 2014 Terri Nixon
Illustration by Ian Brown
Terri Nixon was born in Plymouth in 1965 and, at the age of 9, moved with her family to a small village on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. There she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since (she also discovered apple-scrumping, and how to jump out of a hayloft without breaking any bones….). Since first publishing in paperback in 2002, Terri has appeared in both print and online fiction collections and she contributed to the Shirley Jackson award-nominated hardback collection, Bound for Evil, by Dead Letter Press. Her first commercially published novel was Maid of Oaklands Manor, published by Piatkus Entice (a digital-first imprint of Little, Brown,) and short-listed in the “Best Historical Read” category at the Festival of Romance 2013. The sequel, A Rose in Flanders Fields, was published by Carina UK (a digital-first imprint of HarperCollins) and short-listed in the same category in 2014. Terri’s self-published Mythic Fiction series, The Lynher Mill Chronicles, has now been launched and, to date, Books 1 and 2 have been completed and are available in print and as e-books. Terri lives in Plymouth with her youngest son and works in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Plymouth University, where she is constantly baffled by the number of students who don’t possess pens.