It’s Hallowe’en and the Pursuers and I have been out ‘guisin’ as Shuggie calls it, in his neighbourhood. We had a great time seeing spooky decorations, candle lit pumpkins and grinning skeletons and witches creeping around the streets. It sure wasn’t as scary as last Halloween, though, when we met the Mackenzie Poltergeist of Greyfriars! Now, we’re in Shuggie’s back yard, a firepit casting a glowing, warm, orange hue on all of our faces.
We’re making s’mores; toasted marshmallows, melted chocolate and a mix of wafers and cookies. We each have a toasting fork and hold the marshmallows over the fire until they become gooey and when the they're ready, we quickly scoop them between two of the cookies, spread with melted chocolate, and sink our teeth into the sweet, crunchy and gloopy mess that oozes out of the sides onto our fingers and all over our faces.
“Och, I totes enjoyed our wee night out, ” Freya says. “And it’s great just to sit here in the moonlight and think of all the ghosts walking the earth around us tonight. We could tell each other some spooky stories around the camp fire, just like they do in the films!”
“Awesome idea,” I say, “So, who’s going to start?”
“I will, if you like,” Freya volunteers. We all huddle up in blankets and get out our flashlights, shining them under our chins. Our faces are immediately contorted in the light and shadow, making us all look like something scary from the crypt.
“Well,” Freya begins, “Mum decided to take us to the Isle of Skye for a wee holiday one Hallowe’en and we stayed in a lovely old cottage in the grounds of Dunvegan Castle.” Freya smiles at the memory of it. “That’s when Mum explained what Hallowe’en was all about to us. We sat at the fireside, and we just talked about how she’d started practising white magic and how, it was really just a study of nature and the elements and how you could use it for good things.
Next day, Alana and I decided to explore the Castle gardens surrounding the cottage. It was chilly, but the sun was shining as we wandered happily together, without a care in the world. We reached a little glade beyond the trees and Alana made me jump out of my skin”
"Look Freya!” she exclaimed. “Look at the toadstools. It’s a fairy ring!” She grabbed her mobile phone and started taking some photographs. Sure enough, in a perfect circle, was a ring of spotted toadstools, just like the ones you see in the children’s books.
No sooner had I spotted it, than the trees and bushes began to whisper and sway in a breeze that hadn’t been there moments before. I shivered and looked over at Alana, who was pulling her jacket closed and looking intently into the circle of toadstools.
"What is it Alana? What are you looking at?" I asked her. She was rooted to the spot and I went over to where she was standing. She pointed at the fairy ring and there, I saw dozens of beautiful little creatures with gossamer wings, scurrying around going about their business. Some fluttered upwards like butterflies and they sparkled in the light. Some flew around us, gazing curiously at us, but most were smiling and friendly. One or two looked a bit angry, as though we were disturbing their peace. Alana and I knelt down and watched, fascinated, as some of the fairies tended an injured wood louse as it rolled helplessly on its back, legs frantically twitching. The fairies rolled it over and spread something on it. Moments later, it scurried off, as though cured. Others were tending the roots of a tree and some were looking after the buttercups and daisies.”
“Freya! C’mon now. Ye canny be asking us tae believe ye were awa’ with the fairies, literally surely?” Shuggie laughs, but Freya is not amused and one look from her wipes the smile from his face. “Fairy nuff” he jokes, lamely, while Freya folds her arm and purses her lips indignantly.
“Do you want to hear my story, or not?”
“Course," I say.
“Carry on, Freya, never mind him,” Sunny throws Shuggie a warning look.
“Aye – but did ye hear aboot the fairy who didnae like tae shower?” We look at Shuggie open-mouthed, unable to stop himself from the inevitable joke we knew was coming. “Stinkerbell!” he laughs. I cover my mouth and Sunny’s head is bent as he raises his eyes which are slightly creased at the corner. We know Shuggie just can’t help himself.
Freya shakes her head and tuts. “Oh, I just can’t even…” She takes a deep breath and ignores Shuggie’s antics. “So, we sit there, entranced, just watching as these little people go about their day, their busy little hands working on things around them. Suddenly, they stop and gather together within the fairy circle, holding hands. There is a faint tinkling sound and then the most beautiful music sort of– I don’t know – just forms and I can hear them singing and they’re looking at us. One of the fairies, she flutters upwards, her wings shimmering, translucent, but strong. She lands on Alana’s shoulder and whispers something to her, then strokes her face. Alana holds out her hand and the little creature lands in her palm and drops something into it. Moments later, she returns to the circle and singing fades.” Freya falls silent for a moment.
“Did Alana tell you what she said?” I ask. “Well, Alana hadn’t been feeling so well. She’d been sick a long time. The doctors decided she needed an operation within weeks. I looked into Alana’s eyes and she smiled and said, They’ve given me more time, Freya. I’m not going to need that operation – at least, not yet. And I believed her. I believed them. I grinned at Alana, then looked back at the fairy ring, to thank the little people who were giving us hope. I gasped. The fairies had all disappeared, leaving just the empty ring of toadstools.
Next day, we went to visit Dunvegan Castle which has been the home of the MacLeod Clan for centuries. We reached the drawing room and something caught my eye. It was a yellowed, decomposing piece of material hanging in a big frame on the wall. A tour guide came over to us, as we stared at it, wondering why such an ugly thing had been kept there.”
“That’s the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan,” said the tour guide. Alana looked at me, wide eyed, and I’m sure our jaws fell to the ground. “Many people think it’s a map,” explained the tour guide, "but it really is a flag with magical properties. People have taken pieces from it, and it’s had to be mended in lots of places, which is why it looks as it does now.”
“What’s the story behind it?” I asked, desperate to know more, wondering if it had something to do with us meeting the fairies the day before.
“Well, in the tradition of all good fairy stories,” the tour guide began, “Once upon a time, the Chief of Clan MacLeod, who was very good looking and had so far, never met any girl who captured his heart, came upon a fairy princess and they fell in love. He asked her father for her hand in marriage, but he refused. He explained that because MacLeod was human, and would die when he was old, the fairy princess could not marry him, because she was immortal and would live forever. They were both heartbroken, and the fairy princess begged her father to allow her to marry her beloved. Her father didn’t want his daughter to be sad, so he gave in and told the couple they could marry. But there was a condition. She would only be permitted to stay with her husband for a year and a day, at which time, they must part. They hoped, of course, that her father would relent and that maybe something would happen to allow them to stay together, so they grasped the chance to marry and were very happy. The fairy princess gave birth to a son and they were overjoyed.”
“Oh,” said Alana. "Please tell us they were able to stay together.” The tour guide shook her head.
“Sadly not. The day came when their year and a day was up. The fairy princess’s father arrived, and waited for her at the causeway, ready to take her back to the fairy domain. She had no choice, but to leave, but as her parting gift, she gave MacLeod this very silk flag and told him that it would help him and his clan whenever they were in dire need. Those were turbulent days, with many battles, and the fairy princess assured him that it would ensure good fortune, but that he could only use it three times.
There is another version of the story, that says the fairy princess, after she left, re-appeared to her husband and child, and as unseen fairy voices sang a haunting lullaby, she wrapped the child in the golden silk flag. The lullaby is still sung today in Gaelic and has been handed down through the MacLeod generations.”
“Och, that’s such a sad story,” I said. It was a haunting tale, and I shivered, as I remembered the tinkling voices of the fairy song we’d heard in the glade.
“Well, yes it is,” said the tour guide, “but legend has it that the flag did indeed bring good fortune to the MacLeods, twice when it was waved in battle, another time, when the castle was engulfed in flames, as the flag was carried to safety, the wind dropped and the flames went out, saving the castle.”
Later that day, I remembered, the fairies had given Alana something. I asked her what it was. She rummaged in her pocket, and grasped something in her hand. She opened her fingers and, on her palm, was a small piece of silk material, threadbare and yellowed, just like the flag that was framed in the castle. The fairies had given her a little magic to keep her safe, too.”
“Man, that’s some story,” Shuggie exclaimed.
“Awesome” I said. “But did it really help Alana?”
“Oh yeah,” said Freya emphatically. “She didn’t need to go for that operation and the doctors were mystified that she’d recovered so suddenly and without any scientific explanation. She became sick twice more and the same thing happened. She recovered inexplicably and had more time with us.”
“Could it just have been coincidence that she recovered?” asks the ever rational Sunny.
Freya sits, looking wistfully into the fire, then rummages in her bag, eventually pulling out some photographs. We pass them round, staring in awe and disbelief. There, indeed, was the ring of toadstools and just inside, were the most perfectly delicate, beautiful little people, some bending down as though working on things, others, posed like ballerinas, flying above them, their wings outstretched and translucent. The last photograph was of Alana, propped up in bed with pillows behind her. She was surrounded by the little people and she was smiling, as one stood in the palm of her hand Suddenly, in the crisp night air, I hear singing; gentle, tinkling and magical. It is carried on the breeze. I looked at the others, all of whom appear to be listening. I catch the eye of each one of my friends and we smile. We know the fairy realm is close on Halloween night and we are happy to know they’re there, looking over us, keeping us safe.