She might have been asleep,
So delicately did she lie upon the
Crested hair-grass, her diminutive figure
Easily mistakable for a child’s long-forgotten
Plaything—never to return to the
Haughty dollhouse whose chambers will now remain
Forever bereft of even the facsimile of life.
The White Fairy.
Perhaps she had welcomed the pain,
Perhaps she had sought the wild cat’s claws
And entered heavenly rapture as they opened
Her tender flesh. Perhaps she had revelled
In the transgressiveness of seeing her
Insufferably immaculate garments
Tainted at last—tainted crimson red
With her own preternatural blood.
Her eyes were closed when he found her,
Led by the dim glow of her fading
Will o’ the wisp.
She was small enough to fit in his pocket.
But he kept her in his hands,
Not minding the blood as he shielded her
From the early morning dew.
For she was soft and light in his grasp,
Softer than cashmere, lighter than white mist—
A white mist wrapped in bandages, tucked
In a makeshift matchbox bed.
While she slept, he watched over her.
He watched the gentle rising and falling
Of her breast as she dreamed dreams of peace—
Of starlit Seelie dances and flying ragwort stems.
He watched her supple head toss
And her breaths shorten into agitated gasps
When her dreams became the haunting ground
Of goblins from the Unseelie Court.
In those moments, he held her hand tight,
Caressed her cheek, until the devils passed away
And frightened whimpers gave way once more
To mirthful laughter whose cause
Only she’ll ever know.
He hadn’t known what to expect when she
Awoke. He was too worldwise to anticipate
Gratitude, much less indebtedness. And so
He was relieved to receive only her contempt,
To be the object of her despite.
Her wings—shimmering, translucent—
Had once been her pride. Now, gashed and
Gnarled, the sight of those wings—the weight
Of them on her back—became an unbroken
Sting of loss and impotence.
All the baubles, honey cakes, and pixie pears
He brought couldn’t comfort her.
Her only solace was in fey mischief,
In unleashing her resentment upon her
He knew that every porcelain bust shattered,
Every silk sheet torn to pieces,
Closed an open wound—
If only for a moment.
So he turned a blind eye to the excesses of
His wicked guest, and indulged her childlike
Her rebelliousness always seemed to find respite
When the storms outside turned dreary
And squat boggarts came knocking at the door.
Then she would seek refuge at his side
While he chased away the spectres with
Cold iron and rowan.
Afterwards, she would detest her dependency
And increase her vandalism.
One morning, he brought her a gift
And insisted she open it outside
In the moist air,
On the moist grass.
During centuries of racing pigeons and corralling
Field mice, her face had never lit up as it did
In the moment she opened the bow-topped
Box to discover an illustrious pair of
Handmade mylar wings.
Dyed in sunlight, like the clouded yellow butterfly,
They won her over immediately.
And they slipped on perfectly, as natural against
Her trim figure as the ones she was born with.
When they cut through the autumn air, she swore
She could feel the wind upon them as though
They truly were an extension of her flesh.
Hour after hour, he helped her practice
Her takeoff—abrupt and brief at first, then
Fluid and sustained, until she again glided
Through the azure sky with all the ease
Of a garden emerald, and more than
Twice the grace of a mute swan in flight.
The days were boisterous and merry,
Full of laughter and playful bickering.
None could rob her of her mischief, but spiteful
Wreckage gradually softened into puckish skylarking.
If the Sídhe are capable of experiencing so
Human an emotion as penitence, then perhaps it
May be said that she repented of her former
Malevolence. Not a single sun set without
Her leaving at her host’s doorstep some token
Of goodwill—a charm, a gold coin, a
Batch of rare bilberries.
But as she gained mastery over her new wings,
And as her argent skin shed the last
Of the bandages, he knew it was time for her
To return to her elemental sphere.
So he fashioned her a necklace (with
Utmost care to get it just the right size)—
Connemara marble on polished white gold.
He surprised her with it at daybreak, before
Her winding dreams could find resolution.
When she looked up at him, grateful but perplexed,
He told her she was ready.
Yet, as she prepared to depart, bindle over her
Shoulder; as she looked over the large old
Shack; took in the smoky aroma of its ancient books;
Waded in the cradling warmth of the hearth fire—
She realized she wasn’t ready,
That she could no more be ready to leave
What she had found in this curious place
Than a stag would be ready for the lethal dart
That pierces its chest.
Over the last months, she had been a captive—
A captive to circumstance, a captive to her
Own physical limitations.
On the verge of reclaiming her freedom,
She found it was captivity she really wanted—
To be forever in captivity to him.
She had been free before.
She had defined herself by it.
She had prized her independence
Above life itself.
But for all the allure of unrestraint,
It didn’t fill her.
Being totally free meant being alone.
Having no one to bridle her meant having
No one with whom to share her peculiarities.
Freedom and independence were nothing more
Than a mask for the unbearable aloneness
She could never run away from,
For it was embedded deep inside her.
Her soul craved belonging,
But she found none in the splendor of
Enchanted fairy dances or in the mystique
Of long-forlorn druid temples;
Not among the graceful dryads at Avondale,
Nor with the cruel Far Darrig of Aughrim.
If belonging eluded her among the living,
Perhaps, she thought, she would find it
In death’s embrace.
So she threw herself before the
Wild cat’s unsparing ferocity.
That was when he found her, and thereafter
She learned that to belong somewhere
Is to belong to someone,
To surrender ownership of oneself to another—
Renouncing hollow freedom for satisfying captivity.
Into his hands, she committed the keys
To her manacles—a stewardship he never
Presumed to seek.
For how could she love him?
How could he ever hope that she
Would entrust that untouchable side of herself
To someone like him?
She was the daughter of royalty.
Fairy queens and kings were her forebearers.
In her veins flowed the blood
Of a thousand noble generations.
On the country’s timeworn soil, her people had
Dwelt since time immemorial—long before Man
First contaminated the rich land and its
Wholesome air with his coarse breath.
What of his stock?
A race of invaders.
What was he, but a crude barbarian
Playing at civilization?
But it didn’t matter to her.
She enjoyed the contrast of his rough
Sun-darkened skin against her smooth fairness.
She, immortal—aged yet ageless—
Delighted in the youthful passions
Of a mortal man.
She gave herself to him.
Though she knew it meant the loss of her
Magic, the magic unlocked by their union
Was infinitely greater to be desired.
And the memories they created in that old shack
Were more fantastic than chimerical
Dreams of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Ten years passed in bliss,
But fate can only be cheated for so long.
Reality must eventually catch up with fantasy.
When the call came from a far-off seat
That all the man-folk should go to war,
He dutifully took up his arms and
Donned a strange uniform with utmost pride.
He comforted her with extra gentleness.
Despite her pleas to go with him,
He insisted the battlefield was no place for fairies.
He would be home soon, he reassured her.
And so with a couple fresh honey cakes packed for
The journey, and a serpentine-studded pendant
(Put together by small, devoted hands) around his
Neck for good luck, he set off.
She couldn’t sleep the first night he was gone.
Nor the second night.
Nor the third.
Nor on any subsequent night.
Her immunity to human privations preserved her,
As did the regular letters she received.
Though she feared for her soldier,
She admired his bravery
And rejoiced in his exploits.
When the correspondence ceased,
Her heart ached within her.
In the midst of a clamorous night,
As thunder, lightning, and rain contended
Against one another in seeming imitation
Of the conflict that had taken her lover away,
She saw it.
Across the black wall of raging water droplets,
Scarcely illuminated by the crescent moon’s light:
A black horse rearing, its dreadful rider faceless—
For his head he held upon one hand.
In the other hand, a long, bony scourge.
The Dullahan was there for only a moment before
Vanishing as mysteriously as St. Elmo’s Fire.
But she knew what she had seen,
And what the omen meant.
She left without a second thought,
Undertaking her search with all the
Restlessness of a wandering white lady ghoul.
She called to him with a banshee’s despair.
Over hamlets and cities and counties she traveled,
And then over smoke-filled fields consumed
By fire, their scorched verdure watered with blood.
And still she searched,
Through mounds of ash,
Mounds of mangled artillery,
Mounds of War’s casualties.
Until on a distant front, where the echo of
Gunfire remained freshly engraved
In the crisp winter ambience, she beheld
A familiar sight—a flash of serpentine.
There he was:
Bruised and severed,
Pierced with heinous precision
By enemy munition and hot shrapnel.
The pain was waning now.
He might have been asleep,
So peacefully did he lie there
Upon the crested hair-grass—
Like a broken doll he once found
Abandoned in the woods.
Only this time there was no hope of repair.
The wounds ran too deep.
And there was no magic left in her hands
For an eleventh-hour miracle.
But it didn’t matter, he told her—
When he saw her there weeping.
They had already made their own miracle,
A miracle that would always be theirs
And within them—and not even Death
Could take it away from them.
She kissed her beloved for the last time.
She closed his eyes, bade him farewell—and
Bade farewell to the greatest part of herself.
Now she had the freedom she once thought
She wanted, the freedom he always
Felt she deserved.
But in her heart she knew
She would never soar free again.
Today it’s out of fashion to believe in fairies,
In the Sídhe folk our fathers told stories of.
Whether they be real or the stuff of legend,
I can’t tell you.
But if you want to know for yourself,
Go down to Kilmacurragh.
They say the forest conceals an old cabin—
Preserved in time, as if by the care of
Small, devoted hands.
And if luck will have it,
You may catch, out of the corner of your eye,
The glimmer of mylar wings
And Connemara marble.