The Faery Flag

           Long ago, when the wind blew from one corner of Skye to another without ever encountering a house higher than a tree, the faery folk lived on the land
and they were called the Davine Sidhe, the People of' Peace.   They loved the land well and shepherded its flock, and never a building did they build that
could not be dismantled in a single night or put up again in a single day.
           But then human folk set foot upon the isles and scoured them with their rough shoeing.  And before long both rock and tree were in the employ of' men; the land filled with forts and houses, byres and pens.   Boats plowed the seas and netted the fish.  Stones were piled up for fences between neighbors. 
          The Davine Sidhe, were not pleased, not pleased at all.  An edict went out from the faery chief: Have nothing to do with this humankind.   And for year upon year it was so. 
           Now one day, the young laird of the Mac Leod clan - Jamie was his name - walked out beyond his manor seeking a hunting dog lost outside in the night.   It was his favorite hound, as old as he, which - since he was just past Fifteen years - was quite old indeed.
           He called its name.   "Leoid. I,eeeeeoid."  The wind sent back the name against his face, but the dog never answered.
          The day was chill, the wind was cold, and a white mist swirled about the young laird.   But many days on Skye are thus, and he thought no more about the chill and cold than that he must find his old hound lest it die.  
          Jamie paid no heed to where his feet led him, through the bogs and over the hummocks.   This was his land, after all, and he knew it well.   He could not see
the towering crags of the Black Cuillins, though he knew they were there.   He could not hear the seals calling from the bay. Leoid was all he cared
about.  A Mac Leod takes care of his own. 
           So without knowing it, he crossed over a strange, low, stone cobbled bridge, a bridge the likes of which he would never have found on a sunny day, For it was the bridge into Faerie.
           No sooner had he crossed over than he heard his old dog barking.  He would have known that sound were there a hundred howling hounds. "Leoid!" he called.   And the clog ran up to him, its hind end wagging, eager as a pup, so happy it was to see him.   It had been made young again in the land of Faerie.   
           Jamie gathered the dog in his arms and was just turning to go when he heard a girl calling from behind him.
           "Leoid. Leoid."  Her voice was as full of longing as his own had been just moments before.  
           He turned back, the dog still in his arms, and the fog lifted.   Running toward him was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. her dark hair was wild with curls, her black eyes wide, her mouth generous and smiling.  
           "Boy, you have found my dog.  Give it to me."  
           Now, that was surely no way to speak to the young laird of the Mac Leods, he who would someday be the chief.           But the girl did not seem to know him,
And surely he did not know the girl, though he knew everyone under his father's rule.
          "This is my dogs" said Jamie.   The girl came closer and put out her hand.   She touched him on his bare arm.   Where her hand touched he felt such a shock, he thought he would die, but of love not of fear.   Yet he did not.  
          "It is my dog now, Jamie Mac Leod," she said.  "It has crossed over the bridge.  It has eaten the food of the Davine Sidhe and drunk our honey wine. If you bring it back to your world, it will die at once and crumble into dust." 
           The young laird set the dog down and it frolicked about his feet. He  put his hand into the girl's but was not shocked again. 
           "I will give it back to you for your name and a kiss," he said. 
           "Be warned," answered the girl. 
           I know about faery kisses, said Jamie, "but I am not afraid.  And as you know my name, it is only fair that I should know yours." 
           "What we consider fair, you do not, young laird " she said.  But she stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the brow.  "Do not come back across the bridge, 
or you will break your parents' hearts." 
           He handed her the sprig of juniper from his bonnet. 
           She kissed the sprig as well and put it in her hair. "My name is Aizel and, like the red hot cinder, I burn what I touch."  Then she whistled for the dog, and they disappeared at once into the mist. 
           Jamie put his hand to his brow where Aizel had kissed him, and indeed she had burned him. It was still warm and sweet to his touch. 
          spite of the girl's warning, Jamie Mac Leod Iooked for the bridge not once but many times.  He left off fishing to search for it, and interrupted his hunting to search for it, and often he left his bed when the mist was thick to seek it.  But even in the mist and the rain and the fog he could not find it.  Yet he never stopped longing for the bridge to the girl.  His mother and father grew worried.  They guessed by the mark on his brow what had occurred, so they gave great parties and threw magnificent balls that in this way the young laird might meet a human girl and forget the girl of the Davine Sidhe. 
          But never was there a girl he danced with that he danced with again.  Never a girl he held that he held for long.  Never a girl he kissed that he did not
remember Aizel at the bridge.  As time went on, his mother and father grew so desperate for him to give the Mac Leods an heir that they would have let
him marry any young woman at all, even a faery maid. 
           The night of Jamie's twenty-first birthday, there was a great gathering of the clan at Dunvegan Castle. All the lights were set out along the castle wall, and they twinned themselves down in the bay below.
           Jamie walked the ramparts and stared out across the bogs and hillocks. "Oh, Aizel," he said with a great sigh, "If I could but see you one more time, one
more time and I'd be content." 
           And then he thought he heard the barking of a dog. 
          Now there were hounds in the castle and hounds in the town and hounds that ran every day under his horse's hooves, but he knew that particular call. 
           "Leoid!" he whispered to himself'. he raced down the stairs and out the great doors with a torch in his hand, following the barking across the bog. It was a misty, moist evening, but he seemed to know the way.  And he came quite soon to the cobbled bridge that he had so long sought. For a moment, he
hesitated, then went on. 
           There, in the middle, not looking a day older than when he had seen her six years before, stood Aizel in her green gown. Leoid was by her side. 
           "Into your majority, young laird," said Aizel. "I called to wish you the best." 
           "It is the best, now that I can see you," Jamie said. He smiled. "And my old dog." 
     Aizel smiled back. "No older than when last you saw us." 
           "I have thought of you every day since you kissed me," said Jamie. "And longed for you every night. Your brand still burns on my brow." 
          "I warned you of faery kisses," said Aizel. 
           He lifted his bonnet and pushed away his hair to show her the mark. 
           "I have thought of you, too, young laird," said Aizel. "And how the Mac Leods have kept the peace in this unpeaceful land. My chief says I may bide with you for a while." 
           "How long a while?" asked Jamie. 
           "A faery while," replied Aizel. "A year or an heir, whichever comes first." 
           "A year is such a short time," Jamie said. 
           "I can make it be forever," Aizel answered. 
           With that riddle, Jamie was content. And they walked back to Dunvegan Castle hand in hand, though they left the dog behind. 
           If Aizcl seemed less fey in the starlight, Jamie did not mind. If he was only human, she did not seem to care. Nothing really mattered but his hand in
hers, her hand in his, all the way back to his home. 
          The chief of the Mac Leods was not pleased, and his wife was not happy with the match. But that Jamie smiled and was content made them hold their
tongues.  So the young laird and the faery maid were married that night and bedded before day. 
           And in the evening Aizel carne to them and said, "The Mac Leods shall have their heir." 
           The days went fast and slow, warm and cold, and longer than a human it took for the faery girl to bear a child.  But on the last day of the year she had
lived with them, Aizel was brought to labor until with a great happy sigh she birthed a beautiful babe. 
           "A boy!" the midwife called out, standing on a chair and showing the child so that all the Mac Leods might see. 
           A great cheer ran around the castle then. "An heir.  An heir to the Mac Leods!" 
           Jamie was happy for that, but happier still that his faery wife was well.  He bent to kiss her brow. 
           "A Year or an heir, that was all I could promise.  But I have given YOU forever," she said. "The Mac Leods shall prosper and Dunvegan will never fall." 
           Before he could say a word in return, she had vanished and the bed was bare, though her outline could be seen on the linens for a moment more.  The
cheer was still echoing along the stone passageways as the midwife carried the babe from room to room to show him to all the clan.  But the young laird of
the Mac Leods put his head in his hands and wept. 
           Later, when the fires were high in every hearth and blackberry wine filled every cup, when the harp and fiddle rang throughout Dunvegan with their
Tunes, when the bards' mouths swilled with whisky and swelled with old songs, and when the nurse was dancing with her man, the young laird Jamie
Mac Leod walked the castle ramparts seven times round, mourning for his lost lady wife. 
          The youngest laird of the Mac Leods lay in his cradle all alone. So great was the celebration that no one was watching him. And in the deepest part of the night, he kicked off his blankets as babies often do, and he cried out with the cold. 
           But no one came to cover him. Not the nurse dancing with her man, nor his grandam listening to the tunes, nor his grandfather drinking with his men, nor
his father on the castle walk.  No one heard the poor wee babe crying with the cold. 
           It was a tiny cry, a thin bit of sound threaded out into the dark.  It went over hillock and hill, over barrow and bog, crossed the cobbled bridge, and
wound its way into Faerie itself. 
           Now they were celebrating in the faery world as well, not for the birth of the child but for the return of their own. There was feasting and dancing and
singing of tunes. There was honey wine and faery pipes and the high, sweet laughter of' the faery' folk.
           But in all that fine company, Aizel alone did not sing and dance.  She sat in her great chair with her arm around her hunting dog.  If there were tears in her
eyes, you would not have known it, for the Davine' Sidhe do not cry, and besides the hound had licked away every one.  But she heard that tiny sound as
any mother would.  Distracted, she stood. 
          "What is it, my daughter? asked the great chief of, the Davine Sldhe when he saw her stand, when he saw a single tear that Leoid had not had time to lick away. 
           But before any of the fey could tell her no, Aizel ran from the faery hall, the dog at her heels. She raced across the bridge, herself as insubstantial as the
mist.  And behind her came the faery' troops and the dog.  The company of faery stopped at the edge of the bridge and watched Aizel go. Leoid followed right after.  But no sooner had the dog's legs touched the earth on the other side than it crumbled into dust.
           Aizel hesitated not a moment but followed the thread of sound, winding her back into the world of men.  She walked over bog and barrow, over hill and
hillock, through the great wooden doors and up the castle stairs. 
           When she entered the baby's room, he was between one breath and another. 
           "There, there," Aizel said, leaning over the cradle and covering him with her shawl, "thy mama's here."  She rocked him till he fell back asleep, warm
and content.  Then she kissed him on the brow, leaving a tiny mark there for all to see, and vanished in the morning light. 
           The nurse found the babe sleeping soundly well into the day'. He was wrapped in a cloth of strange weave.  His thumb was in his mouth, along
with a piece of the shawl.  She did not know how the cloth got there, nor did his grandfather, the Great Mac Leod. If his grandmother guessed, she did
not say. 
           Bur the voung laird Jamie knew.  He knew that Aizel had been drawn back across the bridge by her son's crying, as sure as he had first been led to her by
the barking of his hound. 
           "Love calls to love," he whispered softly to his infant son as he held him close.  "And the fey, like the Mac Leods, take care of their own." 
           The faery shawl still hangs on the wall at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye.  Only now it is called a Faery Flag and the Mac Leods carry it foremost into battle.  I have seen it there.  Like this story, it is a tattered remnant of strange weave and as true and warming as you let it be.