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
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
"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,"
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,"
"I can make it be forever,"
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
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
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
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.