Chapter 1: The Faery Well

It was a clear, bright Autumn afternoon in Treffgarne, the eve of Beltane, when Lisbet Mary began her journey into the Whirrham Way. The four brown hens were busy clucking their way through the fields and she drew them into the kitchen garden and scattered the seeds for them. They were greedily feasting on these as she latched the garden gate and walked towards the grove behind her grandmother’s cottage. She had on her everyday clothes –  the sort that her mother Lettice would not mind if she got them dirty. Her look was determined as she followed the well worn path to the standing stones. Lisbet Mary had been to the stones many times, and she knew them all. She had felt their craggy faces and often paced the distance between these sentinels guarding the Faery Well. She knew each one of these granite stones standing in a circle inside the grove, hidden from the roads by the Oak and Rowan trees. They had stood there for centuries and would, most likely, stay standing there for centuries to come.

Grandmother’s cottage stood cold and brooding at the edge of Wolfscastle Forest; no smoke from the chimney, no smell of fresh baked bread from the oven, and no loving arms to grett her. Lisbet was waiting for that special moment at dusk when the ‘jack-o-lanterns’ flitted over the marshy ground, shining their phosphorescent light to show what mostly stayed hidden in darkness. She waited for the right time to find the opening to the Faery Well – her new place of learning. She was glad it was not Friday. Friday was when those stricken with the ‘falling sickness’ came to the stones to be cured. These folk were frightening with their strange ways and looks and often brought in the cocks and hens to the stones – offering them as sacrifice for the sake of their cure. She thought it was very cruel to use these lovely feathery creatures so violently – she usually stayed away on Fridays.

She waited for the time when the moon began to rise and the sun to begin its descent, sending out its speared flames of gold to bathe all below in the glow. The skylarks and the robins would begin their even’ song and if you listened carefully you could even hear the wind sighing through the Aspens near the river and the soft swish of their drooping boughs as they lapped the water. It was like the earth was holding its breath! This was the magical time when the ending light shone directly into the circle of stones and illuminated the old markings.

Lisbet loved this time of day and was not afraid as she walked through the grove of Aspens, and then deeper into the forest of Oak and Rowan trees. She stopped just once to pull her hooded jacket close around her, then walked on to the great stone circle of Treffgarne.

Lisbet Mary stepped into the circle and paced her way round each of the sentinels once, then twice and on the third sweep, stopped to place her hands gently on their faces, tracing their marks and feeling the light tingle in her fingertips. She was following the ancient way, the way that many before her had practised, and remembering what she needed to do. She now knew the runes and their meanings and started again to place her hands on them, this time in the order she had learned. The order was important – press them wrongly and the Faery Well would remain hidden – press them right and the entrance to the Well would be revealed. Twelve stones, twelve paces between each one and twelve runes on each. The key, the right way to reveal all, was to press the one essential rune on each stone in the right order. Only those with the ‘gift of knowing’ could lead her to the stones and only one with the ‘ancient code’ could teach her the right order.

Her own grandmother Elizabeth had taken Lisbet Mary to the stones, each year in May, every since she was old enough to walk. Beltane was the time when her grandmother would tell her the old stories and teach her the way of the runes. She had taught her how to look for the runes at dusk, when the light was right. She had taught her how to walk among the stones and to embrace them and know them. She had shown her where the ‘key’ runes were on each stone and explain their meaning. She had promised to teach Lisbet Mary the right order for selecting the runes when she was old enough and tall enough to reach the highest marks. She told her of the ‘ancient code’ being passed down from grandmother to granddaughter for centuries and that at the age of seven, she would be ready.

The stories beguiled and enthralled Lisbet Mary and she was eager to be seven, eager to be ready. She knew she was being taught important lessons and she concentrated hard when Grandmother Elizabeth was speaking to her, in her soft whispery voice. She was told that she already had the ‘gift of knowing’ – how she had been born with a caul covering her face – and how she was always seen as special, and treated differently by the people of Treffgarne. To her delight she was also told the truth about the Faery Well – it was hidden inside the circle of stones – and was the entrance to the ‘otherworld’. “You will only be able to reach the ‘otherworld’ when you are old enough to press the key runes in the right stones, in the right order and in the right time,” her grandmother said. “Only then will you be able to begin your journey into the Whirrham Way, as I have done before you.” Grandmother Elizabeth then passed on the ‘ancient code’ in the words of the song, and told her how to use the runes in the stone circle.

” Listen for the song o’ the moon
As she waxes and wanes
Bringing light into darkness
And bathing night with her glow.

You are one with the moon
As you drift into dreams
Guiding you to truth and the Way
And returning the love that you know.

Listen to the song o’ the moon …. “

Now it was time! Lisbet Mary say her song and completed her third circuit of the stones, pressing each of the twelve key runes, in the right order! First Thurisaz as it is the gateway. Sceond Berkana for new beginnings. Third Wunjo for success. Fourth Othal for legacies. Fifth Eihwaz for protection. Sixth Laguz for intuition. Seventh Gebo for committment. Eighth Ansuz for wisdom. Ninth Kenaz for enlightenment. Tenth Uruz for strength. Eleventh Tiewaz the warrior. Twelfth Rhaido the journey.

Thurisaz (thoor-ee-saz) Thurisaz – the gateway

Berkana (bear-cah-nah)Berkana – new beginnings

Wunjo (voon-yoe)Wunjo – success

Othala (oe-thah-lah)Othala – legacies

Eihwaz (eye-vahz)Eihwaz – protection

Laguz (lah-gooz)Laguz – intuition

Gebo (geh-boe)Gebo – committment

Ansuz (ahn-sooz)Ansuz – wisdom

Kenaz (can-aaz)Kenaz – enlightenment

Uruz (or-rooz)Uruz – strength

Tiewaz (tee-vaz)Teiwaz – the warrior

Raidho (rye-ee-doe)Raidho – journey

She heard a faint rock on rock scraping sound which grew louder as she whirled around to face the centre of the stone circle. Another arched stone of granite rose from the earth, still covered in clods of dirt, and revealed a darker patch of dirt right in front of the stone. It was inside this dark patch that she could now see a set of stone steps descending into the earth. Her heart was racing now as she moved quickly to the stairway, and breathed in the earthy smell from the Faery Well. As she cautiously peered down she realised she would need to be quick, as the sun’s rays were leaving the sky and all would soon be in darkness. She took a deep breath and put on her brave face, and began to descend the twelve steps in to the Faery Well.


Lisbet’s Song

It was dark and wet in Friar’s Lane as Lisbet hurried down past the old Priory walls and into the back alleyways on her way to Shut Street. Another dark ‘Whirrham’ call from a soul in need and she knew that a young woman was in trouble. She knocked on the door of number 55 and pushed it open, calling out “Hallo!” as she entered. In the darkened space she smelt the bitter tang of mildew but was warmed by the sight of a fire in the hearth. An old blackened kettle was steaming on the hob and the soft moans of a woman in pain drew her attention to the figure on the bed, an old iron cot, in one corner of the room. The woman began to cry and groan as Lisbet came inside and shut the door. Lisbet took off her damp cloak and hung it to dry near the fire, placing her bag and basket on the only chair in the space. She took one look at the young woman on the cot and saw the fear in her eyes. ‘A first one?’ she asked. The woman nodded her head, tears streaming down her face, her hair plastering closely and the look of despair in her eyes.

Lisbet reached for her old leather bag, peering into the blackness for the small vial of berries she had picked and dried last summer. “You need the soothing of the Rowan berries”, she said as she took out the vial and the small wooden cup from the bag. “What is your name, lass?” she asked as she carefully poured a measure of the berries into the cup and filled it with water from the boiling kettle.

“Ehedydd”, said the young woman.

Stirring and blowing the steam from the cup Lisbet brought it to the woman and held it carefully to her lips, cradling her head as she sipped the sweet elixir. “Here take this my lovely lass, it’ll help with the pain!” Ehedydd’s sobbing slowed and her breathing returned to normal, but she clung desperately to Lisbet’s arm and there was wild alarm in her eyes! “Your baby will be safely born here tonight, do not fear!” Lisbet whispered.

Libet’s mind delved deeper into this certainty as she remembered her calling and her teachings from her ‘Merlin’. She knew that the Rowan berry elixir would calm the nerves and ease the pain of childbirth as it had done for many before her. She herself had ‘sipped of the Rowan’ when her own daughter Lettice was born. Her own sweet Tuesday’s child – full of grace.

She whispered again to Ehedydd, as she laid out her birthing tools; the clamp, the scissors, the cloths, the bowl and the swaddling clothes. “Let the Rowan ease your pain and soothe your mind”. This young woman in labour was the last of those that Lisbet would attend –  she did not know that for sure – just a warning voice in her mind to take great care of the child to be born this night. She carried out the tasks in preparing for the child’s passage into this world and dreamed her dreams whilst soothing the fears of her young patient. Hours went by as the labour pains quickened and the cries of pain focussed their actions. “In a few more pushes, your baby’s head will emerge.” Taking a deep breath the woman bore down and pushed her baby’s golden head out with nothing more than a heavy sigh! “Pant now!” Lisbet told her as they waited for the next wave of pain.

Lisbet looked down at the ‘caul’ covering the baby’s face and told Ehedydd “This child is one of god’s chosen”. Not letting the woman see her frown she prepared to receive the child as the final push heaved the rest of this little girl into the world. Ehedydd was spent as the baby burst out in a bloody rush! She took one more deep breath and then slumped back onto the cot, her face now ashen where once it had been ruddy from exertion. “A very special child!” said Lisbet as she clamped and cut the umbilical cord. “the child who is born on the Sabbath Day, is bonny and blithe and good and gay!”

Ehedydd did not hear Lisbet’s words, she died without a murmur, leaving her blessed infant in someone else’s care!

Lisbet looked up and cursed loudly ‘another damned soul lost in childbirth’!

Removing the caul gently from the face of the infant, Lisbet gazed upon this ‘faery fae’ – her eyes wide in amazement! The bluest of pale blue eyes blinked as the child smiled briefly – or was that her own imagination! She set the precious caul aside in the bowl, being careful to not fold or crease it. She then wrapped the child in the white shawl – a significant colour for this young girl – and walked to the doorway, opened the door to see the pale pink streaks of dawn painting the sky. The rain had ceased and the puddles were reflecting the sparkling dawn; she breathed in the sweet smell of her new charge. “I will call you Swynwr! Come away with me, o human child” she whispered to the little girl sleeping gently in her arms.

Lisbet gathered her cloths, potions, and other things, returning them to the leather bag. She laid the child gently into the basket and covered her with her now dry cloak, wrapped and placed the caul in the bowl at the other end of the basket. She then attended to the dead mother, removing the afterbirth and discarding in the hearth, cleaning her body and combing her hair, she gently laid her out for the undertaker. All the while she sang:

‘Come away with me, o human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand’

The Stolen Child, William Butler Yeats, 1886

“Soon the otherworld will be greeting you, my little skylark, lovely lass! I’ll take good care of your little faery fae, Swynwr.”

The last thing Lisbet did was to make a bouquet of dried birch, cypress and elder for her safe passage. She tied it with a black ribbon, and placed it in the hands of Ehedydd arranged in prayer upon her chest. “Mistress Morgana will know I have been with you this night – god speed you on your journey to the otherworld”.

The sky was reddening deeper now, a shepherd’s warning she thought, as she hurried back down Shut Street, past Fountain Row and onto the main road back to Merlin’s Bridge. “I’ll need to find you a wet nurse my lovely lass, if you are going to have a chance in this world.”

The early Sunday bells of St Mary’s were ringing out a knell, three times two, as if they already knew that one more soul had been dispelled.