Editor's Note: The Insane Englishwoman was badly injured when a car (who didn't stop) ran her motorcycle off the road last week, so the story is in a bit of disrepair. The story IS finished... we just need to be patient 'till we can read the rest. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, IE.
Yes they look like our favourite girls but they're not. I've actually been trying to put the plot of this story together for most of my life. It was inspired by a Steeleye Span song which in turn came from a traditional poem. The poem itself was based on a real person. The legend has fascinated me for so long and yet I have taken great pains never to read any work of fiction based on it because I wanted no influences when I finally managed my own.
It wasn't until I saw a certain pair of drop - dead gorgeous ladies that it finally clicked into place.
It's two women and they're more than just friends. And if you didn't know that by now you haven't been paying attention. Please don't read it if it will upset you or if you're under - aged in the eyes of your country or state.
There will be sex - I have no idea yet how graphic.
There will also be violence but not a lot.
Given the period in which it's set there won't be any modern swearing but there will be blasphemous oaths, (isn't that a lovely phrase "blasphemous oaths") Sorry, where was I?? Ah yes - period. It's set where the original was - in other words thirteenth century Scotland (but with liberties taken).
But don't worry - I haven't written it in dialect. It's in plain English. Except for one word. Sidhe. That's the old Gaelic word for faery and is pronounced 'shee' - you know like in bean sidhe - banshee. Leanan Sidhe (lawn - an shee) was the Celtic Dark Muse, though mine is nothing like the real one. Everything else is in English. And that's real English not American so yes, my spelling is correct.
As always, comments, critiques, phone numbers and nude photos to email@example.com.
Part One - Prologue
Her mother wept when she was born.
She came late in her parents' lives, at a time they had believed the blessing of children would pass them by. And there would be no more; she came backwards and her mother tore so badly the midwife shook her head knowing that there could be no mending of this. They named her Tomasina, after her mother's father, for she should have been a son and heir
They would have called her a gift from God had the devil not breathed on her in the womb. His mark was on her for all to see. Her left leg, the sinister side, was twisted and withered. Had she not been the Earl's daughter the midwife would have smothered her and declared her stillborn; but none dared usurp their lord's prerogative. If the child were to die it must be at his hand and no other.
Lord Learmount did not kill his only child. He loved her and spoiled her and she thrived. He had his smith fashion a brace for her leg and the child grew and prospered. She was not over - tall but she reached a good height for a woman. And she was beautiful, with hair the exact shade of ripe corn and eyes the colour of new - mown grass.
He heard the whispers that she was cursed. And the louder comments that perhaps a convent would be a good life for her. He could not part with her for he loved her too dearly. But knowing there would be no good marriage for her he did teach her to ride a horse and break one. And to read and to know her numbers and she grasped books as a drowning man will seize a boat, as though her life depended on them.
From the books her imagination grew. She wove stories and sang them to the notes from her lap - harp. And though a woman could never become a minstrel she was as accomplished as any who graced her father's hall and truth be told her tales were better loved and more frequently requested. In spite of her crippled leg she was happy, and continued so, until her sixteenth year.
Part Two - In the Midst of Life
Tomasina was grappling with the difficulties she found in the language of the volume she was studying. She had long since decided that she loathed Latin and speculated that it surely must have been the strain of declining verbs and nouns with such complex endings that had brought about the downfall of the Roman Empire and not, as she had been told, barbarian invasions. A sudden commotion in the courtyard below her room drew her attention and joyfully she abandoned her studies. She would have done so with more regrets and less glee had she realised that it would be the last time she would be permitted the luxury of books of her own.
She was carefully making her way down the stone staircase to investigate the noise when the sound of her mother's voice caused her to increase her speed to an almost dangerous level.
She entered the courtyard to find her mother sprawled across a litter drawn behind her father's favourite gelding. The litter bore the body of a man. Her mother raised herself up, arms held dramatically skywards, and continued her wailing
"No, no, dear husband no."
Tomas had often heard men talk of blood turning to ice in their veins. Until that moment she had considered it fanciful but now she knew exactly how it felt. One of her father's retainers came to stand beside her. He removed his cap and twisted it in his hands.
"I'm sorry, my lady. Your father..." he stopped speaking unsure of what to say. "We... That is to say ... My Lord had led us on a small skirmish over away to Berwick. It meant nothing. It was just one of the cattle - raids we play for sport across the borders. Their new overlord did not like our sport and sent a party of his men at arms after us; we defeated them but not before your father had taken a mortal wound. I'm so sorry".
He leapt forward, just in time to catch her as she fainted.
She awoke to find herself lying on her own bed. Her waiting - woman bathing her face with a damp cloth.
"Is it true, then and not just some awful dream?"
Her maid nodded. "I'm sorry lass."
The tears came then. She sobbed for hours, eventually crying herself to sleep. It was full daylight when she woke again, her throat scratchy and her eyes swollen and red. She lay in bed for all of that day and half the following one, although she shed no more tears. Her beloved father was gone and her life would never be the same. He would not want her to weep forever, she would mourn his loss for the rest of her life but life went on. She dressed with care and went to pray for his soul.
The funeral was magnificent as befit his station, not to mention the wealth he had showered on the local church and its commune. The old lord's body finally interred to wait for the last trumpet, the new lord was installed; Aidan, her cousin, barely two years her senior. Her very traditional cousin. Who had bullied and tormented her whenever he could get away with it. He demanded her attendance in his study. Tomas answered his summons with much trepidation; and a great deal of reluctance. It hurt to see the room which once was her father's, that held so many memories for her, now in the possession of another, a despised other at that.
Aidan stood and addressed her - every bit as pompously as she'd expected he would.
"This estate and all in it are now mine. Your late father", he paused and crossed himself. "God rest his soul, was far too lenient. You have been allowed too free a rein. From today there will be no more. You will have a place here, I will provide a room and meals and a servant for you as is my duty. But you will not sing or play the harp in the hall. It is not seemly. Nor will you read or write your little stories.
"You will conduct yourself as befits an old maid. You will attend mass. You may stroll in the neighbourhood and collect herbs or wildflowers but there will be no more riding out on untamed horses. And since you will be acting, at last, in a way appropriate to your sex you will no longer need that device." He pointed to her brace. "God made you a cripple for his own purpose, it is not our place to question his will, therefore you will walk as he intended, as a cripple should. Do you understand me?"
It was no more and no less than she had been expecting. Tomas bowed her head.
"Yes my lord. I understand." She was careful not to answer the question he had not asked. She did not say she would obey him.
Part Three - On Huntley Bank
In the three years since her father's death Tomas had adapted to her situation. Whenever she was near Aidan or in view of any who might bear tales to him, she comported herself in the manner he had demanded of her. She walked as best she could without her brace, slowly and limping heavily but she managed quite respectable distances with practice, roaming across the brae, down along the banks of Huntley burn and into the woods at the base of the Eildon hills. She no longer rode, instead she watched her cousin - best described as an inept horseman - ruin her father's prized stables. She sat silent at the meal - table. And she never, ever touched a book unless she was absolutely certain she would not be found out.
She still made music, not with her harp, Aiden had taken that;
she had an old chanter that she'd found on the midden where one of the pipers must have discarded it. And she still wrote her stories, poems and songs, though she sang them softly where no - one could hear her.
She liked to wander along to Huntley Bank and sit watching the waters of the burn flow. There by the edge of Eildon woods stood an ancient oak. It was her favourite spot. A huge tree, legend said it was growing when the Romans came and tried to tame this land. Woodcutters left it alone. Mistletoe grew by it, wrapping its bright grew leaves around the oak's scarred trunk. The old wives muttered that mistletoe was sacred to the sidhe; and though as good Christian folk they knew not to heed the old ways they also knew that a wise man does not deliberately tempt fate.
She was sitting, leaning against the tree one warm spring day wrestling with a poem that would not come to her when her life changed. She wasn't quite aware of it at first. The tinkling sound of bells wound itself around the poem and became a song. Eventually the sound of the horse's hooves clipping along the gravel at the edge of the burn imposed upon her creative trance and with a start she looked up.
There in front of her was a horse. A truly magnificent horse, pure creamy white with an aristocratic bearing and an arrogant tilt to its head. It's mane and tack were bedecked with little silver bells which rang and chimed with every toss of its head. As striking as the mare was it could not compare with its rider.
Tomas gazed at the most beautiful woman she had ever beheld. The woman rode as a man would, not side - saddle and so she wore boots and breeches. The boots were the softest leather anyone could wish for. The rider's breeches were of a deep green velvet, the colour of pine needles at their darkest, as was her cloak. Her shirt, for she wore only a shirt, was silk and also green, but this time the bright green of new leaves in spring. She had long dark hair and her eyes were the brightest blue. It dawned on Tomas that this was no mortal woman and she struggled to kneel.
"Holy mother of God, blessed Virgin Mary, hail queen of heaven." She began only to stop in confusion as the woman laughed.
"Ah, Tomas, queen I surely am but not of heaven. Don't kneel to me." She slid gracefully from her horse and stood beside Tomas holding out a hand to aid her to her feet. "My name is Leanan."
Tomas swallowed in fear. "Leanan... Leanan of the sidhe." It wasn't a question though the rider chose to answer as though it had been.
"Aye Thomas. Leanan Sidhe the Queen of Elfland."
"You...me..." Tomas spluttered.
Leanan laughed again. "I do not come where I am not wanted. You have drawn me here to you Tomas with your poetry and your music; and the loneliness in your soul. You are not valued here among your own kind Tomas, come with me to Elfland where your songs will be sung and your music played with reverence." Leanan held out her hand again.
"You destroy men's souls they say. And you drain them of life."
"Who says? Your priests of your new religion? Of course they say that. else the people might still hold to the old ways." She tucked her foot into the stirrup and levered herself into the saddle. Reaching down to Tomas she repeated, "Come with me Tomas. Come to Elfland and be honoured don't stay here and be despised."
For a long moment Tomas hesitated while Leanan remained leaning towards her, arm outstretched.
"What do you have to lose Tomas?" Leanan enquired softly.
"Nothing.Absolutely nothing." Tomas smiled and grasped Leanan's hand allowing the sidhe to pull her up to sit behind her.
Tomas did as she was bid, wrapping her arms around Leanan's waist and resting her head against the sidhe's shoulder as Leanan kicked the horse into a gallop.
Part Four - The Road Less Travelled
It was a long journey and yet it seemed to take no time at all. Parts of it were spectacular, parts terrifying and parts led through land so beautiful it made her heart ache. They crossed the brae and passed by forests so thick no light could break through the trees. For a long while they rode through a lake of blood so deep it came to their knees, Leanan told her it was the waters of all the blood humankind had spilled in senseless wars. And still the mare galloped on. They continued through a night so black Tomas could not see the woman she clasped tightly.
When they came upon a sun - baked desert the mare slowed to a stroll and Tomas could relax a little, even so she held tight to Leanan. Pressed tight against the sidhe's warm back Tomas was feeling things she'd never felt before. She had no idea exactly what it was she was feeling, she did know she didn't want the feeling to stop. She thought she felt Leanan chuckle quietly and would have moved then but Leanan's hands covered hers where they rested and Tomas heard her whisper, "Stay, please."
Soon Leanan pointed ahead.
"There. See that. Those roads ahead. We're almost home. That one.." She indicated the furthest to the right; a very narrow, winding road, overgrown with thorns and with very few travellers. "That's the path of righteousness, see how few take that path."
Then she pointed at the path on the far left. It was broad and smooth and straight and packed with travellers. Tomas could see all manner of people. There were peasants and nobles; bishops, priests and kings.
"That one is the path of wickedness. See how many rush headlong to hell." Leanan laughed again. This time it was not a nice laugh at all. Then she perked up and smiled. "And that one... the one in the middle... the sweetly winding path that is so beautiful it would take a thousand poets a thousand years to describe. That, my sweet, is the road to Elfland... to home. Before we get there I need to just..." She turned in the saddle as best she could and made a sign above Tomas' head with her fingers. Tomas swore she could feel heat from it. "There, that's better. You can't see it but I have set my sign on you, it will protect you, no sidhe will harm you while you are here."