The Journey

Tige, take good care of our son.”

Smiling, Tige slipped his arm around her. “Fear not wife, Sean will be fine.”

“Take no heed of what old women say to you, sometimes they forget their manners.” She brushed Sean’s long blonde hair back from his face and tied it with a green ribbon.

“There, now you look like your father’s son.

Puzzled, Sean just nodded, he wanted to get away to see this village where his father took his apples to sell. They were the best apples around, Sean knew, because travellers who stopped by, said so.

“Come on Sean, follow the cart and pick up any apples that fall off.”

“Yes father.” Sean tried to conceal his excitement as he kissed his mother goodbye.

They left early in the morning. The distant call of a curlew and the squeak of the cartwheel, were the only sounds that filled the air as Sean and his father made their way over the mountain.

As the sun climbed into a clear blue sky they came to the highest peak. Sean stared at all the colours around him. Behind him, in the valley, his home was still shrouded in a grey mist where the sun had not yet reached. Only the blue column of smoke rising from the chimney told him where the house lay.

Before him, a patchwork quilt of deep green grass, interrupted by slashes of purple heather, wild white cotton balls and yellow whin bushes. Further down, near the valley floor, fields of golden rye and wild oats waved in the gentle breeze.

A silver light sitting on the horizon, caught his eye.

“That my son, is the great North Sea. On days such as this, she is peaceful and calm. She draws the heat of the sun so the fish have warm water to swim in, but when winter comes, while we are sheltered in our valley, the north wind makes her angry and she foams on the top of her waves and sends the biting cold wind over the land.”

Sean thought of the valley on cold winter days. When the apple trees were bare and he watched his father mending things or sat by a big fire listening to his mother sing strange and beautiful songs.

Sean was ten summers old and this was the first time he had left the mountain.

No apples fell from the cart as his father lead the horse over the grass covered ground. Sean had time to look around. To one side, a rabbit sat on its hind legs looking at him, his nose twitching. A little further away, Sean saw a red-brown tail moving through the heather. He knew what that was – a fox!

He clapped his hands and the rabbit disappeared. The fox, lifted his head, and set his beady eye on Sean. Then, taking fright, sped away.

Nearby, a willy-wagtail chatted excitedly as it’s tail fanned the ground. Sean whistled, copying the birds tuneful song. With a quick flutter of it’s wings, the bird flew onto the tailgate of the cart. Cocking it’s head from one side to another it studied Sean as he continued his song. He could mimic any bird he ever heard and many came to his call.

The horse and cart came to a sudden halt and Sean nearly walked into the back of it.

“Come here son.”

A track snaked down the hillside toward flat land where a line of Ash trees stood. Over the top of them Sean could see the Ocean, deep blue, with small white capped waves that tumbled onto the rocky shore.

Below them were two lines of houses. Their thatched roofs reflected the noon sun as blue smoke spiralled into the still air. Sheep, cattle, horses, pigs, animals of all kinds filled the dusty street that ran between them.

More people than Sean ever imagined were pushing their way through them, waving their hands in the air. Near the end of the street, some women were gathered, holding brightly coloured cloths.

“Why are they fighting, father?”

“Fighting? They’re not fighting, they’re bargaining. One is a seller the other a buyer.”

“It’s very noisy.”

“Yes it is. Now take this,” he handed Sean a small box of apples,” and follow me.”

They walked through a gate into a field. In one corner two men, sweat running off their naked chests were turning a big spit of beef over a red hot fire. Near the hillside were tables leaden with food, more food than Sean had ever seen. Everywhere he looked was food.

“Who is this for?”

His father smiled as he put his large box of apples on the ground. “That, you will see later.”

Sean felt a hand grip his shoulder. He turned to see an old woman grinning toothlessly at him. “Ah, child of the blonde hair and blue-gold eyes, I see ye been touched by the sing, the fairy folk! What things ye’ll see, in yer long, long life.”

His father snatched her hand from his shoulder. “Whist, woman, away with you. He knows nothing of what you speak!”

The old woman cackled and walked away. “Ye’ll be more than a Shanahee, my young one. We’ll meet again!”

“Father, what is a Shanahee?”

“Remember what your mother said, take no notice of old women. Ask anyone in the village and they’ll tell you she’s a strange one.”

“Yes father, but what is a Shanahee?”

“A storyteller, now let us go to the village before my apples go rotten!”

© John W. Kelly