This is a story spelled out in ash keys and hazel nuts, pine cones and lichen . . .
When the Pilgrim Woman came down from her garret to tell this tale, she sidled around the boy with the cheeky grin. Instead of his usual smile, he was lost in thought, his gaze far outside the Old Chapel. With her bright skirts pulled close to her, she avoided disturbing him and waited.
The Lord-by-the-Sea sneered.
‘Just look at him,’ he said. ‘He’ll never come to anything – always away with the fairies.’
The Pilgrim Woman replied softly.
‘We’d say he were “right yonderly” where I come from. It’s not a bad thing. Much can come from it.’
The boy shuffled, gave his bent spine a rub and looked up at her with grey eyes. The Pilgrim Woman began her peppercorn story:
She should not go into Raw Wood. She knew that, everybody knew that.
No matter how much the scent of fir cones and toadstools led her close to its dark edges. No matter how flowing and bonny the songs of its hidden birds were; songs heard nowhere else, with notes sharper than grief or joy.
No matter how the shine of the beck between the alders and birches caught her eye. And yet – that shimmering snagged at her like brambles.
In winter, it stole the glint of polished steel – her mother’s carving knife had not such brightness. In spring, gushing and froth made the shine dance in disturbed stars. In summer, the Grey Folk strung the spiders’ gossamer among the branches, made the glimmer spread in tresses and snares.
And now it was autumn and that gleam fluttered in silver pennants, passing through the dark trunks. The whisper of falling leaves told her she could join the procession. If she hurried, she’d see the Grey Folk take themselves inside their riven crag.
She knew she should not go into Raw Wood. Those glittering messages led mortals away; took their wits, their youth, their loyalty. Yet the lustre drew a thread across her intentions, tugged at her yearnings. How was it that her feet crushed pine needles? Why did cobwebs net her hair? Whose shadows paced along beside her?
When she returned, the village agreed she was not all there. They turned away from the starlight in her eyes during the day – yet came for her stories at night.