Fiadh and the Soul Cages
Magic is real.
Fiadh O'Sullivan and her family live in a tiny cottage perched on a lonely Irish cliff overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Raised on folk tales about magic and mythological creatures, Fiadh's childhood has been filled with freedom, wonder, and love of the sea. Even though they are poor, she wants for nothing.
On the day she turns 16, however, Fiadh discovers that her world isn't exactly what it seems when a sea king carries her away into an underwater realm far more magical than she could ever have imagined. In order to return home, Fiadh will need to rely on unexpected allies and draw upon personal strengths that she never realized she had. No matter what the outcome, her life will never be the same.
Fantasy novella Fiadh and the Soul Cages provides an exciting new twist to an old Irish fairy tale.
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In a lonely spot in Ireland where the land meets the Atlantic sea, there once lived a young lass by the name of Fiadh O’Sullivan. She lived in a two-room, stone cottage topped with straw thatch that she shared with her work-worn parents, Peter and Cathleen, her baby brother Alfie, and her old granny, Niamh. While their house was small, it was cozy and tucked neatly between two hills, very nearly placed upon a precipice above the sea. The edge of the cliff was a mere fifteen steps from her doorway, so Fiadh could always hear and see the ocean. Between her father’s fishing, her mother’s garden, and a cow and sheep for dairy and wool, her family lived quite well in this solitary spot.
Fiadh was so content with her life thus far, that she never gave the outside world much thought. On most fine days, the moment her chores were done, she would take the steep path to the beach, and there she would wander for many hours, her rough spun skirt tucked into her waistband, her feet bare and covered with sand. Her long, dark hair she often left loose and let it blow about her like an ebony cape.
During her wanderings, she collected whatever caught her eye, whether it was a pretty stone, a tiny shell, or if she was lucky, treasure from shipwrecks that had washed ashore. This was how she had acquired her best thimble and a little snuff box that she had given to her Da. It did not matter what she found, however. Her one true wish was to be out of doors, for she was as wild as the western wind that blew over the sea. Her loving parents secretly fretted about her future, sure that no man would want to call such a wild girl his wife, for in those days long ago, the only future for a girl was to become a wife and mother.
On the morning she turned 16, her granny called to her.
“Come here to me, lass. I have something for you.”
Fiadh approached her granny as she was tying on her apron, preparing to do her chores. She gave her a kiss on her soft, wrinkled cheek.
“Good morning, Granny.“
She turned to her little brother who was sitting quietly in his cradle and playing with a silver rattle that had once been hers.
“Good morning, wee fellow.” Fiadh ruffled his hair, and he gave her a drooly grin.
“Happy birthday, a stór,” her Granny said as she handed her a wooden box about the size of a loaf of bread. Fiadh ran her fingers across the nautical carving on the lid, tracing the shape of the waves as they crashed against a cliff.
“My Mam gave me this when I turned 16, and since I didn’t have a daughter of me own, I saved it for you.”
“It’s beautiful, Granny. I thank you.”
“Open it up,” she said, prodding Fiadh with her cane. “There’s something inside.”
Fiadh sat the box on the rough wooden table that filled their little living space. She carefully lifted the lid. Her heart thumped like a bodhrán drum in her chest.
The first item she discovered was a tin whistle. It was silver and sparkled in the gloom of their cottage.
“It’s lovely, Granny,” Fiadh said. “Now I can learn to play like Da.”
“I’m sure you’ll be a quick study,” her granny said, “But mind, there’s more to it than you think. If you should ever run into trouble, blow into the whistle and help will come your way.”
Although what her granny had said about the whistle might seem too fantastic to believe, Fiadh had grown up on fairy tales, and as far as she was concerned, there was a little magic imbued in everything around her.
Fiadh laid the tin whistle on the table and took another object from the box. This time, she found a little square of fabric wrapped around something hard. She unwrapped the cloth and beheld a chain from which hung an old iron key about the length of her pinkie.
“And what’s this, Granny?” she asked, her eyes wide with wonder.
“The chain is just what it looks like, but the key is special. If you ever find yourself stuck somewhere you don’t want to be, this key will fit in any lock. Wear it around your neck all your days.”
“I will Granny, I promise,” she said as she slipped the necklace on. The chain felt cold against her skin. But when the key lay against her heart, she swore she felt it glow with momentary warmth.
“There’s one more thing, child,” she said.
The last object in the treasure box perplexed Fiadh.
“Is this a plain stick, Granny?” Her brow furrowed. “Or, is it a magic wand?”
“It is magic, but it’s not a wand like you’re thinking of. Should you ever wish for something, it will grant you your heart’s desire. I will warn you, though, that it only has three uses. But, should you pass it on to your daughter someday, its power will be renewed.”
Fiadh thanked her granny with a hug and another kiss on her cheek and put the box upon her small bed next to the cookstove. She had put the whistle and stick in her pocket, and the chain she already wore around her neck. The key felt strange upon her chest and reminded her that today, she was a different person than she had been the day before.
Still, turning 16 was not all that she thought it would be. She still felt like herself, not like a girl on the cusp of womanhood. For the most part, Fiadh would be happy to remain just as she was. But, if she had to grow up, then at least she was prepared, in thanks to her granny's gifts. Her parents had already given her a hope chest, a mundane gift that might please another girl. She couldn’t say that she was too excited about preparing for marriage when she had never even met a fellow.
Birthday or not, there were still chores to be done. But the moment she was finished, her mother shooed her out the door, thrusting a cloth-wrapped bundle of bread, fruit, and cheese in her hands. It was a beautiful, mild spring day, and Fiadh knew what she wanted to do. She would have a picnic at her favorite inlet where there was a warm place to sun and many rock pools to explore.
Hours later, Fiadh was growing tired and thinking of turning back. The sun was beginning to make its descent, and her growling stomach told her that it wouldn’t be long until supper. It seemed like forever since she had supped on her bread and cheese lunch. Besides, her woolen bag was almost full with today’s discoveries: a gray pebble that was perfectly round, a pink shell, and a piece of frosted blue glass polished by the sea. She was eager to add her finds to her collection.
As she approached the tumbled boulders that surrounded the path to the cottage, Fiadh spied a figure perched atop one of them. At first, she thought it was her father waiting to escort her home as he sometimes did after a long day of fishing. She smiled to herself, eager to see her Da.
But, as she grew closer, she began to realize that the figure was not her father after all. She came to a stop, feeling a funny sensation in her belly--something between fear and curiosity. Her granny had often warned her to be leery of strange men. Fiadh put her hand in her pocket and felt for her new whistle, relieved when she felt the cold metal. She paused, unsure what to do next. There was something very odd about the man sprawled on top of the boulder. The sun sank some more, and she knew that she had no choice--she would have to reach the path before the tide came in.
As she grew closer, she saw to her surprise that this was indeed no ordinary man. Although to be honest, she didn’t have much experience to go by, since her father was the only man she’d ever really known. This person sprawled upon the rock was a handsome youth, his golden hair falling to his shoulders. His eyes were bottle-green and glinted slyly at her. Except for a belt of dripping seaweed and a bright red feathered cap, the man was completely naked.
Her face burned with embarrassment, and she felt her knees tremble as they beheld one another. When he began to sing, she gripped the whistle in her pocket even tighter.
And who are you, me pretty fair maid
And who are you, me honey?
And who are you, me pretty fair maid
And who are you, me honey?
With me too-ry-ay Fol-de-diddle-day
Di-re fold-de-diddle Dai-ri oh.
I’ll open the door and I’ll let you in
And only the devil would hear us.
His strange, otherworldly voice slowly died away, his words blowing away in the wind.
Fiadh swallowed hard.
“Good day to you, sir,” she said. Eyes averted, she rushed toward the path, feeling his gaze burn into her back.
“And to you, lassie,” he replied with a merry voice. “You be the daughter of yonder fisherman?”
Fiadh regrettably came to a stop and turned around. She saw that he was gesturing in the direction of her cottage.
“Aye,” she said in a clear voice. “If you mean Peter O’Sullivan, that is. I am Fiadh.”
He nodded. “I thought as much. It is grand to meet you, Fiadh. I am Coomara,” the man said. “I’ve been watching your father, and his father’s father, for many a year. All those years, I’ve been watching as your kinfolk have taken the fish from my water.”
She was shocked that he could look like a youth and yet be so old. But still, his words rankled, and she responded hotly.
“Your fish? I believe the ocean’s bounty is free to us all.”
He laughed, a high pitched sound that she found unpleasant. “You would think that, but you would be wrong. This bit o’ the sea makes up my kingdom, as do all the things that are delivered of it. Including,” he pointed at her bag. “The treasure you have claimed today.”
“They are important to no one but me,” she said, squaring her shoulders back. “But I will return them if it pleases you.”
His eyes shifted to the ocean and then back to her, his green eyes sparkling with mischief.
“Nay, you may keep them. And your father may keep his catch from today, if you come visit my kingdom.”
This time, it was she who laughed.
“I have traversed this part of the Connacht coastland for many miles. I have seen no evidence of a castle or anything that resembles a kingdom.”
The youth placed a finger beside his nose. “Aha, but have you looked below the waves? You will find my castle lies far below the ocean’s surface.”
“In that case, it would be impossible for me to visit, sir. While I am a strong swimmer, I cannot go beneath the water for long without drowning.”
She was proud that she had managed to keep her voice calm. He surely was mad.
“Ah, but you won’t drown, my dear.” He reached behind him and took out a green cap that had been hidden in his seaweed belt. “When you wear this, you will breathe underwater just like the fishes and the merrow.”
“What happens if I do not agree?”
“Then, your father will not be free to fish and should he try, I will claim his soul for my own.”
Fiadh realized that she had no choice. She had been hearing stories of the merrows all her life, and she knew that they could be dangerous. She reached out her hand.
“Then give me the cap and let us be on our way. I will go for one hour, for it is almost sundown.”
With a triumphant grin, he handed her the cap. It felt like damp wool and smelled of three day-old fish. Grimacing, she placed the cap on her head.
“Off we go, me lassie,” he said. He grabbed her wrist with a clammy hand and pulled her toward the sea. As he pulled her against the tide, he merrily whistled the same tune as before.
Fiadh took one last look at her cliffside cottage. She hoped she would live to see it again.
A Land and Sea Fairy Tale
Fiadh and the Soul Cages