I would like to share with you a secret dating from many moons ago. A secret for your ears alone, mind you. This is the true story behind the events which would later inspire a man named Shakespeare to compose one of his most famous and well-loved tales.
It was the afternoon of the sacred summer solstice, the longest day of the year, although back then, it was known under the Olde English name of ‘Sunstede’. Niamh of the Golden Hair was feeling the irresistible itch to do mischief. Since arriving to serve her apprenticeship at the fairy court of King Oberon and her aunt, Queen Titania, three weeks earlier, she had played the role of the good little fairy to perfection, but was now feeling ready to burst.
As she whirled and pirouetted around a sun-dappled glade, flitting from shadow to shadow, she became aware of a rustling and a muttering and felt the low vibration of magic being conjured into existence nearby. Craning her ears to hear more clearly, she was surprised yet delighted to make out the lilting voice of Puck, King Oberon’s merry servant, and she fluttered up into the wafting branches of a large willow overhead, to observe.
Alone for once, Puck was engrossed in gathering pansies whilst chanting a mysterious magical incantation. From the rhythm and the sound of the ancient lyrics, Niamh sensed it was a frolicsome sort of spell. In fact, it felt exactly like the kind of rascally spell she had been just dying to create since her arrival at the fairy court.
Young Niamh had so far been much too timid to approach the King’s serf, despite suspecting a kindred crafty spirit the moment she had first set eyes on him crouching at the foot of his Master’s throne. Could this be her chance at last?
Floating soundlessly down from her hiding place, she alighted on a fern, her heart hammering nineteen to the dozen. Here, in the midst of nature, far from the pretentious pomp and pompous protocol of fairy court etiquette, Niamh finally felt bold enough to overcome her timidity. It was now or never!
Crossing her fingers, she took a deep breath and coughed.
“Why, sir, I do believe I recognise some of those words,” she mumbled shyly. “It sounds as if you’re conjuring up some fun. That wouldn’t be a cunning spell you’re weaving there, would it?”
Puck glanced up from his work then flipped head over heels in a backward somersault, scattering his precious posy of pansies hither and thither. He stared wide-eyed through his bandy legs at Niamh, who was peeping back at him from under long, curly golden eyelashes.
“Please may I help?” she added, fluttering her gossamer wings as seductively as she knew how.
“Well, I never!” Puck exclaimed. “If it isn’t Queen Titania’s pretty protégée! Pray tell me, my dear, and what might you know about which sort of magic I may, or may not, be creating?”
“Just about enough to make out that’s a morsel of mischievous magic you’re making,” the young fairy whispered demurely. “I’ve been secretly studying an ancient book of spells I discovered in my aunt’s trunk. But I do hope you can teach me more.”
After extricating his head from between his legs, Puck perched on a log, cocking his head on one side and stroking his pointy beard. He stared at Niamh in silence, his nose twitching until the hint of an impish grin formed at the corners of his mouth.
“Hmmm,” he said thoughtfully.
As he pondered, he began to rock back and forth upon the log, a gleeful expression gradually creeping its way across his dimpled cheeks and up to his twinkly emerald-green eyes.
“With these pansies, King Oberon has commanded that I create a love potion to smear over your dear mistress’s eyelids. If what you say is true and you would like to join forces with me, then between us, maybe you and I could create a little hilarious havoc later this night. But first, you would have to prove you really do desire to learn my craft.”
Waggling his eyebrows, he shot her a sideways look. “So, my dear? What do you say?”
Niamh clapped her hands in glee and giggled, her wings a-quiver. After all, if the only thing she had to do was prove how mischievous she could be, the deal was already as good as done.
So, my dear reader, that's how it came about that, with a little prompting from Puck, the head of the worst-ever human actor (and who just happened to be named ‘Bottom’) was, in the twinkling of an eye, transformed into the head of an ass.
What most people don’t know, however, is that it was actually Fairy Niamh of the Golden Hair who cast that spell in order to earn the admiration of her idol, Puck.
With the playful pair plotting together, it was then as easy as pie to ensure that Bottom was the first to pass in front of the fairy queen when she awoke from her afternoon slumber in the shady clearing. Under the influence of Puck’s powerful love-potion, Queen Titania promptly tumbled head-over-heels in love with the bewitched actor.
The famous fiasco which was to follow later that evening would mark the beginning of Niamh and Puck’s secret partnership of tomfoolery, along with a lively romance which would last for countless solstices to come. What fabulous fun the two little rascals had, spreading Puck’s love-juice around, and then manoeuvring so many unsuspecting young lovers into the wrong place at the wrong time.
The truth behind the innumerable impish antics of the mischievous pair has remained a closely guarded secret of fairy folk-lore to this very day, so please do me the favour of keeping this juicy little snippet to yourself. With this year’s summer solstice fast approaching, the bewitching hour shall shortly be upon us. Who knows what magical mischief Niamh and Puck’s roguish descendants might conjure up in memory of their beloved fun-loving ancestors, should the truth be inadvertently leaked into the world of humans?