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Fantasy Historical Fiction

“I didna know how she keeps that cottage so clean,” Joan Walkden murmured wi’ envy to her husband as they left th’ neighbors’ farm ‘neath th’ light of th’ new-risen, near-full moon. Even wi’out a torch, they feet found th’ bare, rough-trod earth o’ th’ path betwixt th’ farms. Of course Goodwife Moulton’s cider were allus right crisp an’ clear an’ she shared it freely, as if she weren’t ne’er goin’ to run out. Joan herself’d had three glasses tonight. She hadn’t needed Robert to tell Goodwife Moulton that ‘twere better nor hers. Nowt that her cider were done fermentin’ quite yet anyroad. There were still a chance this year’s batch would be better.

“Mebbe Goodwife Moulton spends more time ‘bout her cleanin’ duties an’ less time gossipin’ nor thee,” Robert said severely.

Vexed, Joan hissed. As if he hadn’t been complainin’ th’ other day bout how tidy Goodman Moulton’s haystacks stayed, even after heavy wind. An’ that Goodman Moulton ne’er seemed to lose a sheep. “She’s got fewer bairns to look after an’ clothe nor me so she’s got more time to clean.”

“But her wee one’s littler nor even our George. An’ she’s got fewer hands to help,” Robert argued.

Narrowin’ her eyes, Joan turned her head to glare at him. Even in just moonlight, he awt to see that look an’ know that if he wanted a roll in th’ sack after th’ bairns were all asleep he’d better shut it now.

He did. “ ‘Course we all know that thou are th’ better spinner,” he said wi’ care, decidin’ to speak softer now. “ ‘Twas kind o’ thee to offer Goodwife Moulton that cast-off cloak o’ George’s fer they wee bairn. Cloak’s almost new wi’out patches. Has a nice hood an’ all.”

“Boy grew too fast,” Joan said, nowt wantin’ him to accuse her next o’ nowt bein’ thrifty enough. “Na like we be needin’ it fer a while.”

Mebbe fer a long while. Joan hoped George would be they last babe. Even five winters after th’ bairn’s birth, she still tired easily. Nine bairns was plenty, even if th’ Lord’d chosen to take two in His wisdom.

She still missed Molly: th’ girl’d had a sweet disposition, a steady set of hands an’ been almost old enough to be useful. Na, Joan, she told herself. As th’ priest told thee again an’ again, she’s in Heaven now. She were so good she got to go early. Thou must be happy fer her, singin’ up there in th’ sunny meadows wi’ Lord Jesus an’ all th’ angels where there be na sickness o’ hunger na more. ‘Least they only had to dower two girls now, she thought, as dust kicked up by th’ light breeze brought tears to her eyes.

Robert shrugged. “May she get good use o’ it then.” He grinned playfully, teeth gleaming white in th’ moonlight. He’d allus had nice teeth: he were only missin’ three. “Mebbe we do her a good turn wi’ th’ cloak, an’ she’ll share more of that cider.”

“Ach!” Joan huffed, clearin’ her eyes wi’ a quick rub o’ her sleeve. “Allus th’ cider wi’ ye!”

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‘Twasn’t til th’ afternoon three days hence that Joan had a spare moment to run o’er to th’ Moultons’ farm to bring th’ cloak. Th’ next day were th’ Sabbath an’ th’ bairn auwt to have th’ cloak to stay warm walkin’ to th’ village church. But na one, nowt even one o’ th’ bairns, were in th’ cottage. Well, ‘twas a warm afternoon an’ mebbe they was all in th’ field helpin’ Goodman Moulton since ‘twas near time fer plowin’. Even a wee bairn could help clear a field o’rocks that might trip up a plough. Or mebbe they was mendin’ fences damaged by th’ winter.

She couldn’t help noticin’ that th’ Moulton cottage seemed less tidy durin’ th’ day. Cream sat unchurned in th’ butter-churn. Unspun wool lay in a fluffy heap on th’ floor like stray sheep. Pottage still caked unwashed breakfast plates. Lettin’ herself sniff once in disapproval, Joan reminded herself that ‘twasn’t fair to judge when th’ lady of th’ house weren’t home. Mebbe they’d been in th’ fields since dawn. Th’ Moultons’ fields weren’t near so fertile as th’ Walkdens’ fields after all. ‘Twas good fer them that they had luck wi’ livestock an’ Goodwife Moulton were careful o’ what they did have.

Even Joan’d lost her second babe in th’ years o’ bad harvests eleven or twelve winters back. Wi’ a deep breath, she told herself that she an’ Robert was more settled now. They had many more chickens an’ livestock nor they’d had back then. An’ Joan were allus right careful wi’ th’ pin-money now. She’d been young an’ had nowt known two years o’ bad harvests in a row. Wi’ th’ Good Lord’s help, ‘twould nowt happen again. Fer just a moment, Joan let herself think o’ Molly an’ that wee babe, too young even to be baptized, an’ she whispered to Lord Jesus that He’d best keep them heavenly meadows warm an’ flowery fer Molly an’ th’ babe.

Gently, Joan folded th’ cloak an’ left it lyin’ on th’ floor near th’ hearth, but nowt so near that a spark might kick up an’ singe it. Then she hastened back to her own farm. She’d best hurry if she wanted to finish makin’ cheese an’ get supper done afore Robert came home from th’ fields! Mebbe she’d even kill a chicken: now that it were spring, they had plenty o’ eggs an’ they’d had so much pottage an’ bread o’ late this winter. Her man’d worked hard th’ last few days gettin’ ready to plow. Even a careful housewife might kill a chicken fer supper ever now an’ then. She could get Alice to pluck it an’ save th’ feathers fer some new pillows.

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An unnatural bellow cut through th’ night air. Jumpin’ in surprise, Joan near knocked o’er th’ candle on th’ table. She’d been tryin’ to mend a small tear in Robert’s best waist-coat afore church th’ next mornin’ since she didna want to offend th’ Lord by workin’ on His Sabbath-day. It’d been hard goin’ by such dim light an’ she’d near dozed off all alone in th’ front room.

Quick as could be, Joan ran to th’ window, part-open to let in some air to clear out th’ cook-smoke, an’ peeked out. She didna see nowt unusual. Then a high, raspy voice cackled loudly, “Ye gave me a nice new cloak an’ a hood! This lad will henceforth here do no more good!”

Since ‘twas th’ night o’ th’ full-moon, Joan could see all th’ way to th’ Moultons’ cottage. Th’ cottage door creaked open an’ a shadowy someone she couldn’t quite see clear slipped out.

“Wait!” a woman cried. “Please, wait!” ‘Twas Goodwife Moulton! Joan knew her voice well. A second figure, much taller nor th’ first, followed, wringin’ her hands an’ wi’out her cap on. What devilry brought her out o’ her cottage in th’ dark o’ night? Na honest woman were abroad so late! Fer certain nowt chasin’ a man who weren’t her husband!

“I didna give it ye,” Goodwife Moulton begged. She sounded terrified. “I forgot an’ left it there by mistake! ‘Twas fer me boy! Don’ go! Please! We needs yer help yet!”

“ ‘Tis mine now!” th’ odd voice chuckled. “If it be by th’ hearth by my bowl o’ cream, it’s like to be fer me!” Th’ first figure started down th’ path away from th’ Moultons’ cottage.

As her eyes got used to th’ moon-light, Joan gasped. ‘Twasn’t a man at all that Goodwife Moulton was followin’! Th’ shape were far too small an’ bent o’er! As th’ figure got closer, Joan realized that th’ man weren’t just little, but brown an’ too hairy. An’ he wore George’s old cloak: since she’d been th’ one to lay in each stitch, she knew it even o’er th’ distance.

Humming wordlessly wi’ glee, th’ figure stomped gracelessly down th’ little path that led past th’ Walkdens’ cottage. Th’ moon lit th’ shadows of th’ ugly face beneath th’ hood an’ Joan choked in a scream. He hadn’t nawt nose, jus’ two small holes in his face above his mouth!

‘Twas one of th’ fae! A Brownie! Joan realized in horror. That were why th’ Moultons’ farm thrived unnaturally- they’d made a sinful bargain wi’ one o’ th’ pagan Fair Folk. Wi’out thinkin’, she crossed herself hastily. “Lord Jesus protect us!” she cried out.

“Och, we be needin’ nowt o’ that White Christ prattle now, lady,” th’ scruffy little man said sharply.

Th’ Brownie stopped on th’ path outside they cottage an’ stared back at her through th’ window. Tremblin’ in ever limb, Joan tried nowt to faint. She’d ne’er meant to catch his attention! Surely he couldn’t cross th’ threshold o’ a good Christian household to enter! What business had he wi’ her? She didna want nawt truck wi’ divils.

“Say,” he started thoughtfully. “Ye be th’ one who helped set me free, na? I find meself at loose ends now, lady. Have ye ever thought about employin’ a household Brownie?”

“Get thee behind me, Satan!” Joan gasped, rememberin’ what th’ good priest told her Lord Jesus had said when he was tempted to flee by Saint Peter. An’ Joan was tempted. Na more lost livestock an’ na more spoiled butter or cheese. Her an’ her man nowt needin’ to work so hard all th’ time. Mebbe na more bairns dead from hunger or sickness. Mebbe enough saved pin-money fer her girls’ dowries that they could marry theyselves townsmen or merchants who could read, na more farmers.

Th’ man giggled. “Now there’s a name I likes better though it still has na power o’er me. Na, lady, my work be nowt o’ th’ Divil. There be na harm done to yer immortal soul by hostin’ me.”

“Ye’d say that even if there were though, wouldn’t ye?” Joan said shrewdly. Na, he wasn’t about to fool her so easily. “I heard bout bargainin’ wi’ th’ fae. Ye allus turns summat to yer advantage.” She knew what th’ good priest would say an’ he were a learned man, nowt like her. She were just a farmer’s wife an’ all she knew bout bargainin’ was wi’ townsmen to sell eggs an’ cheese an’ chickens.

“Why don’t ye ask Goodwife Moulton? I ne’er did harm to her nor her man nor her bairns. All I did was go when she gave me th’ chance.”

Fer certain, Goodwife Moulton would want to be tellin’ Joan all bout her bargain wi’ th’ fae. That were right like to happen.

But Joan’d seen fer herself that th’ Brownie’d kept th’ Moultons’ cottage clean an’ farm an’ livestock in good condition fer years. ‘Twas true th’ Brownie hadn’t hurt them that she’d seen.

“If ye left her house, why be ye offerin’ to work fer me so soon after ye be freed?” Joan asked suspiciously.

“I must needs earn my cream somewhere. Goodwife Moulton became too careless wi’ me. She didna treat me well o’ late. But I served her well fer many winters. Ye knows what yer God says: He helps them that help themselves. An’ ye freed me, even by chance. I finds meself favorably inclined towards ye.”

Joan had heard th’ priest say th’ same at church many a time. An’ here were help knockin’ at her own doorstep. Would she nowt help herself an’ her family by considerin’ th’ Brownie’s offer? Mebbe Molly an’ th’ babe were up in those warm meadows wi’ Lord Jesus an’ fearin’ na hunger na more, but Joan an’ Robert an’ Alice an’ Mark an’ Harry an’ John an’ Margaret an’ Richard an’ George was all still down here on earth. They all still needed to eat an’ needed warm cloaks in winter.

Hopin’ she would still see Molly an’ th’ babe again after she died, Joan whispered a prayer to Lord God fer sharp bargainin’ wits here an’ now. She fer certain weren’t confessin’ to th’ priest about this conversation on th’ morrow. “Mebbe we kin talk, little man,” she started cautiously. “What be ye expectin’ in return fer yer service?”

************************************************************

Robert drank deep from th’ flagon o’ cider, wiped his mouth wi’ one arm an’ sighed lustily. “Ahhhhh,” he said. “This be th’ best batch o’cider thou’s made yet, Joan. Thou been learnin’ from Goodwife Moulton?”

Joan just smiled.

April 01, 2022 17:34

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18 comments

Graham Kinross
14:17 Aug 24, 2022

I couldn’t help reading this with a Yorkshire accent in my head, was that intentional? It really works for the story. It’s hard to stick to something like that so well, to be consistent with it.

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L.M. Lydon
19:26 Aug 25, 2022

Thanks. This was one where I struggled with the dialect a bit, but the narrator just seemed to speak that way in my head.

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Graham Kinross
21:40 Aug 25, 2022

Working on anything new?

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L.M. Lydon
18:13 Aug 26, 2022

Gonna skip this week to hit a separate contest deadline but I liked the prompt for next week and am looking forward to it!

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Graham Kinross
21:12 Aug 26, 2022

A different writing contest?

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Renda Brooks
22:37 Apr 12, 2022

I enjoyed the dialect use in this story. That isn't easy to do, or at least it has never been easy for me to do, and to do it throughout must have really been difficult. Good story!

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L.M. Lydon
00:13 Apr 13, 2022

Thanks so much for your kind words! Yes, dialect is really intimidating!

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Neil Brown
23:16 Apr 09, 2022

Great story. Impressive use of dialect. I don't think that I would have been able to pull off such a great feat.

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L.M. Lydon
11:56 Apr 10, 2022

Thanks so much! The dialect was a lot of work! I think I'll be avoiding it for the next few stories!

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Becca Ward
07:34 Apr 08, 2022

Loved the characters here. In particular, the opening paragraph, with the cider drinking, grabbed. Love the dialect efforts as well. Might it be more effective/easier to keep the dialect to the speech?

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L.M. Lydon
13:32 Apr 08, 2022

Thanks so much for your kind thoughts. This is one of my first experiments with such a pronounced dialect so I wasn't sure whether it would work better to limit it to speech aloud rather than internal narration. Wish I'd gone the latter route!

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Sharon Hancock
01:52 Apr 08, 2022

Excellent! Loved it! Must’ve been difficult to write the whole thing in that type of speech. I love folk tales and stories like that. This one is really interesting bc I don’t know a lot about Brownies, except the delicious chocolate kind. 😂 Engaging fun read. Thanks for sharing this one!

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L.M. Lydon
01:59 Apr 08, 2022

Thank you. The dialect was quite challenging! I thought it would be fun for outgrown clothes to trigger a completely unexpected and unanticipated outcome.

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Felice Noelle
23:01 Apr 06, 2022

LM: I reciprocated, reading your story as you had read one of mine. I really enjoyed it, but got lost in the dialect....and I live in the deep south. We newbies need to help one another. If you like writing dialect, I just read a short book on writing effective dialogue, because writing dialogue is almost counterintuitive, that might be helpful. I know I read it and then had to spend almost an hour editing my story. I also use an app that reads my story so I can hear it, which helps. I'm sure the app was free; my grandson steered me t...

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L.M. Lydon
00:42 Apr 07, 2022

Thanks. I fought the dialect this week and I'm afraid the dialect won despite the substantial assistance of Wikipedia, the third party allied combatant. I think I'll be avoiding regional dialect in the future. Live and learn :) Thank you for your suggestion!

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Michał Przywara
21:51 Apr 05, 2022

This is an interesting story. I like the old deal-with-a-devil, and the protagonist is easy to empathize with. It's not a twist I expected and it definitely feels like a fairy tale. It did take me a while to acclimatize to the dialect, but when I got there I appreciated it for how it supported the setting. Thanks for sharing!

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L.M. Lydon
01:22 Apr 06, 2022

Thank you for your kind comments. In all honesty, I regret the dialect :) It was not easy to keep even sort of consistent. It was how the characters first spoke in my head, but I wish I'd adjusted my imagination first.

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Sharon Hancock
01:56 Apr 08, 2022

Omg your characters allow you to assert your imagination? Mine tend to demand their own way.😂 I liked the dialect and commend you for trying something new. It’s inspiring!

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