So, I was re-reading Book Six because in my mind there were sections of it that I might be able to remove and adapt into a story for a magazine submission. It turns out I was wrong – those bits existed in my head, but I neglected to write them down.
Here’s what I discovered on revisiting that draft.
- I didn’t write anywhere near as much of the story as I had previously imagined – which is sad because I thought about it a lot and had tons of ideas.
- Most of what I did write was background stuff that happened about 5 years before the story actually begins. It’s not badly written, but it’s not relevant to the book either.
- About 2000 words of what I did write consisted of a folk tale about an evil brooch, the justification being that one of my characters reads said story at a difficult time in his life and goes a bit wrong.
- I wish I was making that up, but I am completely not.
In the past, everything was a lot muddier. You may already be aware of this due to the film Braveheart, or even through the study of history. And nowhere was muddier than Scotland, a country beset by rain and sleet in all seasons as picture postcard stereotyping has made plain.
Once there was a warrior, not significantly muddier than any of the other people, but half a foot taller and with a much stronger jawline. His name was probably something like Fergus or Dougall, or an unpronounceable Gaelic thing with too many consonants. We’ll call him Fergus for ease.
Fergus was admired and loved by all who knew him, because although he was fierce and powerful and strong he was also wise and loving and kind. And he liked to sing. In many ways he was a renaissance man, long before the renaissance ever existed – which is hardly surprising for everyone knows how Scots like inventing things.
Fergus was married to a woman, as was the style at the time. She had knee length golden hair and boundless energy, and her name was Mina. She bore two strapping sons and two strapping daughters, although the names of the children have been lost in the mists of time and the author not quite being arsed to think of them.
Fergus and Mina and their children lived in difficult times, but they were hardy folk and not inclined to allow poor weather or war or famine or disease to get them down. It was a bit like that wartime blitz spirit you sometimes hear older people talking about in wistful tones, as though in this modern world everyone deliberately goes out of their way to be horrible to each other when really they’re just being a little thoughtless here and there.
Anyway, that was all background, much like the rest of this book so far and certainly this story. The point I would like to make is that Fergus loved his wife very much, as she was the kind of woman who never had a cross word to say and was utterly devoted to him – as well as being a pure stunner by the way. He had loved her since first they met at the age of 8 and 3 quarters, and she him (she was 9 at the time). He loved her more fiercely than the sun loves the moon, and more than the ocean loves the shore. He loved her more than life itself, and often thought that if there were any situation where he had to die for her then he would do so (even though he knew that without him in her life she would very likely kill herself, thus defeating the point of his noble sacrifice).
Sometimes when people are in love, they like to give one another tokens of their affection to prove the way they feel. You might have read about it in books, like this one. One day Fergus was consumed by the need to give his lovely lady wife such an item, not because he thought she did not know how he felt about her, but because he particularly loved her today. She was utterly radiant: her voice sounded like music, her hair was shining, and her skin aglow with peachy secrets.
When your wife is a woman such as this (which, by the way, applies to all wives – and indeed husbands, for true love makes hotties of us all), the only question you must ask is what on earth can you get her that truly represents how awesome she makes you feel. Fortunately we have already established that Fergus was a renaissance man, and he had a gift idea to blow any other gift ideas out of the water (a simile he invented, in spite of the fact that gunpowder and naval warfare didn’t exist yet).
He went to his friend Colm, a metal worker and maker of stuff and things, and asked him to fashion a piece of jewellery to a very particular design. Colm wasn’t doing anything that day and readily agreed, not realising the design was very intricate and would probably take several weeks to complete.
When the jewel was made and Fergus bestowed it upon his wife, she was so overcome with the beauty of it she had to sit down. She sat on a grassy mound bedecked with daisies and other wildflowers indigenous to the region, and the other people that lived around that place came to see her and gaze in wonder at the gem. There were few women that did not go home to their own husbands to demand why such a token had yet to be bestowed upon themselves, and thus a market was born.
But Colm was unwilling to make these other jewels as intricate as Mina’s, for that design had been especially devised by her husband.
“Fergus,” he said, “that brooch was your own special design, uniquely created for your wife. To copy it for everyone feels wrong to me – but the villagers will give me no peace. What should I do?”
Not wanting to cause his friend further mental anguish, Fergus made a new design – similar but not the same, so Colm could make jewels for everyone that asked.
The copies looked by and large the same as the one Mina wore, but none ever seemed to sparkle and shine quite as hers did. Some of the villagers suggested Mina’s inner beauty and kindness made her brooch seem to shine brighter, but others whispered Mina was a witch, that she had dressed up her jewel with magic and was not to be trusted.
Fergus laughed when he heard these silly rumours, for he knew they were the jealous whispers of silly types.
“One day they will think to ask Colm if he made them all the same,” he said, “and they will be embarrassed by their foolishness when he says to them nay, there is but one in the original design.”
But people do not like to think critically when the option to gossip and scapegoat is given.
“What if you gave the brooch to Aibhilinn?” one of Mina’s daughters asked, after a particularly trying day of being given the evil eye by everyone they met as they tried to go about their business.
Aibhilinn was the villager who stirred the most trouble against Mina, for she was the most jealous of them all. Her eyes were a troublingly bright green – the colour of envy as all of them knew – and she was always discontented with her lot.
Mina was uncomfortable with the notion she should allow the other woman to win, but Aibhilinn was not only making things hard for herself, but for her daughters. None of them was guilty of any crime save that of being loved by Fergus, and it seemed wrong that they should be made to suffer for it.
She tried to reason with Aibhilinn one day as she walked by the edge of the woods, asking why she had told the local people lies about how she was a witch and was out to steal their children away.
“I think you are a witch,” the other said. “Or at least one of the fey. If not, why do you always look as glamorous as you do? Why does your brooch sparkle more than any other woman’s? You have put a spell on the thing to taunt us.”
“All the jewels are different from one another in their own way,” Mina said, “they were each made by hand, according to what was asked of Colm. Perhaps Fergus asked that mine be cut in a slightly different way than yours.”
But Aibhilinn did not listen, or if she did listen then she did not care. She walked away without another word, and told the village Mina had confessed to putting a charm on her jewel. She also claimed that Mina had confessed she could do the same for them all, but would not because they were not as beautiful as her and did not deserve it.
Most of the women did not completely believe this, but Aibhilinn and Mina had been seen walking together by several of them, so they knew some conversation had indeed taken place. Some gave Mina sympathetic glances, but all were cowed by Aibhilinn’s all seeing eye and found little opportunity to show their support. Most people will do anything for a quiet life, and getting on the wrong side of a bully like Aibhilinn guarantees the opposite of a quiet life.
One day a storm came, and Aibhilinn lost no time in telling everyone it was caused by Mina’s unhappy mood – ‘surely you have noticed the way she wanders around with a face like a dead cat?’. She did not appear to notice any irony in telling people the foul weather was caused by something that she herself was responsible for – the sadness of a woman she was bullying without mercy.
“We must cheer her up,” said someone, “or the skies will remain black and we shall be in the cold and the wet and the dark for ever more.”
“But how?” others chorused, some wondering whether throwing Aibhilinn in the burn might be an appropriate treatment.
“It is her brooch,” Aibhilinn said, in one of the first documented examples of blatant opportunism. “Her unhappiness began when she received the jewel. Perhaps… she did not bewitch the thing. Perhaps it is actually cursed.”
They ruminated on this for a time, whispering and wondering whether that explanation was likely or probable or even remotely possible.
“We must help her,” Aibhilinn encouraged, “by taking her brooch and burying it deep so the spell cannot harm her anymore.”
Now, I know what you are thinking, Modern Reader – burying things out of reach does not seem an entirely fool proof safety precaution. What if the evil seeps out into the soil around it and spreads?
But these women were less scientifically minded than we, and very much in the habit of burying things out of harm’s way. The countryside was littered with evil jewels, evil urns, evil plates, evil bits of weapons, and the bones of evil men, women and children. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
The villagers banded together and went to the home of Fergus and Mina, where they explained their burying plan to her. Fergus was not there, for he had taken the children fishing, so he could not tell them the truth or help Mina to fight them off. She protested, but they overpowered her and took the jewel.
“Do not be afraid of what Fergus will think,” said a village man, “he will see it is for the best. I’m sure he wouldn’t want you to wear an evil, storm bringing brooch anyway. He’ll be quite embarrassed when we tell him.”
“And don’t worry about being reminded when you see all of us wearing our own brooches,” said a village woman. “We will all bury our good brooches with yours, so that the evil one will be hidden and disguised in case anyone else tries to take it and use it to do harm.” She looked meaningfully at Aibhilinn as she said this.
Mina sighed as she realised she was going to have to give in. She had loved the brooch very dearly, not just because it was pretty but because of what it symbolised – so twas hard to let it go. Still, at least she still had Fergus and the children.
They dug a very deep hole, and one by one solemnly threw in the jewels. Everyone watched carefully to make certain Aibhilinn threw in both her own piece and the one she had ripped from the unfortunate Mina, for nobody really trusted her. She did so reluctantly, but knew full well she did not have enough skill or sleight of hand to fool anyone by switching the thing for a stone or other piece.
At first Fergus and Colm were put out about what had transpired, but their rage soon passed and they moved on to other trials and tribulations, including a further change in the weather necessitating a move to the south – it seemed that burying the brooches could not stop the second ice age. But whilst Fergus and Colm distracted themselves with moving house, with their dying breaths the brooch burying villagers put a secret curse on the jewels – for they were associated with the end of the good times and the coming of the bad (they all hated moving house, which is a complete hassle).
Aibhilinn returned under cover of dark as many had expected her to do, but she could never relocate the spot where they had buried the brooches and so they lay unclaimed under the soil until their origins were forgotten. Meanwhile the curses of the dead infected the metal, which grew and changed under the soil. In later centuries some were accidentally found, but they caused such ill feeling they were buried again. Whispers were passed down the generations and songs were sung of their powers, until they were forgotten by everyone save fans of illuminated manuscripts and ancient folk songs.
It is said that one day someone will find the gem, but the brooch is lost for now – and that this is the most comforting thing in the world to those few souls who know of its mysterious power.