Smorgasbord Stories – A return to Tales from the Irish Garden – Winter: The Messengers of Peace and Desperation and The Storyteller by Sally Cronin

As I am going to be in full on writing mode for the next couple of months and it is a over two years since I last shared Tales from the Irish Garden.. I thought I would it bring it out of mothballs for those of you who might have missed the first time around..

Last Sunday Queen Filigree and the occupants of the magic garden celebrate their final Christmas before having to vacate the home they have shared for hundreds of years… what will happen next is in the hands of destiny and some feathered messengers. These are stories for ages 10 to 100+

Winter: The Messengers of Peace and Desperation and The Storyteller

Queen Filigree did not send out Christmas cards; her festive wishes were carried on the winter winds that sweep across the continent, dropped off at other fairy realms with kisses of snow. However, the queen believes that the New Year has very much more importance for her subjects and those of the world, always sending out her special winged messengers of peace two days after Christmas. This year her beautiful birds would carry more than New Year greetings, as they would also carry a request for any information about a possible new site for the palace. Since they would be sent to the four corners of the world, somewhere, surely there would be a place for Queen Filigree and her court to live in safety.

The royal pigeons had been lovingly reared over centuries, and all have their own fairy powers. In addition, they have extra wings of magic feathers attached to their legs, enabling them to fly higher and faster than normal birds. They come in two colours, pure white and with black and white speckled feathers; all are bright eyed and clever.

After the over indulgence and exuberance of the Christmas feasts, it had been a pleasure for Queen Filigree to remain quietly in her chambers within the palace beneath the magnolia tree.

She would sit in front of a roaring fire, composing her messages of peace and prosperity, to other fairy heads of state and their subjects. Her elegant handwriting was invisible to human eyes; so small in size that the messages were easily contained on a tiny piece of onion paper. This was then rolled into a silver cylinder, and taken by her chamberlain to the pigeon loft in the roof of the palace. Little had she known that this year her message would contain such desperate news and entreaties for assistance.

In the pigeon loft was an old hump-backed fairy called Jacamo, whose task would be to gently lift the most trusted of the pigeons from their nests, inserting the cylinders into spider’s thread silken pouches on their long legs. Usually there were twelve messages being sent to Queen Filigree’s royal relatives, and also to special humans who had done great service to the kingdom over its very long history. This year, Jacamo was surprised to be asked to prepare all fifty of the royal birds who were not nesting, to go on a special mission.

The queen walked up the winding staircase that led from the palace, through the roots of the magnolia tree, and out into the cold but sunny winter morning. Jacamo was there with the pigeons in wicker baskets awaiting the royal command to release their precious contents.

The queen loved her birds and decided that this year, with so much at stake; she would launch them into the sky herself. She opened each basket, gently picking up the pigeon within; kissing the top of its head, before raising her arms and throwing it into the air. The fifty birds circled their home for a few minutes; took their last look at their home and beloved queen, then flew away towards their individual destinations.

Five days later, Jacamo waited anxiously under the shelter of the magnolia, as wicked winter winds buffeted the branches and leaves above him. At his feet were forty-seven baskets containing the birds that had returned home safely, carrying responses to the New Year greetings sent by their queen, and the special request for sanctuary that had been included.

Three birds were late, and the pigeon master was very worried that they had been swept away by the violent storm raging across Europe and now right above his grey head.

Another day passed, and it was with a sad heart, the old fairy asked for an audience with Queen Filigree, to pass on the bad news that three of her winged messengers were lost. He found her sat on her throne, looking pale and exhausted. At her feet were the gossamer paper responses that had been returned by the forty-seven messenger birds. They expressed sorrow at the troubles that had beset the queen and her kingdom, but regretted that all of them were under similar pressure, and had no hope to offer.

After the storm had subsided and the winter sunshine had returned a day later, the queen decreed that every effort must be made to find her beloved birds as they were the last hope for their salvation. She consulted with her head guardian Sir Gregory, who was also her chief of communications. The shaggy lion had a network of messengers including a fleet of magic butterflies that could travel at the speed of light and communicate in many languages.

After a lengthy consultation with the guardian and her resident weather expert, a pixie named Vortex, it was determined that the birds in question, who had been headed to northern Europe, must have been blown off course towards The Emerald Island. This information was relayed to the waiting butterflies gently flexing their wings in the winter sunshine. Vortex reached over their colourful backs and sprinkled them with fairy dust, before despatching the fleet towards the previous home of the Winter Fairy.

Meanwhile, in a snowy garden on the eastern coast around this small jewel of an island, nature was coming to life again after being frozen for several years. The Winter Fairy’s grip on this magical place, circled by an ancient forest, had ended the moment he had left to conquer the southlands.

Now, with his exile to the arid wastes of far distant desert, the small shoots of spring pushed through the remaining snow and ice to reclaim their world. Trees in the garden rustled as the icicles dropped from their branches and soft velvet buds exploded overnight across their barren skeletons.

It was not only the land and hedgerows that stirred, as the house in the middle of the grassland also began to disrobe from ice and accumulated snow. The windows that had sparkled with crystallised patterns became clear, and water dripped from guttering long clogged with ice.

Inside the awakening mansion, the Storyteller slowly awoke from his slumber, and as his eyes opened, he took a moment to gather his scattered thoughts. The last thing he remembered was that vicious little Winter Fairy shouting at him, with a curse that would freeze him for all eternity, for not permitting him to set up his kingdom in his garden.

The Storyteller had laughed and walked away, but within hours, first his hands and then his feet became very cold and he could no longer stand. He had sat in his old rocking chair and tried to warm his hands on the dying fire in the grate. But the ice filled his veins until his brain had stopped working and he was left staring sightlessly into the future.

Now the warmth continued to flow through his body and after several hours of agonising pins and needles, the Storyteller could stand and move through his home. There was no dust or other indications of how long he had been in his frozen sleep, but as he looked out through his kitchen window, he could see that the land was bursting with the life of spring.

He would go and walk through his beloved gardens and vegetable patch later to check on its condition, but as his stomach rumbled, he realised he needed to check his larder for dried onions and mushrooms for some tasty soup for lunch.

©Sally Cronin 2018…

I hope you have enjoyed and tomorrow, after a long flight the messengers arrive in the Emerald Isles and find a possible new home for the royal court.

My latest short story collection is Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet.

One of the recent reviews for the collection

Feb 22, 2021 Alex Craigie rated it five stars it was amazing
Until the pandemic struck, I only read full-length novels. I thought that short stories might be shallow and unsatisfying in comparison. When we went into lockdown, here was my chance to get on with some meaty reading. But I couldn’t. I’ve been restless and unfocussed and when Sally Cronin’s Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries was recommended to me I decided to give it a go. How wrong I’d been about short stories!
I loved this book. The sub heading of Sometimes bitter, Sometimes Sweet is apt as the stories covered a wide range of experiences and each one touched me in different ways. Sally Cronin understands people. Her descriptions of relationships will strike a chord with everyone who reads this collection.
The tone varies, which added to the pleasure for me: wry, humorous, sad, reflective, vengeful, sweet. Some of the characters I positively enjoyed disliking and it was immensely satisfying when they got their comeuppance, others squeezed my heart but I was never left without hope for them.
The plots were neat, too. The first in the book was delightful, very funny but also a touch macabre. Gaffer Tape managed to condense a whole novel of abuse into a few powerful pages with an ending that made me want to cheer. Animals feature in some of these tales and Sally’s love of creatures is evident in the closely observed behaviours and in their impact upon humans. The story about the badly treated guard dog was one of my favourites and left me moved by the innate goodness evident in most people.
Scattered like precious gems throughout the book are exquisite poems. These aren’t rambling sagas; they’re expertly crafted delights that follow strict rules such as the syllabic form of cinquains. The results are stunning in their ability to condense a world of meaning into a few considered words.
I’m a convert now and will be looking out for more collections of short stories by this amazing author.

Read the reviews and buy the collection: Amazon UK – And : Amazon US

You can find out about my other books and their most recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2021

35 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Stories – A return to Tales from the Irish Garden – Winter: The Messengers of Peace and Desperation and The Storyteller by Sally Cronin

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