Smorgasbord Stories – A return to Tales from the Irish Garden – Winter: Chapter Three – A Place of Sanctuary 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..

Yesterday Queen Filigree sent out New Year’s greetings by feathered messengers to family and friends to try and find a place of safety for the court. These are stories for ages 10 to 100+

Winter: A Place of Sanctuary

The magic garden was bordered by ancient forests, and during the frozen years the surrounding farms and villagers had been protected by the cloud of pollen produced by the trees, in response to the threat from the Winter Fairy. Life had gone on as it had for centuries, but it was with great relief for all who lived around the woods, that there was now a warm breath of spring in the air.

Most of the old-timers knew the Storyteller, and had been grateful for his intervention over the years during times of hardship. He was a kind old man and despite suffering tragedies of his own, he had never turned down a request for help. When news arrived of the lifting of the curse, villagers packed up baskets of food and fruit, taking the paths through the forest to welcome him back from his imprisonment.

To the south of the forest that bordered the Storyteller’s garden, was a cottage on a small plot of land with a pretty flower borders and vegetable patch. A widow and her children had returned to her family home last year when her father had passed on. The mother was a healer, growing many herbs that she made into essences, and sold to the villagers who would come to her door. The village was too remote to have its own doctor, and she was welcomed home from the city with her children with open arms. Along with her healing gifts, the mother, whose name was Summer, was also of royal fairy blood. Many hundreds of years ago there had been a love affair between a farmer’s daughter and a fairy king who had fallen for her red-haired beauty. Although through the years, that magical connection had been diluted, it was still powerful enough to give Summer the ability to work with nature, and understand the language of animals. She was not sure if this gift had passed to any of her three children, but she had a feeling she was just about to find out.

Summer looked out across her vibrantly coloured spring garden and smiled in satisfaction at the vivid green patch of herbs. She searched for her two sons and daughter; catching sight of them standing by the door to the garden shed, and wondered what they were looking at.

The three young observers peered into the dim depths of the shed, and the eldest, who was no longer a child, but a young man, placed a protective arm across the shoulders of his younger brother and sister. They had come to collect wood for the stove in their living-room, and having opened the door, had been startled by the sight before them.

After a moment or two Alexander realised that their visitor was not going to bring harm to Jonathan and Savannah, and the three of them quietly eased into the gloom.

Gently they moved towards their guest who looked at them with weary and bewildered eyes. As they drew closer, Savannah suddenly smiled and reached out her hand to the bedraggled speckled bird with his winged legs. Without hesitation the pigeon hopped from his perch on a wooden coat peg, and sat cupped in the young girl’s hands. Just then there was a rustling noise in the corner of the floor, and as their eyes became accustomed to the poor light, they saw two more black-and-white birds huddled together on top of an old basket of logs.

At first, Alexander wondered how the birds had managed to get into the shed, but then noticed that the small window had been blown open by the recent high winds. Luckily for these weary travellers; who would have surely died if they had not found this small sanctuary.

Jonathan ran inside to find his mother whilst his brother and sister waited with the weary visitors.

Alexander watched as Savannah raised the black and white speckled bird towards her face; it seemed to be whispering a message in his young sister’s ear. A few minutes later their brother returned with their intrigued mother, a shallow dish of fresh water and some bird seed that was put out every day for their own garden birds. The three pigeons clustered around the welcome food and water, and the family backed away leaving the birds to their meal.

As they sat around their kitchen table with mugs of hot chocolate and cookies, Alexander asked Savannah if the bird had really been talking to her, and if so what had it said.

The young girl’s eyes lit up and she beamed at her mother and brothers. ‘He told me that they are fairy messengers sent from a Spanish queen, and were blown off course by the storm. A rescue party will be sent out to guide them home, and we must look out for a butterfly that will be searching for them.’ Savannah who had always believed in fairies and magic, wriggled in her seat in excitement. ‘The pigeon said that he could tell that I would understand him as I was clearly very special.’

Summer smiled at her youngest child and was delighted to know that her gifts had been passed onto her lovely red-haired daughter.

Throughout the next day, the new young guardians of the magic pigeons, checked on their well-being several times. Within hours the birds looked stronger, and even came out on the roof of the shed to sit in the winter sunshine and fresh Irish air.

In the late afternoon, Jonathan came rushing into the kitchen waving his arms and twirling in excitement. ‘It’s here, it’s here,’ he shouted in delight. The whole family rushed out of the back door and sure enough, perched on the wall of the garage was a brightly coloured butterfly.

Savannah stood beneath the creature and stared up into its eyes. It fluttered its wings in understanding, and as the three children walked away across to the garden shed it followed gracefully in their wake.

Respectfully the family stood back as the butterfly entered the shed, and after a few minutes they returned to the warmth of the kitchen to observe through the window. The pigeons flew out of the shelter and perched on the garden wall next to the house. One of the birds fluttered onto the wooden gate and stared into the kitchen; nodding his head several times. The two brothers looked at their sister who smiled happily.

‘He says that the butterfly will guide them home now that the winds have dropped, and they will be home safely in two days,’ Savannah cocked her head to one side as she absorbed more of the bird’s message.

‘Our home is now protected by fairy magic and we are officially appointed as a Royal Pigeon guest house to be used on long journeys across this part of the world.’

She turned to her mother who stood watching this interaction with delight. ‘Mother, the pigeon says that he is breaking protocol,’ she shook her head at the word, but her mother nodded in understanding.

‘He is carrying an important message from his queen, but we would not understand the fairy writing so he has to break his bond and utter the words. His queen and her court are in danger, and she is looking for a new home, and he wondered if we might know of a safe place where she could bring her court to live?’

Her mother thought for a few minutes and then smiled. She nodded her head and beckoned the children to follow her to the end of the garden and through a gate that suddenly appeared in the hedge. The children stared at their mother, but she just laughed and told them to follow her along the path through the forest. High above them the canopy of trees sparkled as the spring sunlight filtered through them to light their way. The three pigeons and the butterfly flew from branch to branch as they watched their new friends walk swiftly through the trees, until they entered the brightness of the day again.

The pigeons and the special envoy lined up on a branch of an old oak tree and stared in wonder at the emerald jewel before them. Hedges of brilliance surrounded a garden full of bushes, budding with gems of purple and rose. There was a fountain in the middle of a lush and wild field, gushing sweet water that flowed over its brim and onto snowdrops and bluebells surrounding its base. Fruit trees gathered in an abundance of blossom to the side of a stone cottage, standing proud in the middle of the land.

But the queen’s messenger’s eyes settled on the most wondrous sight of all. A tall and ancient magnolia tree grew by the side of the house, with large pink buds just waiting to burst into beautiful blossoms. It was a fairy tree, and the pigeons knew that beneath its strong trunk, lay a wonder of roots that arched into chambers fit for a queen. Summer and her children walked hand in hand across the lush grass towards the house, and as they did so, the back door opened, and the Storyteller emerged to greet them. The pigeons and butterfly followed and perched on a limb of the magnolia, observing the humans as they talked. The Storyteller approached and looked up at them and immediately spoke to them in their own language.

‘You are welcome to my land which has been released from the curse of the Winter Fairy. There once lived a mighty Fairy King and his court in the palace beneath this tree, but he left for warmer climes 100 years ago. Please convey my best wishes to your queen, and tell her that she is free to come and share this garden with me for all time. I am the guardian of the land and will remain so for many hundreds of years to come.’

The pigeons and their companion fluttered down to the Storyteller’s outstretched hands, sitting there for a moment or two, absorbing his essence. Finally satisfied, the butterfly flew away, followed by the birds who circled the house several times, imprinting the location before winging their way back to Spain with this wonderful news.

Two days later a very happy Jacamo carried a wicker basket down from the garden to the pigeon loft where he and Queen Filigree fussed over their beloved birds. They listened to the story of their adventure, and learned about the three special rescuers, and the offer of a new home in the Emerald Island. At first the queen was a little bit doubtful, since it had been the home of their arch enemy the Winter Fairy. However, she had heard from one of the southern realms that he was now grounded for all eternity in a sand covered desert and no longer a threat.

She called a special meeting of the council, and plans were drawn up to move the contents of the palace, and as many of the guardians from the garden, to their new home as quickly as possible. The deadline for the new owner to begin the destruction of the house was only a week away and there was no time to waste.

A few days later as the children played in their overgrown garden in the Emerald Island, one of their new black and white feathered friends arrived, carrying a personal note of thanks, written on gossamer silk paper and infused with magic so that they could read it. They dashed inside to their mother as she prepared their evening meal, excitedly relating the news that the royal court of Magia was on its way by swan express and would be here in the next two days.

Summer and the children hurriedly made their way through the forest to inform the Storyteller of the imminent arrival of the Spanish court, and to help prepare the palace for its new occupants.

©Sally Cronin 2018…

I hope you have enjoyed and will join me next week as the Spanish court packs up their treasures and mounts the evacuation of their home.

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

27 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Stories – A return to Tales from the Irish Garden – Winter: Chapter Three – A Place of Sanctuary by Sally Cronin

  1. “Protected by fairy magic” … how lovely. Beautiful story and incredible photography. Thank you, Sally, for sharing another chapter from Tales from the Irish Garden. And a big congratulations for another extraordinary (and well-deserved) review. 💗

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This has held me spellbound, Sally! One of the aspects I love about it is the way you use beautiful things we see around us in the real world – such as the speckled pigeon, the butterfly and the magnolia tree – which take on an extra significance when we see them now. xx

    Liked by 1 person

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