The Faerie Flag
by Julie Eberhart Painter
Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye, Scotland
A faerie princess with golden hair and peach-blush skin came tripping through the gardens of Dunvegan Castle. As she stretched her graceful neck to smell the flowers, a sound startled her. She slipped behind a tree. “Who goes there?” came a melodious male voice.
Sensing the kindness in the Laird of the castle of Clan MacLeod, she stepped out. “’Tis only me, milord, one of the Shining Folk.”
The handsome young man with dark hair and wide shoulders swathed in a stole of his tartan stood quietly appraising her. “And your name?”
“Christal, milord, Princess of Faeries.”
“Of course, I’ve read of you. State your purpose here in my garden.”
“I’m here to enjoy your roses, the finest in all the kingdom.”
“Indeed they are.” He stepped closer and fixed her with his dark eyes. “Absolutely, um, the very finest.”
She blushed prettily and scurried backwards, looking at her toes. He caught her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed her slender fingers.
“You honour me, milord.”
“The honour is mine, Christal Princess of Faeries.”
Dark brown eyes rimmed in black met crystal blue. The two seemed to look beyond each other.
“Do you come to my gardens often?” he asked.
She glanced away. “Aye. And do you come here often looking for faeries?”
He smiled, his eyes twinkling. “I will now.” He looked at the sundial in the middle of the impatiens bed, as if memorizing the time of day. “Every day at this hour I come from the castle to walk.”
A flicker of amusement pushed her full pink lips into a happy grin. “Then we shall see each other again.”
He bowed. “I can only hope.”
Time passed. As leaves skittered across the cooling earth, the two fell in love. One day, the Laird asked, “Pray tell me, Princess of Faeries, will you still come to the garden when the snow covers the ground and the animals go into hiding?”
Astonished, she shook her head. “Faeries are not ruled by weather, milord, unlike you mortals.”
He placed his hands over her slender shoulders and drew her to him. Her heart fluttered against his leather chest plate. Gently he kissed the warm rose-blossom lips. “Would you consider marrying me and becoming Lady MacLeod, Mistress of Dunvegan?”
A tear escaped her eye and slid from cheek to breast, leaving a dark stain over her heart. “I canna. My father, the King of the Faeries, would no’ allow me to marry a mortal. He fears my heart be broken.”
“Aye. It would crumble after you aged and died. ’Tis why we do no’ wed mortals.” Her eyes glistened with budding tears.
“If you would risk that heart,” he pointed out, “you could ask him for me — if you love me.”
She swooned into him, and he caught her. “I already do love you, milord, more than life itself. But ’tis never done among the faerie realm.”
“You’d marry one of them when you love me?”
She pressed the heels of her hands against her burning cheeks and pulled away from him. “I’d be cursed, the magic gone.”
“And if you leave me here without you to warm my winter, my life will be gone.”
Their eyes locked, resolve tightened. “Ask him Christal, or I will ask him.”
“No! I will bring him to you tonight at sunset.” She evaporated before his startled eyes.
He turned from the garden and raced to the house. He must compose the right words to persuade her father. Perhaps some deal could be struck.
That evening as an orange sun dropped behind the forest trees, the three met in the garden to decide their fate. The men bowed. “Would you take supper with us?” asked the MacLeod Clan Chief.
The Faerie King appraised the mortal. “No, thank you. But you wanted to speak with me, to ask me something?”
“Aye, sir. I would be honoured to wed your daughter, Christal. My love is true.”
The King scowled. “’Tis not possible. Never!”
“Father, please. I love him. I cannot live without him by my side.”
The King looked at the Clan Chief as if sizing him up, then paused. Turning to his daughter, he asked, “Would you abide by the rules of our Faerie Raide?”
“If I were to grant you a year and a day to satisfy this love you claim, would you then leave him and return to your proper place among your kind?”
Christal’s heart bumped against her chest. “Hand-fasted for a year and a day?” She looked down. “If that is the only way.”
“There is one more thing.” The King cleared his throat. “All that you own at the time of your leaving must remain with your husband. You must leave empty-handed.”
Christal searched her loved one’s eyes for help. He didn’t seem to realize what was meant by the bargain they made, nor how limited and unsatisfactory. All he could glean from the powerful Faerie King’s face was an inscrutable stare. Perhaps her father would reconsider when he saw how happy she was. A year and a day was quite a long time and Christal would be his... for that while.
And so it was that they were hand-fasted. No happier time ever existed before or since among the Clan MacLeod. By and by, the couple conceived a child. “’Twill be a boy,” Christal announced to her surprised husband.
“I shall never argue with your magic, my lady.” He swooped down to kiss her and lift her high into the air.
Christal grew ripe with their son. Afternoons she took up her sewing in the garden. One day tears rolled down her cheeks collecting on her gown over the babe they would love — but not together. She glanced at the sundial, so unrelenting while it reflected the passage of time.
“I canna leave you,” she whispered as she stroked the new life beneath her gown. Looking up at the castle window where her husband planned his next battle, she dizzied and fell to the ground, weeping.
The Laird, seeing her in distress, thought her time had come and dashed down the stone steps to the garden. “Christal, what is wrong?” He lifted her up and carried her into the refectory where he and the servants splashed perfume on her face to bring her around.
“What has happened?”
Christal groaned. “’Tis nothing, milord, but the days grow near that I will have to leave you.”
The Laird knelt by her side and placed his chin on her knee. His eyes searched hers. “Perhaps not.”
Shouting for his groom, he ordered his horse brought to the gate, and he was off to make a new deal with the King of the Faeries, the grandfather of his child.
Bringing his horse to a skidding stop, he dismounted and approached the King none too quietly. “I plead with you sir, allow Christal to stay with me and the babe. Don’t separate mother and son. Even for myself, I will manage somehow, but the boy must have his mother.”
The King stood firmly on his enchanted ground and, in a voice that rocked the earth, proclaimed: “When the year and a day are done, Christal returns to us without the child or any of her earthly possessions. But your Clan will be blessed. I shall temper your sadness with good fortune. The boy will grow strong and true. He will never succumb to mortal illness. That I can promise throughout your lifetime.”
The laird knew the King had made a large concession, and he dared not to ask for more. For his son’s sake, he thanked the King and took his leave.
Two months passed. A fine strapping boy with fair hair and amber irises rimmed in brown was born. Christal nourished the child and sang lullabies in a lilting trill. He was truly the happiest child in the kingdom. But, alas, the time for departure drew nigh, and Lady MacLeod withdrew to her rooms, frequently bursting into tears.
The Faerie King led his Raide down from the clouds to stand before him at the end of the causeway of Dunvegan Castle. There they waited in all their glamourie for their Princess to keep her promise.
But before she could leave there were promises she must extract. She gathered the household and handed the babe to his father. “You must promise me that our son will never be left alone.”
“And, he must never be allowed to cry, for if he cries, I shall hear him and be unable to bear his unhappiness I shall be forced to comfort him. Do you so swear?”
“We swear. It will be as you have ordered,” they said.
She kissed the boy on his brow and ran to the causeway to vanish within the Faerie Raide.
* * *
The boy flourished, healthy, intelligent, the pride of his father. But despite the words of the Faerie King’s promise to ease the loneliness of the Laird, he was inconsolable. The servants seeing their master in such distress decided to give him a birthday party, a ball with music and dancing till dawn.
The nursemaid looking after the boy was tempted by the sounds of music floating up the grand staircase from the Castle’s Great Hall. She tiptoed to the crib, saw that the boy was asleep, and clutching her skirts, slipped down the back stairs to watch the festivities.
Skirts swirled and kilts bounced as the party continued through the night. The nursemaid quite forgot her duties until she heard the little lad’s plaintive cry coming from the nursery.
Hers were not the only ears tuned to the nursery. Far away, Christal heard her son. Her heart quickened. Her chest filled and she was buoyed up, arriving at his side to care for him in his distress. She wrapped him in her yellow silk Faerie shawl and comforted him.
The nursemaid, realizing her negligence, took the steps two at a time and arrived in the room. Shocked to see the Faerie Princess holding her son, she fainted. When she awakened, the boy lay smiling in his bed wrapped in a gossamer silk shawl.
The derelict maid folded the shawl and placed it with the other bedclothes. The boy pulled it down often and sat on the floor cradling his cloth. It was never far from him. One day his father discovered him. “Son, it’s time to put away childish things like that comforting cloth.”
The boy pulled a face and refused. “My mother ga’ me this shawl when I was left alone by the nursemaid the night of the Grand Ball.”
“It can’t be true.” His father reasoned; she promised—”
“’Tis true. When I cried out, my mother appeared right here in this room. She said that the cloth was a magic talisman that she would leave to protect not only me but all the Clan MacLeod. If anyone not of our Clan touches it, they will vanish in a puff of smoke.”
The Laird nodded his head. It was possible. He had hand-fasted with a most unusual woman, not of his world. “Did she say anything else, my son?”
“If the Clan faces mortal danger, the Faerie Flag can be raised and waved three times to summon the Faerie Raide to our defense. We are given three blessings, but must use them only in the most dire circumstances. Until then, this stole should be kept by you, Father, or any other Laird of Dunvegan’s Clan MacLeods. Place it in a locked box and keep it nearby.”
The father drew his son into his embrace. He fingered the silken cloth sensing the presence of his wife. He plunged his nose into the silk, inhaling the familiar rose fragrance he had come to associate with Christal.
“We are truly blessed. Your mother has no’ forgotten us. Her magic will never leave us.”
The boy smiled. “Never, ever.”
* * *
And so it was that in 1490 the Clan of Donald, Lord of the Isles, besieged and outnumbered Clan MacLeod three to one. Just before the Donald’s last charge, the Chief laird of Dunvegan opened the box, and placing the Faerie Flag on a pole from the highest turret, waved it once, twice, and thrice.
When the third wave was completed, the Faerie magic caused the MacLeods to appear ten times their number. The Donalds, thinking that the MacLeods had reinforcements, turned and ran, never to return.
Years later, a terrible plague had already killed nearly all the MacLeod’s cattle. The Chief faced a prospect of winter starvation for his people. Having no alternative, he went to the tallest tower of Dunvegan castle, attached the Faerie Flag to a pole and waved it one, twice, and thrice.
The King of Faeries rode down from the clouds with his throng. Swords drawn, they waved them like wind over the dead and dying cattle. As they touched each beast, where once had stood dead and dying animals, now stood healthy, well-fattened cattle, more than enough to feed Clan MacLeod for the coming winter.
During World War II, young men from Clan MacLeod carried pictures of the Faerie Flag in their wallets while flying in the Battle of Britain. Not a one was lost.
Coincidences? Not if you believe in the Faerie Flag.
Copyright © 2012 by Julie Eberhart Painter