pale leaf Gaia's Garden leaves




Situation Vacant
by MommaWhiteCougar

Niniane sat hugging her knees to her chest, droplets of rain rolling from her hat, down her nose, off her chin, trickling over her knees to her feet where it was collecting in puddles under her toes. She felt totally unmagickal and almost human which was a very distressing state of affairs for a Wood Faery.

It had rained every day since Beltane and now there were only a few days until Midsummer. Maybe there hadn’t been rain all day every day, but at least part of every single day. Even here, snug against the roots of her tree, she was as wet as if she had been standing in the middle of the lawn.

“I think I have wingrot,” she muttered to the tree. He didn’t answer her, but then, she had only lived in him for 97 years, and holly trees were notoriously stand-offish with strangers.

An ivy tendril tapped her on the shoulder. “Excuse me, dear, but haven’t you noticed the climate is changing? That’s what’s making all this rain. It wasn’t like this when I was a seedling.”

“I know what you mean, and the neighbourhood has gone downhill as well what with all these humans building things and not maintaining Wildwood for us,” said Rollo the urban fox. “I’ve even had some awful man-cub throwing stones at me!”

The whingeing and moaning of her friends was giving her a terrific headache, so Niniane stood up and stepped into her home among the roots, firmly shutting the door behind her. She didn’t even care if they thought she was rude. She had had enough!

Inside it was dryer than outside, but still a bit damp. She flopped on the nearest pile of leaves, wrung the water out of her hat and flung it from her. She then curled in a ball slowly beating her wings so they would dry out.

98 years ago the idea of leaving her Faery family to live on her own had seemed such a good idea. She had even picked a type of tree not normally associated with Wood Faeries as a challenge.

When she left, her family was ashamed because a solitary Faery had always been seen as not quite right and a bit evil. However, at only 342 years of age, she was still very young and innocent, and it was the hope of her family that she would outgrow this antisocial behaviour. Luckily, news of the fact she had purposely moved into the city never reached her People. It would have been the death of her old gran!

The afternoon passed, and the evening as well. As night drew in, the rain stopped and Niniane peeked out of her tree. It was almost Moonrise. She felt the need for real companionship for the first time in years.

She plucked some of the dead bark from the base of her tree, and fed it to her pet woodlouse. “Keep my house safe while I’m gone, Chip! I’ll be back soon!”

Niniane stood with wings lightly wafting to and fro and contemplated where to go and what to do. She could go to the back garden and look for the hedgehogs. Their subtle humour might help...

Maybe she should fly up to the window of the nasty boy who threw rocks at anything non-human that moved - be it dog, fox or Nixie. There were a few things she could whisper in his dreams that might make him change…

Then the willow tree in the pond on the Common came to mind. Ever since the Big Folk had planted reeds around its borders, the willow had become a favourite spot for Wee Folk to meet and dance in the Moonlight.

It was safe there, for at night the only Big People on the Common were either tramps who would have seen Pixies anyway or the men who were busy looking for slightly different Faeries that were six feet tall and dressed in leather and chains. Most Big Folk were too wrapped up in themselves to ever notice Niniane and her kind.

And so, she rose on a warm updraft and flitted the short distance to the pond. She couldn’t know if anyone would be there or not, all she could do was go to the shore opposite the island and wait and hope.

The Moon rose, full and blue behind her. Even if she hadn’t been Fey she would have known this was a night alive with Magick. Little sparkles of Faery Dust flickered off into the ether. Niniane wasn’t even aware of them as she found a place that was not too muddy to sit and contemplated a future with dry feet and maybe even some companionship.

“Even if I sit here by myself, it’s good to get away from my tree for awhile.”

“You’re not alone,” came a gentle raspy whisper. “We welcome your company, and others like you are coming. Be patient.”

Although there was no breeze, the rushes caressed Niniane gently, offering their love to her, and they all added their whispers to those of the brave bulrush who had addressed her first. She stroked the reeds, loving the feel of the baby bulrushes all furry in her hands.

As she sat there, she heard the music of fey pipes and drums as some wingless figures clad in blue and green crept into the Moonlight and launched little leaf boats to cross to the island of the willow.

“Well met, Water Sprites!” she said as the first little boat was skimming through the reeds nearby.

“Who speaks? We didn’t know there were other water babies here!”

“Uh, I’m not. I’m a Wood Faery.”

“You can’t be,” said one Sprite bravely. “Wood Faeries are companionable and always travel in groups. You’re not a Bogle trying to confound us are you? Beware for we know strong Magick against your kind!”

They launched the last boat for the island squealing in mock terror and leaving Niniane alone on the shore. She could see them dancing beneath the willow and laughing. She felt even lonelier than before.

Although she waited until the Moon had travelled far across the sky, no Faeries ever came.

Niniane went back to her holly tree and sat thinking about how alone she felt, and how it seemed centuries since she had anyone to talk to who understood Magick.

It would also be very nice indeed to be snug and warm… A drop of water splashed to the ground in front of her and she sighed. It was raining AGAIN!

As she looked where the drop had fallen, she saw it had landed on a wrapped packet. She realised it must have been left there by the Solitary Witch who lived in the block of flats by her holly tree.

The Witch always left food used in Ritual and offerings at the tree, and Niniane thought she seemed truly Magickal. Despite the fact she had always been warned to avoid the Big Folk, Niniane quite liked this one.

The packet fascinated her, and she kept looking at it. “I wonder what’s in it? She’s left it under my holly tree, so I have every right to know…”

It was covered in a scrap of orange silk tied with a bit of natural twine. “Well, even if there’s nothing worthwhile inside I have a nice new silk stole,” she thought.

The knots were large and awkward for her Faery fingers, but she managed it. She unwrapped it, and found it contained a lovely amethyst crystal and a piece of homemade paper with Big Folk writing on it. It tingled as she touched it, and she knew it was a strong Spell. She also knew the person who wrote it was working good Magick, and she sensed other feelings as well – feelings that seemed much like hers.

She ran her fingers over the letters on the paper. They meant nothing to her. She wondered if anyone she knew could read it to her. Rollo didn’t read…hedgehogs hadn’t enough common sense, the moths fluttering about her were only interested in the twinkles of her Faery Dust, and while her plant friends would always be willing help her, they had no eyes…

She fell asleep trying to think of a solution; with her beloved companion Chip curled against her.

She awoke after dawn stiff and damp from sleeping outdoors. She stretched and greeted the holly tree with a hug to the trunk. “Blessed be, Holly Tree! I hope the Sun continues to shine for you today!”

Then she remembered the Witch’s Spell! Chip was lying on it, and nibbling a corner of it for his breakfast. “No! Bad woodlouse!” Niniane snatched the paper from him, and substituted a handy bit of plane tree bark.

The amethyst crystal had rolled away down the slope to the rutted and muddy driveway, and lay glittering in a shaft of Sunlight. Just as she skipped up and bent to retrieve it, a raven landed beside it as well.

“Oh! Pardon me”, the raven said. “I didn’t know this belonged to you. Didn’t even know there were any other Wee Folk around here!”

“It’s all right”, Niniane replied. “The Witch left it here with a Spell. It just rolled away while I slept…WAIT! OTHER Wee Folk? Please, Raven, who do you know? Where do they live?”

“Ah, that would be telling, and as you are all own your own how do I know I can trust you? Lone Faeries have a reputation for being, well, dangerous sometimes.”

“No, please madam, I’m not tricksy at all. Just very lonely. My name’s Niniane, this is my holly tree, and there by the root is Chip my pet, so please don’t have him for breakfast.”

“Nicely said, Niniane. I’m called Morrigan in honour of the Goddess whose Totem I am. I’ll admit you don’t look very evil. What’s more, your pet can rest easy. Woodlice are too crunchy for my taste.”

“Thanks.” Niniane breathed a sigh of relief. “Won’t you sit beneath my tree and tell me about the Faeries you know?”

The raven cocked a bright eye at her. “I’m not happy on the ground for long - there’s a cat in the block of flats. Can we go in your tree? It will be easier for me to show you something from there as well.”

Together they flew high into the holly, above where the leaves had prickles, and settled side by side. “Holly tree, this is my new friend Morrigan.”

To her surprise, the tree seemed to respond with a slight sway. Niniane grinned taking this as a very good sign indeed.

Morrigan looked westward over the road. “Do you see the house with the blue door? An Italian family lives there on the top floor. They have a Lares Familiaris that’s been with the family for generations.”

“A Lar? But that’s an old Roman House Spirit. A Guardian of the Hearth! I thought they had passed to the Summerland with the old Gods of Rome.”

“Ah, they didn’t die. Most are just sleeping, and in the heart of some Big Folk the Old Ways always beat strongly. That Italian family are some, and Witch who left this amethyst is another.”

“But how might the Lar help me? Do you think he can read this?”

“Yes, I do,” said the raven. “Because he lives inside the house by the hearth, he has had access to centuries of Big Folk knowledge. He can read and write, and often amuses my fledglings for me with funny stories from something called the Sunday Sport. Here’s what I suggest. You come with me to his window, and bring the Spell. He’ll read it for you.”

Niniane folded the paper into a tight enough packet to carry, and followed the raven as she flew to the living room window of the second floor flat. Morrigan landed neatly on the wide window ledge, and tapped with her beak on the pane.

“Marcus! Wake up! I need to speak with you.”

As Niniane watched, a small stocky figure peeped out from behind the leg of the electric fire that sat in the old fireplace. He hopped nimbly to the windowsill and easily raised the window high enough to slip through.

“Ah! Bella Fortuna, Donna Morrigan! How are you?”

The Lar was a similar height to Niniane but wingless and dressed flamboyantly in a toga and sandals. As he hopped out the window, he caught sight of Niniane for the first time, and a gleam came to his jet-black eyes.

“Cara Mia! Who is this dolce bambino?”

“Enough, you old reprobate!” This is my friend Niniane and we’ve come to you for help,” said Morrigan. “Can you read any Big Folk writing or only their newspapers?”

“I have been with the Ancestores of my familia since they invaded this cold island. I came with Flavia Arcturion and her husband when he was assigned as a proconsul, and have learned Latin, Saxon, Norman, English and thanks to the current scion of this familia I have great Street Cred as well. I may prefer the Sunday Sport and other tabloids, but there is nothing written in this land I cannot read.” He held out his hand for the piece of paper.

Niniane extended the folded paper to him. Marcus unfolded it, and sat on the bottom of it, indicating she should do the same at the top to hold it in place. He began to study the curved letters there.

After a few moments of intense study, he looked up seriously and spoke solemnly. “This is powerful Magick, Cara Mia. But it is good Magick, and it was the hand of the Goddess who brought you here. If this were in one of my beloved newspapers, it would be what they call a Want Ad. It is a Help Wanted, Situation Vacant! This Witch, she is looking for a House Spirit. Listen to what she writes:

‘Vesta Virgin of hearth and home,
I seek a Sprite who will not roam.

A gentle Wee One, Gnome or Faery
To bless my hearth and keep it merry.

Household Lares long have been
Close at hand but seldom seen.

My hearth is also Sacred Space
With Altar in the fireplace.

I swear my house elf will be fed
With bowl of milk and slice of bread.

Beneath the Altar, if you peep,
Is a place where one could sleep.

And so, dear Vesta, I do pray
Accept the gift I send your way.

I ask you please to grant my boon
And send a Faery very soon!’

“It’s signed White Cougar. Did she indeed enclose a gift for Vesta?” Asked Marcus.

“Yes. An amethyst. It’s too big for me to fly with, and I left it at my tree. Can you carry it, Morrigan?”

“I’m sure I can. But why? What do you want it here for?”

“Don’t you see? It’s what I’ve been looking for! Companionship. Some purpose to my life. Dry feet! The Witch wants a guardian for her hearth. I want a new home! We need each other!”

“Slow down, little one!” Marcus interrupted. “You aren’t a Lar. You’re a Wood Elf! It isn’t a decision to make lightly.”

“Well let’s ask Vesta. After all, the Spell is to her. Can’t you call her, Marcus?”

“In over 2000 years I have never called personally upon her, but I suppose I could. Go get the amethyst, Morrigan, and we will work the Spell. You’d better come in by my hearth, Niniane,” said Marcus.

Morrigan was back before they had time to do more than settle themselves. She flew directly in to them, and dropped the amethyst at Marcus’ feet.

“I know the Big Ones are still in bed, but I can’t stay in here. I wish you all the best, little Faery, but I must be off. I hope we meet again.” She fluttered to the window and was gone.

Niniane turned to the Lar. He smiled encouragingly at her and spoke gently. “We put the crystal here on the paper directly in front of the hearth, join hands over it and chant the words the Witch has written.”

As they did this, the crystal glittered with inner fire and burned brightly. Suddenly it burst into a shaft of pure purple flame!

“We will know any minute if Vesta will help you. The fire burns purple with the amethyst, and doesn’t go out. That looks like a good sign to me,” said Marcus.

As they watched the flame, they saw the elemental animals of Fire appearing – snakes and salamanders.

Then there was a sudden bright glow that coalesced into Vesta herself. She held a flame between her fingertips, and looked at the odd duo with a slightly bemused expression.

“Lares Marcus? What is going on? Today is the 7th of June – my major festival of Vestalia. Mothers from all over the Pagan world WANT to honour me, and you call me to your hearth in cold Britannia. Why?”

Marcus looked from Vesta to Niniane and back to Vesta again without speaking. He had guarded the hearths of a Romanesque family for many centuries, but it was the first time he had seen her whom he and they worshipped.

Marcus seemed unable to form a coherent word, so Niniane spoke up as politely as she knew how.

“Dear Goddess Vesta, I’m a Wood Faery who longs to live inside. I’m not like most of my kind. I get wingrot in the damp and athlete’s foot between my toes from all the rain. There is a Witch who has honoured the Old Ways for some time and she seeks a House Spirit. I would fill that vacancy.” She stopped speaking with a gulp, and stood looking at the beautiful Goddess.

Vesta did her best to hide a smile as she looked at the earnest little Faery. “What is the name of this Witch and where does she live?”

“In one of the flats across the street from here. Her name is White Cougar.”
“Ah, yes. I have heard of her! When Hecate comes to visit me, she speaks of this Witch who has a Shrine to Hecate at her hearth, along with ones to Sekhmet and Elen. White Cougar has made some life changes along the way as well. So... She wants a Guardian for her hearth, and you think you could fill the bill?”

“Yes, my Lady, I do. She has never had a Lar and I have never been one. We could learn together.”

“Fair enough, but what of you little friend Chip? What of your Holly Tree?” Asked Vesta.

Niniane considered long and hard before she spoke. “I have seen the flats for many years. They are old and run down. A woodlouse under the hearth would be unremarkable there. As for my Holly Tree, although he is very beautiful and has sheltered me for many years, I believe he is a solitary creature and will not miss me. Besides, that’s where White Cougar always leaves her gifts, so I could go along and say hello.”

“You’ve really thought about this. All right. I will follow the Witches’ custom of a year and a day. You may go dwell at the hearth of White Cougar. If after the required time has passed you are both still happy with arrangement, you will be her Lares Familiaris, and as long as she provides you with a dwelling place you will remain with her. SO MOTE IT BE!” The flames rushed upward in a flash, and Vesta was gone.

“I think that went well,” said Marcus.

“Yes, thanks. You were a great help,” said Niniane sarcastically, and then realising he had truly been afraid, she added “I couldn’t have done it without you, dear Marcus. Once I’m a Lar I’ll lose my wings, I suppose, but until then, I’ll come to see you, if I may. And you can always send messages by Morrigan.”

He grinned at her. “Yes, Cara Mia. I will do that. Even though I have the Big Folk, it’s nice to have another like me nearby. It has been so very long.” He kissed her on the cheek, and watched as she fluttered to the window and away.

Niniane went to the holly tree, and into her little house in the roots for the last time. She picked up her rain hat and the square of orange silk. Chip knew something was up and was getting under her feet so she used the silk to wrap him up and stepped outside, shutting and locking the door for the last time.

“Off somewhere nice?” asked the ivy.

“I think so. I’m going to live with White Cougar.”

“Ooh. She’s the Witch who greets your tree isn’t she? It should be lovely there.” The ivy sent a tendril to gently hug Niniane. “All the best dearie.”

Niniane then turned to her tree. “Dearest Holly! I do love you. Thank you for sheltering me all these years.” Niniane hugged the tree tightly, then turned and flew resolutely away to her new life.

“I love you too.” Whispered a small voice from deep inside the prickly old tree.

*        *        *

Situation Vacant © MommaWhiteCougar


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