This week’s tale follows the story of a young girl who dreams of a better life. Trapped in a world where she can’t be anything other than a mother and a wife. Pip dreams of something greater. To escape her fate and to be able to walk again.
The wagon rumbled and shook as the horses cantered down the dirt path. Long trips were never comfortable in these contraptions, every rock and bump rattled you to your bones. The constant jarring motion and swaying of the carriage was enough to make you sick but I was over the sickness and now just felt the yearning to get out of this rickety death trap. Breathe the fresh air and read my book under the trees.
Father never approved of my ‘daydreaming’ proclivities. He always insisted that a girl should spend her time learning to be useful. Sadly the only jobs he thought were appropriate for girls was the ‘art’ of being a wife and running a household and let us not forget. Making herself appealing to the eye. I honestly could not think of anything more vile. But fathers word was law in our house. So I had spent the last 17 years of my life learning the art of being a lady.
I had grown up in London, a bustling metropolitan full of adventures and excitement. My best friend Mary and I would play together most days and take class together too. We had grown inseparable over the years. But now we are moving to a village in the country. A little place known as ‘Castle Hedingham’ in the North of Essex. Mother was upset at losing potential high class suitors for me and worried for our social standing. But father insisted on the matter. He claimed that the country air would do us all good. But we knew the real reason behind our moving. Father was a gambler and had wracked up an insurmountable dept. which he paid off by selling our estate. Now all we could afford was the country cottage in the little village of Castle Hedingham.
“Father’s Word Was Law.”
I suppose I should introduce you to everyone. There is of course father as you know, better known as Lord Thomas Quinning. A misogynistic and backwards man even for the conservative 1700’s. He had an awful temper which all of us had experienced at some point in our lives. It was best to simply do what father said and get on with it.
Then there is mother, the lovely and elegant Lady Elizabeth Quinning. She was a mild mannered and beautiful woman. The envy of every man and the picture of elegance and grace. Everything you could want in a woman as father would say.
I have a little brother named George. But we called him Georgie. He was ten years old and about as rambunctious as you would expect. Always causing some kind of ruckus or pranking the poor house servants. He was a mischievous imp and always at the heart of the action.
That of course leaves me, the disabled young miss Phillipa Quinning. Destined to marry some rich old man. Not a life I wanted for myself but I hadn’t the luxury of a choice. I could either do what was expected and live or leave home. A crippled girl would not get far and how would I make a living? You can tell I have put a great deal of thought into my options. In the end though I always stay here. But now I have even less than before. Leaving my home I lost my best friend and any opportunity to learn and better myself. Now I was truly trapped in this woeful tale. Friendless. Bound to lands unknown. But I would make the best of it. Perhaps the country would hold something new. The potential was endless. Or that is what I told myself.
“The Disabled Young Miss Phillipa Quinning.”
The carriage came to a halt, I felt grateful for the stillness after so long in the carriage. I glanced outside the window, I saw the quaint stone cottage that was to be our home. It seemed nice enough to me, I always thought the finery society flaunted to be rather dull and meaningless. Though my mother might disagree.
The footman opened the door and everyone got out of the cramped carriage.
“Oh isn’t this lovely. It is bigger than we thought it would be. Isn’t it dear?” Mother tried to lift everyone’s spirits. True the cottage was rather large and exponentially larger than many of the other homes around here. But it was still a downgrade from the modern house we called home in London.
Father grunted. “Yes. I suppose it will do.” He was a man of few words and without saying anything further he strode into the house.
Mother scurried after him, a forced smile on her face. “Come along children. Do keep up.”
Georgie and I walked in after our parents. I took up the rear as always. My foot was twisted and walking was painful so I tended to take my time.
Inside, the house was more modern. The fresh paint smell lingered on the walls and everything looked clean and new. Perhaps we would be alright here after all.
I heard father’s gruff voice calling to me from the living room. The rest of my family had gathered there.
“Pip, Georgie, the wagon with the furniture will be here soon. Why don’t you go and explore the grounds for a while?” Mother smiled as she spoke. But I could see right through her cheery façade. She missed London already.
Father ignored us and stared out the window. Watching for the wagon or perhaps just thinking. It was hard to tell with him.
“Perhaps we Would be Alright After All.”
“Yes mother.” Georgie quickly said and just as quickly he was off. No doubt looking for some poor creature to catch and torture us with.
“Yes Mother.” I chimed. I smiled and turned, hobbling down the corridor. I could hear my parents start to argue. Mother berated father. She was worried for our futures but father was a proud man and seldom admitted he was wrong.
I had grown used to the sharp words they would hurl at each other so I followed my brother out of the house. He scurried off to explore an old tree house. I was too old for such things so I decided to wander around the garden. As I rounded the corner I heard a baleful tune. I looked around the summer garden, nothing but wildflowers and manicured hedges were around me. No sign of anyone or the source of the music.
I listened carefully. I was certain it was a violin and it was coming from the forest. Looking around I saw mother and father through the window. They were arguing, though I could not hear their words. My brother was climbing a tree. So I took my chance and I followed the tune.
The cords were tinted with despair somehow. Whoever was playing was unhappy or lonely. I felt drawn to the sound. My curiosity had always been something of a blemish on my otherwise amiable personality according to my mother.
I followed an animal trail further into the forest and after a few minutes of walking I saw a clearing. In the centre was a sparkling blue pool and standing in the water was a man playing the violin.
“As I Rounded the Corner I Heard a Baleful Tune.”
When he saw me he stopped playing and watched me warily. The way he watched me felt animalistic. Like he was deciding whether to stand his ground or flee. The man was handsome and young, lithe of build and long dark hair which cascaded over his shoulders. His piercing blue eyes continued to watch me as I walked closer.
“My name is Pip. What is your name?” I asked quietly.
He lowered his violin and tilted his head as if confused by the question. I feared I had offended him in some way. Perhaps he could not speak.
“It is okay if you can’t tell me.”
The man watched me for a moment more, he seemed to be contemplating whether to answer or not.
“I am called Ronan.”
I smiled. At least he could speak. Perhaps I would not be so lonely out here after all.
“That is an interesting name. Do you come here often?”
“Most days.” He spoke quietly and kept his answer short but he seemed friendly.
“It is beautiful here. I can see why you like visiting this place.” I sat down on the ground. Careful to keep my skirts out of the way. Ronan sat on the edge of the pond, his feet still in the water. Careful to keep a distance away from me. He seemed scared of me which was odd. I never saw myself as a frightening person.
We chatted for what must have been hours. About everything and nothing. Only when I heard my mother calling my name did I realise that the sun had started to go down.
“I am Called Ronan.”
I got to my feet, shakily standing. My twisted foot made it hard to move quickly. I saw Ronan watching, he tilted his head questioningly.
“I must go. Mother is calling and it is getting late.” I waved goodbye as I started to leave. I turned to see him watching me carefully. His bright eyes followed my every move. I stopped. What could it hurt. There was nothing to lose and I did not want to lose my new friend. So I asked him.
“Can I come back and see you tomorrow?” I asked.
Ronan nodded and smiled.
I left the clearing, with a spring in my step and my chest feeling light. It had been a good day amidst being uprooted from all that I knew. But now I had someone I could talk to. Ronan did not talk much but he listened and was interesting. There was something odd about him I could not put my finger on but at least I had a friend.
I met with Ronan every day as soon as I was free of my studies and had a moment alone. Any time I was free from my mother’s sight I would steal away to my secret friend. There was something magical about the clearing. It seemed like it was a world apart from everywhere else I had known.
But Ronan was there. I had not met anyone else my age in the village and I missed the company. But with my friend there was something to look forward to in my day. We saw each other every day for weeks. Each day they grew closer.
”There was Something Magical About the Clearing.”
We had been seeing each other for months now. The leaves were starting to turn orange and the days turned cold. But we still spoke every day. It was a particularly cold Autumn day that everything changed. Ronan was standing in the water, he seemed lost in thought. It was not until I called his name that he turned and acknowledged me.
“Hi Ronan, are you alright? You seem a little out of it.”
He shrugged as he turned and waded to the edge of the pool.
“Isn’t it getting a little cold to swim?” I asked. He was a curious one, every time I saw him he was in the water. Ronan stayed quiet. He was not himself today or something was on his mind.
“You can tell me anything you know. We are best friends and nothing could change that.”
“But what if I am not…who you think I am.”
I was confused, he was the person I had spoken to every day for the past six months. He was strange and something was not quite right about him but I had grown to love Ronan and I was sure nothing would change that.
“You are my best friend Ronan and you always will be.”
He sighed and stood up.
“Then, there is something I must show you.”
Ronan wades into the centre of the pond. The water coming up to his waist. He turns to me, a sad expression on his face. He seemed certain whatever this secret was it would change everything.
“There is Something I Must Show You.”
The water started to ripple around him and the water climbed up his body. Slowly engulfing his whole body until it dragged him under the water. I had no idea what was happening, I would hardly believe my eyes. Everything I was seeing was entirely impossible and yet it was unfolding before my very eyes. Ronan had disappeared under the water. Just when I was starting to worry he had been under too long. A large black creature broke the surface. I stumbled backwards, fear crept into my bones as it walked closer to me. Was this what Ronan wanted to show me?
I focused on the creature. It was large and lean and appeared to be a black horse. Its eyes glowed a deep blue and its shiny black coat was flecked with iridescent blue. It was quite possibly the most beautiful creature I had ever seen and then it spoke.
“Do not fear me. No harm will come to you Pip.”
When Ronan’s voice came from the horse I was taken aback. This whole thing was entirely unbelievable and yet it made so much sense. I was not familiar with many creatures from lore but I was certain I knew this one. Ronan was a Kelpie.
The creatures nodded in response, bowing its head to me and it nudged me. I reached out and touched his nose.
“What are you?
“Here you call me ‘Kelpie’. Fierce creatures who drown and devour their victims. I am sure you have heard the stories.”
“You Won’t Hurt me though. Will you?”
“Ronan was a Kelpie.”
The Kelpie lifts its head and takes a step back. His eyes seemed sad.
“I could never harm you.”
I got to my feet shakily and walked over to Ronan. Reaching out I stroked his neck. The fur smooth and wet to the touch.
“I believe you.” I said quietly.
Suddenly I heard my mother calling my name again. I looked up in the direction. Ronan stepped back, his ears pinned back against his head.
“I should go.” I started to leaven when I heard a splash behind me. Turning around in time to see Ronan’s tail disappear under the water. I left the clearing. Ronan was an ancient creature I had only heard about in books. A Kelpie, a creature from Scottish lore said to lure victims to watery graves before being devoured. Yet Ronan had not harmed me.
We had grown close. Spoken every day and even grown to love one another. But what would happen to us now? He was an immortal being. Was I doomed to wither and wilt like a flower while he remained?
I reached the house, mother was standing at the door, her arms crossed and an impatient look on her face.
“Phillipa! Where have you been? Your father has been waiting for you.” She ushered me inside fussing over my hair and dress. Guiding me to the study she strode over to father who was sat by the fireplace and another man stood by the window. He was older with greying hair and the nasty smell of tobacco clung to him.
“Your Father has Been Waiting for You.”
“Ah Phillipa, meet Mr Short.” Father said.
I curtsied and Mr Short bowed his head.
“How do you do?” I asked.
Mr Short just grunted and sat opposite father.
“How old did you say she was?”
“Seventeen I believe isn’t that right dear?” Father glanced at mother who nodded back at him. She stood behind me, a rather pinched expression on her face.
“Ah, very good. Intact as well?”
“Of course she is. We raised her to be a God fearing woman.”
“Very good. Very good. Well Mr Quinning I don’t see why we can’t shake on it then.”
“Excellent. Let us discuss the details.” Father waved his hands at us and mother dragged me from the room. My body was cold. I could hardly believe what was happening. Was I to be bartered off to this man like an animal at auction? I was disgusted. Was this really happening to me? I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. They spoke of me as if I were no more than a sow to be sold. What hurt more was that mother had stood by and done nothing about it. I ran upstairs to my room and shut the door. My mind was spinning. What could I do? Run away? But where would I go and how would I survive? I felt numb.
Then I thought of Ronan. All the times we had talked and laughed together over the months. If only it could be that way forever. As much as I did not want to go through with this awful business I knew that there was no other option. So I lay on my bed and fell into a restless slumber.
“Was I to be Bartered off Like an Animal?”
The following morning I awoke early. The sun was barely up and it was still dark outside. I had not changed out of my dress from the day before but I could not find the energy to care. All I wanted was to see Ronan. So I grabbed my coat and put on a pair of shoes and left the house.
The forest was strangely quiet this early in the morning. A few birds chirped in the distance and the wind whipped the leaves into a frenzy. It was peaceful to me, nothing but the sounds of the forest all around me.
As I got closer to the pond I heard the violin again. I had not heard Ronan play it since the first day I met him. The tune was sorrowful but I couldn’t help but feel hope at the sound. Ronan was there and that was all I wanted. I picked up the pace, running toward the sound. My foot hurt, the sudden increase in pace causing that ever present dull ache to flare up. But I did not care, I kept going and soon I broke through the thicket around the pond.
Ronan saw me and quickly put his violin down. He stepped out of the water, holding his arms open as I ran into his embrace. Wrapping his arms around me Ronan held me close and I felt myself breaking down. Tears streamed down my face as I held onto him.
“What is wrong Pip?” he asked quietly.
I let go of him and sat down on the dew covered grass. Ronan sat down beside me, worry creased his brow as he watched me carefully.
“Father is marrying me off.” I spoke quietly. Almost fearful that the words would frighten Ronan away.
“The Sun was Barely up & it was Still Dark Outside.”
Ronan was quiet for a moment. I was not sure how he would react to the news. Would he leave me? Did I have to go through everything on my own? Suffering this terrible fate alone?
“You do not want this?” He asked.
I shook my head, wiping the tears from my face.
“Come with me.” Ronan spoke quietly.
I looked at him questioningly.
“How can I do that? I am not a…kelpie like you?”
Ronan stood up and walked toward the water. He was quiet for a time, just staring off into the water deep in thought.
“I know…a way.” He spoke so quietly I barely caught the words.
“What do you mean?”
“There is old magic. The kelpie’s have kept it hidden for centuries. I could use it on you. Make you one of us.”
He turned to look at me. Watching me intently as I weighed up his words. There was a way I could be free. But I would have to leave my family. As horrible as they were, sometimes I loved them dearly. Leaving them meant I could be free. To go where I pleased and be with someone I loved. The decision seemed obvious to me at that moment.
“What do I have to do?”
Ronan strode over to me, crouching in front of me. His black coat splayed over the ground. He studied my face intently, his expression serious.
“Are you certain? You will not be able to see your family again. Nor will you be able to leave the water for long. Kelpies are hunted by man and so we must stay hidden.”
“Come With Me.”
Ronan stood up and extended his hand to me. Taking it he helped me to my feet. He took me to the edge of the pond. The water was dark in the centre as if it were unfathomably deep. Even in the early morning light the blue sheen on the water was beautiful. The reflections danced over the water making it look alive to the naked eye. I heard the scraping, ringing sound of metal and saw Ronan pulling an old knife out of his boot. He held the rusted blade in his hand, letting go of me as he pricked his thumb. Blood pooled at the wound. The red liquid running down his thumb.
“Are you certain you want this?” Ronan asked quietly.
I nodded. He turned to face me and placed his hand on my shoulder.
“Open your mouth.”
“What for?” I was genuinely curious how this whole business was going to work.
“You must consume the blood of a kelpie for the spell to work.”
I shrugged and opened my mouth. We had known each other for so long. I trusted him.
Ronan held his hand over my mouth, his blood running down his finger. A few drops landed on my tongue. The taste was metallic. Not unpleasant but I would not recommend it.
“Now what?” I asked as the taste dissipated.
I did not have time to register his words. Suddenly he took hold of me and we dived into the water. Ronan transformed into the black stallion, taking us deeper and deeper into the pond. We kept going until I could see no light at all. Everything around me was pitch black and I was losing breath.
I started to panic as I felt the need for oxygen. Had Ronan tricked me? Was his plan to drown me and devour me just like the kelpie legends had said? I could not believe it but here I was. Deep under water with no way to get out of this mess. I took a breath and icy cold water filled my lungs. Then I did not feel Ronan’s warmth any more. He was gone and I was going to die alone in the dark. I thrashed around in the water. Feeling my consciousness starting to fade.
There I lay in darkness. The cold grip of death around me. Was this it? Floating in the cold till the end of time. Suddenly I felt warmth coursing through my veins and I opened my eyes. Ronan was beside me. His coat glowing in the darkness, his blue light illuminating the water around us.
“Now you will be one of us.”
I heard his voice in my mind. Looking down I saw the powerful form of a horse. I had changed into a kelpie.
“Forgive me Phillipa. To become one of us you had to die by the water. Only then could you be reborn as a kelpie.”
He had kept his word and how I could be with him forever. I was free. It was Ronan that made it all possible. That is the tale of how I came to live my life the way I wanted. I escaped my fate and wrote my own story. All it too was taking that last step into the abys.
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