An Aunt Truly’s Tale: Taken

by | Sep 6, 2020 | Aunt Truly's Tales, Fiction, Short story, Storytelling | 2 comments

Years ago, when I was involved in the San Francisco Bay Area’s vibrant storytelling community, and by that I mean a group of people dedicated to the ancient art of telling tales live to an audience, I used to tell this story. It’s one of my favorites, and I felt like I was tapping into the power of my Irish ancestors, especially when singing the song I wrote for the main character. I plan to include it in Aunt Truly’s Tales.

By Laura McHale Holland

Not so very long ago, in the deep of an Irish night, a farmer near Fermoy sat in the shadows of his kitchen, waiting. While his family slept, he was in the dark, listening. 

Then through the door came an extraordinary young woman. She had long flowing hair shining in a glint of moonlight, fine features, the most beautiful he’d ever seen. She walked gracefully to his table, lifted a bowl of milk to her lips and drank it all. Then she turned and headed for the door, and the farmer rose and stepped into her path.

“Who are you, and why have you been coming here in the night, taking any food and drink we might happen to leave out?” He demanded.

She pointed to the empty bowl. “That was all I wanted.”

“It seems we’ve been feeding you for quite a long time. I deserve more of an explanation than that, lass.”

Her bottom lip quivered, and she swayed, losing her balance. The farmer took her arm, brought her back to the table, and sat down with her. “There now, it can’t be that bad. Come, tell me. Go on now. Tell me.”

She replied in song: 

I was a lass in Ventry parish and there I married a lad

We farmed the land workin’ hand in hand

But in less than a year things turned bad

For I grew ill consumed by fever and coughin’ night and day

Twas a sorry plight, none could set me right

And I saw death a comin’ my way

On my own, am I; all alone, I cry

Will no one rescue me?

I begged my man to tell my parents to come and take me home

For I longed to be with my family

near the hills I could never more roam

At the hearth I lay and my dear mother sat close throughout the night

She is not to blame that her skirt caught flame

At the moment the faeries took flight

On my own, am I; all alone, I cry

Will no one rescue me?

They carried me right here to Fermoy and now I know only strife

I refuse their bread for I know it’s said

If I do I’ll be theirs all my life

So I sneak outside when right at midnight the faeries dance and play

And your food I eat but then retreat

If they caught me I’d dearly pay

On my own, am I; all alone, I cry

Will no one rescue me?

So I beg you now to write my people and tell them where I dwell

They’re named O’Shea; they must find a way

To get me released from this hell

On my own, am I, all alone, I cry

Will no one rescue me?

Her appeal finished, the woman looked down at her lap. 

The farmer put a hand on her arm, cleared his throat and said, “I’ll write you that letter, dear.”

She looked up, eyes wide with hope. “Be sure to tell my mother about the fire. She’ll remember that and know it really is me that needs her now. She’ll know the faeries replaced me with a dying changeling.”

She then returned to the faeries, for they let down their guard only at midnight and only for a short time. It was then she would slip away from their fort, called a liss, but she could walk only a short distance. It was as though they had her leashed, and on her own, she could not break their spell. 

The farmer wrote the letter to the O’Sheas in Ventry parish and put a seal on it to show how important it was. When the parents read the letter, they were beside themselves. They didn’t know what to do. They didn’t even know if they should tell her husband. They had thought it was their bonnie daughter, not a changeling they had buried. And her husband had remarried after a respectable period of mourning. Now he and his new wife had two children. The O’Sheas were so distraught, all they did was keen at the impostor’s grave and curse the faeries every day.

But the beautiful young woman kept returning to the farmer in Fermoy, and he kept writing letters for her. The O’Sheas finally told the husband about the situation. He was deeply troubled and sought advice from his friends. Soon all the neighbors knew, and throughout the parish, people talked about how it didn’t seem right to leave the stolen wife in the liss with the faeries.

Finally, after the seventh letter, the husband, mother and father determined they must fetch her. Along the way, in Dingle, they noticed a church near the road. They stopped in to ask the priest for advice on how to go about the rescue. 

He listened with much compassion as their feelings poured out. But then he said to the husband, “Ah, this is a hard case, very hard, but you know, lad, it’s not right for a man to have two wives. It would cause upset throughout the countryside.”

“Oh, I wasn’t planning to bring her back to Ventry parish, Father,” the husband replied. “We can send her to relatives in America. She can start a new life there.”

“I’m sorry, son, but no matter where in the world she is, she would still be your wife. So you see, it would be a greater evil for you to go against the Pope than to let your wife live out her days with the faeries, eating their bread. The faeries are not of this world, you see.”

The mother, father and husband felt great sorrow at this, torn between the church they relied upon cradle to grave and their love for their precious girl. They talked and prayed for hours, but they found no way around what the priest said. So with slow steps and heavy hearts, they reversed course and went home.

The mother wrote a letter to the farmer in Fermoy telling him that it broke their hearts, but they were not coming, and she told him why. When the farmer received the letter, he left it on the table, beside a bowl of milk. Then in the deep of that night, the breathtaking beauty walked in, picked up the letter, read it and put it in her skirt pocket. Ignoring the milk, she turned and walked out the farmer’s door. 

This and other images in this post are from Pixabay.

He heard her singing as she slipped away:

On my own, am I; all alone, I cry

No one will rescue me

Back in the liss, the faeries offered her a piece of bread, and for the first time, she accepted their food. She brought it to her lips, bit into the sweet, savory crust, and smiled.

The End

How does this make you feel? Would have have made a different decision than the family did, given their time and place in history? Do you think the woman in the list will be OK?

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  1. Sara Etgen-Baker

    I believe she’ll be okay. I love layered stories like yours. Thanks for sharing

  2. Laura

    I think she’ll be okay, too, Sara. When I first encountered the story, I didn’t. I’m so happy you love layered stories.

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