I woke up to the sound of birdsong. I sensed the sun breaking over the horizon and sighed with contentment. I’d slept peacefully again, thanks to the dream-catcher that hung outside my bedroom window.
Pulling back the curtains, I looked up at it. It was old now. It had been made a long ago by Fiadh, the wise woman who once lived on the outskirts of my village. I can still remember sitting there, watching her make it. All the while, she had chanted softly. At the time I hadn’t understood the words she had sung, but she told me afterwards that she was speaking in the faery tongue, putting a magical spell on the dream-catcher to catch faerie tears.
That magic was still working today.
The old dream-catcher glistened with morning dew, or were they really the tears of the faeries that had been haunting my dreams?
Back then, I had a problem with bedwetting. I regularly suffered from nightmares; terrible visions that stalked my sleep.
My mother had taken me to various doctors, who prescribed various nasty medications that failed to help me. Finally, with some reticence, my mother had taken me to see the old wise woman.
Overnight, I had been cured. I never wet the bed again.
I still have strange and bizarre dreams, of course. That didn’t change. However, the abject terror that had been manifested within the dreams was now gone.
My mind drifted off, remembering the day I had been brought to the village witch.
“Leave us,” commanded Fiadh in a tone that brokered no arguments, “I will speak with the boy alone.”
My mother had hesitated for only a moment before retreating back to our cottage.
I was left alone with the strange old woman.
She scrutinised me for a few moments in silence, as if she was looking into my very soul. Finally, she broke the spell and asked, “Would you like some elderflower juice, Ruadhán? I make it myself. It’s really rather good.”
I was surprised that she knew my name, although her pronunciation of my name was a little strange. Still, I liked it. It sounded much fancier than plain-old Rowan. Nervously, I nodded my head, and then remembering my manners, added, “Yes please, Mrs Quinn.”
She chuckled, “It’s Ms, Ruadhán. I’ve never been married. You can call me Fiadh, though. Come, sit here while I fetch us that cordial, and then we can have a nice long chat.”
She returned with two glasses, and we sat on her porch, watching the day go by. She asked me how I was doing at school, who my friends were, and gradually, my nervousness dissipated. I began to relax. Soon, I was telling her all about my nightmares, things I had never told anyone before; not my friends, or my mother, and certainly not the doctors I had seen.
Perhaps she had put some magical potion into my cordial, but whatever it was, it certainly worked. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders.
When my words finally petered out, she smiled at me and stood. Stepping near, she placed her hands upon my temples and closed her eyes. I waited, watching her eyes twitch behind her eyelids for a few moments.
“You have the gift, lad, and a very strong gift too.” she declared, opening her eyes and looking deep into my own.
“The gift? What gift?” I asked.
“You have been blessed by the Sidhe; the faery folk. They come to you every night.”
“How do you know this?”
“I too have been blessed by the Sidhe,” she declared. “You don’t think I got this wise just by being old, did you?”
I flushed with embarrassment.
“There are many old people, Ruadhán, but few of them are wise … Although, some of them are perhaps wiser than they were when they were young. Take your mother for example. She was once a wild one when she was a gossam, always looking for trouble to stick her nose into. Time has changed her though, and now, from what I hear, she works hard and tries to get along with everyone in the village.”
I was a little taken aback by this revelation. Surely, she was mistaken. She must be thinking of some other girl.
“But let’s not get distracted, shall we? We’re here to talk about you, Ruadhán. You and your nightmares.”
“Can you make them disappear?” I asked.
Sitting down beside me and placing a comforting arm around my shoulders, she replied, “No, Ruadhán, I can’t do that. No one can do that, lad.”
My face fell with disappointment.
“Don’t look so worried, Ruadhán. I might not be able to stop the visions in your head, but all is not lost. You must learn to live with your gift, and over time you will either embrace it, or shut it away in the darkest corner of your mind.”
“What is it exactly?” I asked.
“That’s a little hard to explain, Ruadhán,” she replied. “As you get older, we can go into that in more detail, but for now, let’s just say this. It’s a gift, a gift which few have been blessed with.”
“What does is do?”
“It can do many things, lad. Some few poor souls have gone mad from the gift, but others have been destined to greatness. Let me give you an example. Did you know that all of the great Irish writers, poets, and bards had the gift? It helped them to see what others ignored.”
“I don’t want to go mad!”
“Don’t worry, Ruadhán. You have me to help you, so you won’t go mad. Any time you feel worried or stressed out, you can come here and we can drink a glass of elderflower cordial and talk about it. A problem shared is a problem halved.”
“What about the nightmares, and the bed wetting?”
“Ah! That is something I can help you with. Come along.”
Getting up, she led me to the shed at the back of her cottage. It was dark in there, but she lit a Tilly lamp and soon I could see within. A large table dominated the centre of the room and a small fireplace sat at the back, facing the door. The rest of the room was covered in shelves. Each shelves contained boxes and jars, some dusty with age and neglect.
“This is where I weave my magic, Ruadhán.”
I hovered apprehensively in the doorway.
“Come on in, lad. Nothing will harm you here. I’ll need your help.”
Stepping over the threshold, I asked, “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to wander around, take a good look at everything, and then when you’re ready, I want you to pick a few items that mean something to you.”
I must have given her an odd look, because she chuckled and took me by the hand. “Let me explain. We are going to make you a dream-catcher, a very special one. It will stop you having nightmares.”
“How will it do that?”
“It’ll catch the malicious faeries that whisper bad things while you are sleeping.”
“Oh, yes, I promise.”
“How will I know that it’s working? Will I be able to see the fairies when I wake?” My imagination was running overtime.
“I want you to hang it up outside your window, near to where your head rests on your pillow. Each morning, as soon as you wake up, I want you to look at it. You will see that it has captured the faeries tears.”
“Their tears? I don’t understand.”
“Faeries aren’t bad, Ruadhán. They’re just a little naughty at times. They want to share their secrets with you, but sometimes, their secrets are a little scary, especially for little boys to understand. The dream-catcher will ensnare them when they come to torment you while you sleep, like a spider’s web catches flies. They will hang in my web. Faeries don’t like to get trapped, but it is cruel to keep them like that for they are creatures of the wild woods. They will quickly fade and die, if they are not released. Soon, they will become frightened, and start to cry, realising the error of their ways. The spell I will cast on the dream-catcher will then release them, in exchange for their tears. They will then fly away, leaving you to sleep in peace.”
“Does that mean they will stop whispering in my ear at night?”
“Thankfully, no. Faeries are capricious creatures, with short memories. They will return the following night. You see, they are drawn to you like a moth is drawn to the flame.”
“It is the gift within you. It shines brightly.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“You will … in time. I saw it straight away, when first I saw you. Did you know that I delivered you into this world? Your mother had thought you were going to be a girl, so she had chosen only girl’s names for her baby. She was so surprised when you turned out to be a boy, and she couldn’t think of a suitable name for you, so I suggested she call you Ruadhán. She readily agreed, and you’ve been Ruadhán ever since.”
“So I glow?” I asked, getting back to the subject that interested me most. Fascinating though it as to know how I got my name, I wanted to know more about the faeries.
“Yes, Ruadhán, you glow. Over time I will teach you how to look at people’s spirits, and you’ll be able to see the glow in others too, but for now, just take it from me, you glow, and the fairies can see that from far away. When your awake, your glow is somewhat dimmed, like a candle on a sunny day, but at night it glows brightly. It attracts the faerie-folk to you, both good and bad.”
“And this dream-catcher will prevent the bad ones?”
“Exactly. It will ensnare them and stop them whispering nasty things into your ear.”
“But it won’t harm them?”
“No, it won’t.”
Satisfied, I asked, “What do I have to do?”
“I need you to pick some things that feel special to you. It will make the magic I weave more powerful. I want you to look around the room, at everything you can see here and open your mind to each object. Anything that jumps out at you, I want you to place on the table. I also need something of yours to place in the heart of the dream-catcher, something special to you.”
Instinctively, I knew immediately what that was going to be. It was the lucky marble that I had found the previous year. I had never lost a game while playing with that marble. It was milky white, with flecks of red in it, and was about the size of a wren’s egg. I had found it while walking through the woods, picking blackberries. Rummaging in my pocket, I pulled out some lint, a bit of old bailer twine with a conker attached, and finally, the lucky marble. “Will this do?” I asked, showing it to Fiadh.
“That’ll be perfect,” she replied. “Where ever did you find it?”
“It was in the woods. I found it in a clearing with some mushrooms growing beside it.”
Fiadh looked at my critically. “Mushrooms, you say! What colour were these mushrooms?”
“Red … with white spots on them.” I remembered them quite clearly. “They were a bit odd looking, so I didn’t eat any of them.”
“Good. That would have been a bad idea. Was there anything else unusual about the mushrooms? Where they growing in a circle?”
“Yes! How did you know that? Do you know the place?”
“It could be one of a few places I know, but that is neither here nor there. This bauble was a gift. It was placed in a faerie ring. I believe that it was put there especially for you to find. One of the faerie folk is watching over you.”
I didn’t understand, but Fiadh wouldn’t explain it further at the time. “Later,” she insisted. “We have more important work to do just now. Start rummaging around in those boxes, and I’ll start on your dream-catcher.”
Plucking hairs from her head, she wove a little nest into which she placed the lucky marble. Then, she started to weave a spidery web around the marble. As I selected odd things and placed them on the table, she wove each of them into her pattern. There was a mouse’s skull, a chicken’s talon, a plastic toy soldier, and even some brightly-coloured buttons. I had also selected two magpie tail feathers and three raven wing feathers, which she hung below the dream-catcher.
By the time we had finished, it was almost dark. The day had flown by.
“There you go,” she declared, presenting the dream-catcher to me. “You’ll need your mother’s help to hang it in place outside your bedroom window.”
“Is that all I need to do.”
“No, Ruadhán. The magic I’ve woven into the dream-catcher will wear out over time. It’ll need to be renewed. Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, I want you to come back here. I’ll start teaching you the language of the faerie folk, so that you can say the spell yourself.”
“I’m getting old, and I sense that my passing will not be far away. I have but a few years left on this earth. Someone will have to take over where I leave off, and I believe that that someone is you, Ruadhán. I have foreseen it in my visions, and that bauble you found confirms it. One day, Ruadhán, you will become a Warlock, perhaps the most powerful warlock in Ireland since the days of the druids. I will start you on that journey, but others will come here, and teach you also. They, like the faerie folk, will be drawn to your light.”