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Elder Brother and His Sister

In the harbour the gulls called, answered by the craw of black crows from the fir plantation. The wind billowed the brown curtains and the clock tick-tocked the eternal hours. The crow’s craw became more insistent and the cockerel joined in the bird discussions. The Elder Brother closed his door. ‘Noisy animals’ he muttered darkly and returned to his lathe. Winding and turning the spinning wood took form. As soon as one was completed it joined the ever-growing stack and another fitted into the workbench – the lathe seemed to never stop, so quickly the Elder Brother worked. But then, he was in a desperate rush. In the harbour the excited gulls rhythmic cry announced the homecoming of a fishing boat. He worked on. Another post was tossed onto the pile.

The familiar rusty screech of the iron barred gate being dragged open slipped through the closed door. The sound of a heavy wooden cart being pulled by heavy strong carthorses crunched up to the workshop door. No knock. Not needed. The Elder Brother’s Sister walked in, assessed the pile, assessed the Elder Brother, and started loading the posts onto the wagon. When fully loaded they both silently mounted the driving seat and set off, along the beach road to the fairy hills at the head of the bay.

In a boggy dip between the mounds, where the grass was lush and free of gorse and bracken, they built their enclosure. Once all the posts were set up they sat on a large table like rock and waited. A white swan flew over, neck outstretched, dipping its beak in greeting. A grey heron flew over, its long legs held high, dropping a wing tip to acknowledge their vigil. A white horse leant its muzzle over the stonewall to say hello, and a brown cow hesitated in her grazing to greet them. But the Elder Brother and his Sister were oblivious to all the friendly gestures. All went unnoticed and unreturned. So involved in their pursuit they were. A kindly farmer’s wife noticing their intense unmoving watch stopped by on her way to the fields and offered some bread and cheese. The Elder Brother and his Sister, so intent in their concentration, ignored her. Sometime later the milkmaid carrying a jug of milk for supper, passing near, stopped to offer them a drink of the fresh creamy liquid. But the Elder Brother and his Sister, immersed in their task, heard not a word of the generous gifts.

As the sun set over the westerly islands, the Elder Brother and his Sister felt the chill wind blow its coldness into their bones. Later, at the kitchen table, they sat opposite each other and ladled thin vegetable soup into small shallow bowls. Down hearted and dispirited they sat. The wind gusted through the open windows and blew the curtains as sails on a schooner.

Following a fitful night of deep snores and distressed tossing the Elder Brother and his Sister returned to their silent vigil. For the second time they sat on the table rock and watched the enclosure. Rabbits, inquisitive of this voiceless pair, bounced up to say good morning. Yet they went home without a reply, the two so unaware of anything but their undertaking. A butterfly eased itself from a stiff cocoon and opened its wings to harden, resting on the side of the stone. Neither Elder Brother nor Sister noticed the beauty unfurled, their gazes transfixed on the enclosure. When the sun beat hot and high overhead a lizard sat next to them, bathing in the warmth from the stone. The Elder Brother and Sister pulled their heavy woollen coats closer around them, so cold they felt in their guarding duties.

In a neighbouring field a beekeeper collected honey from the buzzing hives. Having noticed their sedentary watch he came to the hedge and offered some of the golden juice to fortify them. But they heeded not a word of his kindness. Likewise, the drayman stopped on his journey to the Harbour Inn, offering a glass of beer to the two huddled figures, so cold they appeared. Yet, the Elder Brother and his Sister acknowledge none except their small enclosure. The second day passed as the first, and when the stars glinted in the darkening sky, the two returned home from the fairy hills. In the glow of a single candle they ate a meagre dish of porridge.

On the third day the gulls wheeled over the white foam horses on the rising tide. The cockerel stood on top of the hen house, crowing up the sunrise. And the black crows swept up from the pine trees, spiralled on invisible air currents then flew in long glides towards the mountains. The Elder Brother and his Sister were soon in their accustomed seats, dark, unmoving, silent. As the morning advanced the jolly farmer’s wife, then the busy milkmaid, then the happy beekeeper and the cheerful drayman joined them. The four attracted others, and a small chattering crowd formed, watching from the hedgerow, discussing the two figures sat on the table-like rock. But they were unaware of their audience. They sat, as ever, silent and still, watching the enclosure.

When school finished the children joined the adults. They soon tired of watching the unmoving pair and started playing chasing games along the track way, tossing balls amongst the noisy crowd, until, slowly, the parents took them away for tea and bed. One small girl lingered. The pair of dark clad figures, motionless on the stone, entranced her. The final setting rays of the sun had tinged the clouds red, pink and green before she returned home.

Her mother had lain a fine supper of vegetables and fruit, cream and chocolate on the bright gingham cloth of the kitchen table. She eagerly ate and drank, then sat by the cosy fire for her bedtime story. It was a wondrous tale of fairies and princesses, of magical fish and fantastic birds, of unicorns and… ‘Oh, I’ve seen unicorns’ interrupted the child. ‘When have you seen unicorns?’ asked the sceptical mother. ‘Today in the fairy hills’ replied the girl. ‘They were beautiful, with white flowing manes and tails. The two people sat on the stone caught them in their little enclosure. They climbed on their backs and rode off towards the high mountains’. ‘Oh, you and your imagination’ muttered the farmer’s wife, and returned to reading the book.

Page last updated: 13th Jan 2011