The Secret Hollow – By The Faerie♥Kat
The group clustered around the old woman was starting to get impatient. One girl was chewing a hangnail while poking another girl with her foot. In retaliation, the other girl was scowling ferociously, making cross-eyed faces and sticking out her tongue. Two boys, who appeared to be identical twins, were pulling each other’s ears to see if they could make them longer. Five girls sat in a circle, each trying to braid the hair of the one in front of her, but instead making terrible tangles and causing each other to yelp when someone pulled too hard.
Nearby, a smaller boy was tapping his toes together and examining his elbow with suspicion. Everywhere fingers were tapping on knees and eyes were rolling, sure signs of restlessness. Two of the slightly larger boys climbed onto the arm of the rocking chair and looked into the face of the old woman, but didn’t dare to wake her up.
The ‘old woman’ wasn’t asleep and she wasn’t even old. She would turn forty next year, which in the eyes of her restless audience of approximately fifty little ones must surely qualify her as ancient. With a small sigh of appreciation for their attempts to be quiet and let her rest, she straightened her small frame in her rocking chair, adjusted her aching shoulders, and opened her eyes, ready to provide the promised entertainment.
“Granny Clare!” they all cried out at once, as they arranged themselves in a tight half circle at her feet. A few battled each other to perch on the rocking chair arms and sit on Granny Clare’s lap and knees.
“Did you have a nice nap?”
“Are you awake, now?”
“Is it time?”
The questions came fast and quick, all tumbled together in the excitement.
“Yes, yes, yes! Now settle down,” said Granny Clare as she made motions with her hands for quiet. ” I promised I’d tell you another story, and I will. Is everybody ready? Okay. The name of this story is ‘The Secret Hollow.’ It’s a true story that happened to Sean and me.”
“Is it another story about faeries, like you said?” asked one of the youngest in the group.
“Yes, it is,” said Granny Clare.
“Good, those stories are my favorite.”
“I know they are, dear,” Granny Clare said with a sigh. Exhaustion made her feel as old as the honorary title of ‘Granny.’
“This story happened near the end of summer,” began Granny Clare.
“Isn’t it summer now, Granny Clare?” asked the girl who’d been gnawing on her fingernail.
“The time of year really doesn’t matter when you’re inside, dear. Now, no more interruptions, or I’ll never be able to tell you about the secret hollow,” scolded Granny Clare.
“I’d been following Sean’s voice for at least five minutes. He was about ten years old at the time, and instead of growing louder, it seemed both fainter and more urgent, even though he hadn’t been out of my sight for very long,” said Granny Clare as the gang settled down and gave her all of their attention.
“The trail we were following that day was one we had hiked before, and we only made a few stops to investigate an interesting flower or animal track. You know I liked to collect wild flowers, don’t you?” asked Granny Clare.
“Oh yes, Granny Clare, beautiful flowers!” was the enthusiastic answer.
“What you don’t know is that mountain lions lived in that area of the Markagunt Plateau. Ever since my Dad taught Sean how to track animals, Sean really wanted to find mountain lion tracks; that he would find some was my secret fear,” said Granny Clare with one hand pressed against her heart.
“My dread that Sean had found some lion tracks and was following them was making my heart pound faster as I followed him higher into the canyon. The blood pounded in my ears, making hearing him difficult, so I would stop often to try to get a fix on his voice. The next time I stopped, I found myself standing on a natural ledge that made a perfect resting and lookout spot, so I took off my backpack and sat down to catch my breath and look back the way I’d come, in case I’d missed him on my way up. I think it must have been about twenty minutes since I’d lost sight of Sean, and I was becoming really anxious about his safety.”
“Why, Granny Clare? What could happen to him?” asked one of the bigger girls, her eyes wide with excitement.
“I thought he might have slipped and fallen from a ledge, just like the one where I was sitting. I didn’t know for sure, and I was worried. He was my only child,” whispered Granny Clare.
“As I sat there and looked around, I noticed there was no noise, just the sound of my own breathing. It was a few minutes past noon, yet neither side of the canyon was in full sunlight; both sides were in shadow. That’s when I felt an icy draft creep over me. I jumped up and spun around, ready to confront whatever was behind me.”
“What was it?” called several frightened voices from the audience.
“There was nothing there!” said Granny Clare. “However, as I turned I caught a flash of white a few feet down to the left of a gnarled juniper tree. I edged toward it, grasping the shoulder strap of my backpack and ready to swing it like a weapon in case that flash of white turned out to be a wild animal, like a bobcat or bald eagle.
“The narrow ledge I was walking on did not end, as it first appeared, but continued around a tight curve in the wall beyond the juniper; it even widened out a bit. The canyons of the Markagunt Plateau can trick your eyes into thinking they are looking at a flat wall of rock. Limestone and sandstone erode faster than other types of rock, creating fantastic spires and hidden folds that confuse and mislead many hikers,” said Granny Clare, spreading her fingers and hands in an arc to demonstrate the deceptive smoothness.
“A small portion of the canyon wall had sheared off, exposing a long, narrow gash. The ledge ran right along the bottom of the gash, where a thick layer of white ice spilled out. That was where the eerie cold had come from. The opening was about ten feet wide but was only half my height, so I had to kneel down to see inside. When I did, I could hear Sean crying softly,” Granny Clare said.
“Why was he crying? Was he hurt?” one of the boys asked.
“Those were the same questions I had,” Granny Clare said. “There was only one way to find out. I leaned across the white ice and called Sean’s name a few times, but he didn’t stop crying. I couldn’t see anything without poking my head in further, so I slung my backpack over one shoulder, put my hands on the freezing ice and leaned into the mouth as far as I dared, then let my eyes adjust to the dim light inside. It looked like a fifteen- or twenty-foot drop to the floor of the oval-shaped cavern. Clear ice coated the ceiling, floor and walls. Small boulders that had fallen in had frozen in place, permanently turning the once-smooth floor into a dangerous obstacle course.
“I heard Sean cry out in terror, but his voice suddenly stopped. Startled, my hands slipped on the icy lip and I lost my balance. Face down, I fell into the cave’s mouth and slid on my belly down the steep ice. I bounced off the embedded stones and picked up speed as I slid over the icy floor. I was desperate not to be smashed against the furthest wall! I twisted my body so that I struck and curled around the last boulder in my path. I spun loosely around the slippery stone until my own momentum flung me away. I slid off towards the right side of the cavern and into a tunnel that led downwards into the darkness.”
A chorus of gasps rose from Granny Clare’s audience, and the more anxious listeners hid their heads against the arms and chests of those closest to them.
Granny Clare continued, “I used my hands to shield my face and neck from the chilly passageway, leaving my arms and elbows to the mercy of the ice. My walking shorts protected my legs, but my backpack was banging around and pulling at my arm and my elbow as I bounced off the walls of the tunnel. I tried to scream!” Granny Clare raised her voice, and then switched to a whisper. “But terror and the freezing air had stolen my voice. I was moving fast and the tunnel was steep. Then, at the last turn, the tunnel rose slightly and brought me slowly to a stop within a hidden hollow I was unable to see from above.”
Granny Clare paused and heaved a sigh of relief. “I was never so glad in my life to stop moving. It was like a rollercoaster ride, only I couldn’t see where I was going.”
“Wow, Granny Clare! You were scared?” asked one of the larger boys in disbelief.
“Yes, I was. I still get the shakes just thinking about it,” said Granny Clare with a tiny shudder.
“My breathing and heartbeat slowed, and the worst of the stinging in my arms eased. I straightened up into a sitting position, and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw Sean curled up a few feet away. I dropped the backpack and scrambled to his side. He appeared to be asleep with a dreamy smile on his freckled face. He seemed unharmed and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I shook him gently, ‘Wake up, Sean, Mom’s here,’ I whispered. When he didn’t move, I shook him harder, ‘Honey, wake up!’ I said louder. The faraway smile on his face didn’t change. I called his name several more times and shook him so hard he rolled over. I rolled him back to face me. He breathed a little yawn, curled up again and returned to the same position he was in when I found him. I checked again to see if he was bleeding or if there were any bumps on his head; everything seemed okay, yet something definitely was not right. What was wrong with my son?
“A luminous glow softly surrounded us and no part of the sparkling cavity seemed brighter than any other part. Delicate crystals covered every surface of the chamber’s rounded sides and ceiling, which in the dim light looked to be about fifty feet across. As I looked around, I realized I couldn’t see the tunnel that had brought us here. There appeared to be no way out!”
“Granny Clare?” said a timid girl sitting on Granny Clare’s knee. “I think I know the place you’re talking about.”
“Well, let’s just wait and see, sweetie, okay?” said Granny Clare.
“‘K,” she said. Granny Clare gave her a little wink, which made the girl smile and glow.
“Frantic, I circled the chamber,” continued Granny Clare, “searching for any evidence of the tunnel entrance. In my haste, I knocked a crystal loose and sent it tumbling to land near my backpack. I expected it to shatter, but it didn’t. Then I heard a swarm of tiny, angry voices fill the air, as though a hive of bees had been disturbed and were madly buzzing about. ‘What is going on?’ I exclaimed in confusion; the buzzing voices ceased and in the renewed silence, I regained some sense of composure.
“I picked up the crystal and was amazed to see it looked just like spun glass. It was pyramid-shaped with four evenly spaced sides. Graceful strands, like the fine threads of a spider’s web, looped from side to side, round and round from its narrow tip to its wider base. When I realized the crystal was melting in my hands, I placed it back on the floor and watched as it reformed. It wasn’t a real crystal at all. It was made of ice!
“My confusion was growing. Unlike the tunnel and the cavern above, both of which had been freezing cold, this smaller space was comfortably cool. It was not nearly cold enough to create ice, much less make melting ice refreeze. What was this place? What or who could have made it? I looked around and tried to figure out where we were.
“I checked Sean again; he still appeared to be sleeping. I studied the walls, examining the various ice crystal formations. Some looked like feathery ferns. Others were perfect little bowls or cups woven so fine that they looked like you could drink from them, if you were as small as a mouse. There were long ice strings and teardrops dangling from the ceiling, and starbursts shooting from the walls like puffy dandelions. Someone or something for some reason had lured Sean and me into this underworld ice garden. But what? And why? More to the point, what could I do about it?”
“What did you do?”
“Did you run away?”
“Did you hide? I would hide.”
“Was a wicked witch after you?”
The questions flew at Granny Clare in a jumble of voices.
“No, I didn’t run away, there was nowhere to run to. If there was a wicked witch, I never met her. And there wasn’t anywhere to hide, either, so I did the next best thing: I remembered all the things my parents and teachers had taught me, how to collect information and analyze it, just like you should do if you’re ever in a situation, alone and afraid,” said Granny Clare.
“As I considered what I knew so far, I struggled with concepts like ‘enchanted’ sleeping children, ‘disappearing’ tunnels, ‘mysterious’ lights, ‘unbelievable’ temperatures, ‘impossible’ crystal formations, ‘invisible’ people,’ and ‘fantasy ice gardens.’ I felt like I’d stepped into a fairytale! Was I losing my mind or hallucinating? I would have pinched myself, but I knew this was real and I wasn’t dreaming,” said Granny Clare, a little defiance entering her voice for the first time.
The crowd giggled.
“I had to entice the owners of the voices out of hiding if I was going to get anywhere. If this was a fairytale, I would start hunting for faeries! If I was in an ice garden made by faeries, I had just the thing to bring ice faeries running! I reached for my backpack and took out the flower press that my Dad had made for me when I was a child, and unscrewed the wing nuts that held the press together. Tucked between each heavy sheet of pressing paper were the results of a whole year’s bounty of wild flowers. There were mountain bluebells and larkspur that I had collected in the early spring as soon as the snow melted and which were just about ready to be mounted. There were end-of-summer goldenrods and asters saved before the snow fell last winter that I’d never gotten around to mounting, but which still held their beautiful autumn colors. In between were the still fresh Indian paintbrush, lupines, shooting stars, wild roses, and blue columbines, their fragrances infusing the chamber with the remembered warmth of summer’s heat and beauty.”
As Granny Clare spoke the name of each flower, an appreciative “ah” or “oh” rose and fell, just as you would hear on the Fourth of July during the fireworks display. It made Granny Clare smile each time. Their love of nature was so obvious and sincere!
“I placed the flowers around the outer edges of the chamber and, after settling the still sleeping Sean in my lap, waited in the chamber’s center to see what would happen next. What do you think happened?” asked Granny Clare as she paused to take a sip of water.
“The faeries came, the faeries came!” everyone shouted in excitement.
“Yes, the faeries came. Like glowing snowflakes falling from the ceiling, they fluttered and spiraled in graceful arcs, tiny crystals in delicate pastel shades. They were so lovely; I held my breath with wonder and appreciation. As they reached the floor, they lost their snowflake shapes and took on human forms about eight inches in height. Only their wings retained the glow, hue and sparkle of their snowflake essence. I could hear their voices easily now, crisp and clear, talking to each other.
“‘Oh, see this pretty one!’
“‘I remember these!’
“‘Oh, how long has it been?’
“I could hear the pure delight in their voices,” recalled Granny Clare, a tear rolling down her cheek. “I now knew where the voices came from and the source of the cavern’s glowing illumination: it was the faeries!
“I watched the faeries take each flower and begin to construct its likeness in delicate ice crystals along the cavern walls and ceiling. Their creations were breathtaking! The faeries controlled the temperature of the cavern through whim and magic; that much I figured out. At my feet, they placed a fragile and perfect copy of the columbine, my favorite flower. I thanked them politely, which seemed to please them very much. They still had not spoken to me directly, but they had not left yet, either. With some apprehension, I asked my first question.
“‘I need to know why my son will not wake up. Can one of you tell me anything about this?’ I asked,” said Granny Clare.
“‘He is very young and became frightened when he arrived. We did not wish him to be frightened, so we used our powers to send him into his magical inner world, where he is a strong believer and dreamer of faeries. His strong beliefs nourish us, which is for the greater good of all,’ said a small faerie woman who stepped forward to address me. She was slightly over eight inches tall, with delicately traced wings of a silvery white color.
“‘Are you the Faerie Queen?’ I asked.
“‘I am the leader of this clan of faeries,’ she replied. ‘The Faerie Queen of all the clans lives far away from here. My name is Liliana, the Gracious Lily.’
“‘I am Clare O’Brien and this is my son, Sean.’ I pondered my next question carefully. ‘What happened to the tunnel that brought us here, Lady Liliana?’
“‘Please call me Liliana; I have no title. The tunnel only works in one direction. It brought you here, but there’s no way back. It brought us here, also. We, too, cannot leave,’ said Liliana. ‘The tunnel only opens for those with faerie blood. I sense that your great-great-great-grandmother was of our clan; both you and your son share her blood. If the concentration is high enough, your faerie blood will take control and will return you to your rightful faerie heritage. If not, you will go to sleep. It has happened before. The humans who went to sleep never woke up; they slept so long, they turned into stone.’
“As I listened to Liliana, fear tightened around my heart. I’d never felt such dread, thinking Sean might never wake up; that Sean and I might not escape.
“‘How will we know whether or not we can make the transition from human to faerie?’ I asked Liliana nervously,” said Granny Clare.
“‘I believe it is already too late for your son,’ replied Liliana. ‘The limited strength of our sleeping spell, in combination with your earlier attempts to awaken him, should have caused him to be awake and alert by now.’”
“I peered anxiously into my son’s face, searching for any change. There was none, but my heart and spirit refused to give up.
“‘And what do you think will happen to me?’ I questioned her.
“‘I think you are the last generation of your line to still retain the blood of the Tuatha Dé Danann. I think you will make the transformation and join us,’ smiled Liliana, not knowing that she was frightening me.
“‘I don’t want to stay here! I have a family and a husband who loves me. I’m human, I can’t stay with you; please help me. Help my son!’ I cried, holding Sean tighter and tighter to me.
“‘When the transformation begins, you will feel differently,’ Liliana said gently, trying to reassure me,” said Granny Clare.
“‘So we are all trapped here together,’ I said bitterly. ‘Why are you doing this to us? We mean you no harm. Please release my son and me. I’ll give you anything you want; I’ve already given you my flowers. You have magical powers you could use to get us out of here. I won’t tell anybody about you,’ I begged, tears streaming down my face.
“‘You don’t understand; we didn’t choose for this to happen to you; the chamber chose you and drew you here. It chose you because of your faerie blood and heritage. This is the destiny of the Tuatha Dé, and there isn’t anything we can do to change our fate.
“‘When the Tuatha Dé Danann fought the Milesians for control of the Green Isle,’ Liliana continued, ‘the Milesian poet Amergin cleverly divided the land between them during a truce. Although he named the land Éire, after our Queen and Goddess Ériu, he allotted the Milesians all of the land above ground and the underground lands went to the Tuatha Dé. In time, all the Tuatha Dé must come home. You cannot avoid this obligation; like a curse, its power is stronger than any spell or magic possessed by anything or anyone, living or dead,’ cautioned Liliana.
“‘As the last of your faerie kin and bloodline, you can never leave here. You are Tuatha Dé and kin to this clan. When you complete your transformation, you will be reborn and regain your true name. Your faerie memories will be restored and you will know for yourself all that I am telling you now,’ Liliana explained.
“I felt a sense of recognition and growing trust as I heard these words,” said Granny Clare. “My transition had already begun.
“‘My faerie magic tells me you come from a long line of bards and poets, the greatest storytellers among the Tuatha Dé Danann,’ said Liliana. ‘I am sure there are many tales you could share with us.’
“‘Yes, yes, tell us stories like a Granny! Tell us some stories, please!’ called out the faeries gathered around my crossed ankles.
“‘First, I need a place for Sean to sleep and someone to help take care of him. I want him to be kept as comfortable as possible; can you help me with that?’ I asked Liliana.
“‘Rosina,’ ordered Liliana, ‘You make a chair for Granny Clare and, um, Kallan, you make a resting spot for Sean. Dulcina, I want you to be in charge of tending to Sean; you do whatever Granny Clare tells you. Get going, now. Hurry! Hurry!’
“Kallan and his boys made Sean a little cradle that was sized just for him, and Rosina and her girls made a wonderful rocking chair for me. Both had filigree, ferns and little flowers worked into every inch of space. My chair was a story-telling throne fit for the Queen of Faeries herself, and was very comfortable, especially for a chair made entirely of ice,” said Granny Clare, smiling at all of the faces grinning back at her. “Sean looked so dreamy and happy, curled up in his little bed, which the faeries set next to me. I could rock his cradle with my foot if I liked. Dulcina placed delicate flakes of ice between Sean’s lips and on his tongue, and kept him clean and dry; she made sure he never suffered any injury or distress, illness or pain.”
Granny Clare’s audience was not restless now; they were very still and quiet, their large, round eyes focused on Granny Clare’s face.
“I started with the stories I remembered from reading the Brothers Grimm,” said Granny Clare. “In between the telling of each story, I searched the chamber carefully for the tunnel entrance, still determined to free my son and myself. Defeated in my goal each time, I would lift Sean from his cradle and hold him in my arms, silently crying over his unchanged condition and urging him to wake up. Wake up! But he would not. I would count every freckle, stroke his eyebrows, feel his long eyelashes tickle my fingertips; I traced the shape of his nose, the curve of his chin, the bow of his upper lip. Then I would run my fingers through his bronze red curls, kiss his peaceful face and place him gently back into his cradle with a sigh of despair mixed with frustration. Was anyone looking for us? If they were, how would they find us? How much longer could we survive?
“I had told only sixteen stories when Sean stopped breathing. I was the only one who noticed. I realized the faeries had not recognized the signs that he had died; I asked them to encase him and his cradle in a solid block of ice, which they willingly did without asking any questions. On that day, I realized that I had lost the ability to cry; I was losing contact with my inner human self. I would not die with my son; I was transforming.
“I started next on Frank Baum’s stories about the Land of Oz, and followed those with all of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales,” she said next. “I also watched the vastly accelerated process of decomposition cause Sean’s flesh to decay and dissolve within his icy tomb while my own skin developed a glowing luminescence.
“I told them all the legends about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and then I began the stories of Robin Hood and all his merry men,” she continued. “And I watched my son’s bones turn into limestone in a flurry of impossibly fast fossilization as my own bones became less dense and pliable, my human skeleton slowly shrinking.
“When my faerie wings began to manifest, the faeries gathered together and created the perfect conditions for Sean’s fossilized limestone bones to recrystalize and metamorphose into marble. I smiled as they integrated his bones into the marble ceiling and walls behind the delicate ice crystals. He would be with me forever.”
“With each story I told of mythical creatures, magic spells and daring adventures, my transformation proceeded, nearing completion. My faerie memories resurfaced, fighting to integrate with my human knowledge.
“In honor of my son, I shared Aesop’s fables, which the faeries found delightful, and nursery rhymes, which had them skipping and scampering around the crystal chamber. When they settled down again, I realized that the telling of my own story would complete my transformation and at its end I would take forever my rightful place within the faerie clan,” said Granny Clare.
Gelsey, the Jasmine, with her glittery pale yellow wings, bit through her hangnail and stopped teasing Eglantina, the Wild Rose, whose sparkling apricot wings trembled. The twins, Kallan and Kheelan, the Ferns, stopped eyeing each other’s ears, their pale green wings tucked tightly to their bodies. Raisa, Rosa, Rosalba, Rosina and Rosalva, the rest of the Roses (Plain, Pink, White, Little and Pretty) with their rosy hued wings, stopped fingering each other’s hair. Oren, so pale his wings had no color, landed on his elbow in the middle of a somersault. The other forty listening faeries waited in complete stillness.
“And so I am reborn and returned to you, my faerie family. My memories and magic are restored, along with my true name, ‘Kalliope, the Beautiful Voice.’”
Whoops and hollers of congratulations met this announcement and, as the merriment continued, Kallan, one of the identical twins with long ears, approached Kalliope and said, “I remember when you told us all those stories, Kalliope.” A half inch shorter than her, he glowed like a lightning bug.
“You have a good memory, Kallan,” said Kalliope with a smile. “Perhaps you will become a storyteller one day.”
Kallan glowed brighter, grinned in delight, and skipped away to rejoin the celebration.
“Rosina, would you do me the honor of making my chair a more appropriate size?” asked Kalliope. “It took more energy than I expected to shrink to seven inches and my shoulders still ache where my wings came in.” In less than two flutters of her rosy wings, Rosina completed the simple task. “Thank you, Little Rose,” said Kalliope.
“Now, would you like to hear the story of Lia Fail, the talking stone of truth, or perhaps the story of the great sword of light called Freagarthach, the Answerer? Maybe the story of the Cauldron of the Dagda that can feed everyone in the Green Isle, but is never empty?
“No,” said Kalliope, answering her own questions with a shake of her dainty head as she stretched her beautiful lilac wings. “I think I shall tell the story of the greatest of the four treasures that the Tuatha Dé Danann received from Danu: The tale of Lugh Lámhfada’s invincible spear, which must start with the tale of the birth of Lugh himself.”
Everyone settled comfortably. Gelsey inspected her bitten hangnail and returned to needling Eglantina. Kallan and Kheelan starting arguing again over whose ears were longer. Raisa, Rosa, Rosalba, Rosina and Rosalva quietly discussed their next hairstyle. Oren asked Liliana to look at the bruise on his elbow. Dulcina rested her back against one of the legs of Kalliope’s rocker. All the other faeries waited, also. Kalliope was the clan’s true leader and no one ever missed a chance to hear her to hear her tell another story.