Story for the Day: The Phuca
The Fey of Frewyn have many different factions, made up of several different species. There are pixies and nixies, were-folk and lesens, but the most interesting of all the Fey are the phucas. Their females are small and sweet, timid and tremulous, and while they are consider entirely harmless, their males, especially when looking for a mate, are nothing to cavil at.
Sounds of distress drew her attention from the bean beds. Cries came from farther afield, and Baba’s ears twitched as she turned toward the sound, smiling and murmuring to herself, “Well, now, seemslike I caught one,” before hastening toward the western rows as quickly as her stone-filled apron would allow.
At the very end of Baba Connridh’s land, where the southwestern border met an old stone wall, was a whitethorn, old and gnarled, its boughs low and languid from the burden of age, its remaining haws dwizzened and dispirited from the change in season, its new leaves only just beginning to bud. A family of thrushes made their home in the hollow, and sitting at the roots below, whimpering in quiet aguish, was a small phuca, its eyes wide, its small and slender frame clumpst and shaking. It was looking down at its leg and tugging frantically at a fetter clamped around its ankle, desperately trying to break itself free. It cried and moaned, straining away at the chain holding it down, its long fingers trying to pry the lock mechanism apart, but the chain would not give away, and the phuca, with head bowed and eyes low, wept in despondence, resigning itself to confinement at the foot of the tree, where it sank down amongst the roots, pulled its vulpine ears over its eyes, and sobbed outs its sorrows, wondering whether anyone would ever come and save her.
“Hush up all the bellyachin’. That trap ain’t hurtin’ you none.”
The phuca’s ears perked and flickered frantically toward the voice. It quickly wiped its eyes and looked up, finding the an old and haggard face of Gran Mara Connridh looming by, her jowls joggling, her lips tucked toward one corner of her mouth, her aspect thoroughly unimpressed.
“What’s all this here hollarin’?” Baba snuffed, jutting her chin toward the phuca. “I don’t see you bleedin’ none. That trap wasn’t made for hurtin’, just for catchin’, and you got caught. Shouldn’t be any o’ this here cryin’ and carryin’ on how yer doin’.”
The phuca, fraught with sudden terror, scampered away and wiped its cheeks with the back of its hand, staring at Baba from the shade of a low bough. A moment passed, the old woman looking as though she were waiting for the phuca to tranquilize and understand that she was not come to harm her. It peered out from under the bow, hesitant and demure, but as Baba stepped forward, the phuca shrank back behind the tree, winced in concentration, and her hands began to glow. A verdant mist spread over the tree roots, a gale came and went, but the fetter around the phuca’s ankle tightened, the mist dissipated and dispersed, the glow faded, and the phuca made a defeated sigh.
“Ha! No use tryin’ to change and hop away whilst I’m watchin’,” said Baba, nearing. “That trap won’t let you shift, nor’ll let you wisp outta here how you folk do. Beagin’s got her eye on you anyhow.”
The cat leapt out from behind Baba’s legs, and the phuca yelped and ducked behind the tree.
“Save yer hollarin’,” Baba declared, waving a hand at the phuca. “She’s not gonna do anythin’ to you while yer in this form. You’re too human-like for her to think of chasin’ you. Come on out here now, and let’s have a look at you. I ain’t gonna bite. Don’t got half my teeth anymore anyway.”
There was a pause, and the phuca gradually crawled out from the shade of the tree, approaching Baba with hesitation, its large amber eyes spying the old woman with cautious curiosity.
“No use tryin’ to pull outta that,” said Baba, nodding at the chain. “Enchanted silver. Keeps any Fey what get caught it in from usin’ their abilities to escape. Made it myself. Got a lot o’ Fey to contend with, havin’ this aul’ tree on my land. All you Feyfolk like comin’ and goin’ in and outta it like it’s a door to a tavern. Don’t mind most o’ you, so I leave the tree where it is, long as there’s no ruckusin’. Also be bad luck liftin’ out trees what have been in the ground so long, even if it means I gotta see a few Fey on my land once in a while. The wisps are good for the marsh and the nixies are good for the ponds, and the brouneidhs are alright when they do what they’re supposed to and look after my bean crop. Never had no phuca on my land before,” eyeing the Fey at her feet. “Well, not that I know of anyway. You folk usually keep to yer forests, changin’ into all sorts o‘ things so’s you can hide from the hunters. Don’t keep the trap for you folk. Keep it for things bigger’n you what might make mischief o’ my fields. Usually, you wee-folk’re sharp enough not to get caught, so what’re doin’ here, girl? Ain’t yer forest a mile aff south? Ain’t nothin’ here for you to eat besides. Don’t even have my carrots in yet.”
The phuca glanced at the chain and seemed quite embarrassed. Tears descended, and its lip quivered, preferring to somber reflections to speaking.
Baba exhaled. “Cryin’ enough to sour yer porridge—what’s all these tears about now, girl? You after waterin’ my fields?”
The phuca sniffed and pulled at the chain. “I-- I cannot get out.”
“Aye, shouldn’t think so,” said Baba, raising a brow. “That’s what a trap is for. So what gets in it don’t get out.”
“But I must get away. The longer I stay in one place, the easier it is for him to find me. If I am still too long, he will come! Please!” the phuca cried, raising its hands in supplication. “Let me go! Let me go or he will come!”
“Who’s gonna find you, girl? Ain’t no one here on this land but me,” and the two Gods, but they could be anywhere at any given moment, attending parishioners and visiting devotees whenever their names were spoken. “Who’s gonna find you here that ain’t me? The brouneidhs? Let ‘em come so. Been waitin’ for those wee mites to show up. Gonna give ‘em a right wallopin’ for cursin’ my beans.”
“No—please,” the phuca pleaded, her voice tremulous. “Please, let me go—you cannot have an idea—“
“Oh, I got a few, girl,” Baba fleered, folding her arms. “Bet you’ll find me real willin’ to listen to yers though. G’wan, girl, amuse my ear and pull my leg a bit. Tell me what yer doin’ on my land and I’ll let you out.”
The phuca tugged anxiously on her ears and pulled them down to meet her frown. “The brouneidhs—“ she began, with looks of speaking entreaty,“—it was they who got me caught in this trap. They had been pestering me for days about wanting to attend your Brigid’s Day festival—I know we are not allowed to interfere in Frewyn affairs, but I wanted to go—and I thought that if I was disguised, no one would know the difference—and I would not be hurting anyone if I went—I only wished to hear the music and see the dancing. We do not have anything like your holidays and celebrations in Mlys, and I very much wished to see it—I always hear the music from the squares and taverns whenever I am near Sethshire. The woods are quite close to the town that I can hide in the shrubs and listen for a while. It’s easy for me to hide at night when no one is out hunting—but the brouneidhs—they saw me leaving to come here, and as a cruel trick, they put this trap right at the foot of the tree and waited for me to step in it. I know you will say I have no right to be here when I should be in Mlys, but—“
“Wouldn’t say that,” Baba interposed. “Much o’ this land we used to share between us. Don’t mind if you folk’re here, just don’t want you makin’ a noise or pullin’ up my onions while you’re passin’ through.”
“Well,” the phuca sniffed, “as it is, I missed the Brigid’s Day celebrations. I’ve been trapped here all day, and now I will have to wait until next year to see them.”
“You ain’t missin’ much, girl. Been to ‘em a few times when I was younger. Just a whole lotta ruckusin’ and rollockin’. Nothin’ to cry over, sure. Here,” said Baba, waving her hand over the chain, “let’s get you outta there now.”
The fetter clinked, the chain glowed and rattled, and when its settled, the trap opened by itself, and the phuca was free. “Thank you, good woman,” said the phuca, rubbing her ankle.
“Aye, sure, I’m all over scarlet for you,” Baba grumbled. “Just call me Gran, none o’ this good woman nonsense. Why’re the brouneidhs so interested in stoppin’ you from goin’ to a celebration? Not like they don’t come over here whenever they’re wantin’.”
“I—I cannot say,” the phuca mused, its ears wilting. “I have no idea why they should take such an interest in what I do. They never did before, except to tease me. I have visited Galaeshield near the forest without their bothering me, but perhaps they did not know about my visits there.”
The phuca seemed quite embarrassed, its ears pinned back, its cheeks colouring, and Baba could not but smile.