One Page Story: Fairy-Words



by Oonagh Moon

Ever since she discovered that the name of her home, Huamstane, meant stone of the moaning summer owl, Darroch fell in love with words.

 She collected strange names as a botanist presses rare flowers between book pages. She found security in the labelling of root, moss and rock, filling entire glossaries with moor-words, wind-words and wood-words.

 Darroch loved the claggy peat-names – boglach, breunloch and bruach. She even had súlukongur, a taboo bird-kenning from the skinners and seal-folk. From the horsieman she learned of glanders and gaffer a’ churrain – the chief of the carrots.

 Once Darroch saw a thing she determined to discover its true name. One day the horsieman told her of an unmapped place nearby Huamstane.

 “How do you know it exists if it isn’t on the map?” she asked.

“Because I have words from that place.”

Darroch’s heart flochtered. “Tell me.”

“Cataichean, lunkiewid, peerie-shell.”

Darroch felt he had placed pearls in her hands.

“I don’t know what they mean or how I got them. It is fairy tongue. I’ve heard that their land borders our own. Why else would I have these words?” said the horsie-man.

His eyes twinkled, egg-wrack green. Darroch believed he had held these fairy-words forever, awaiting the right person to pass them on to.

Having names without the places they belonged to unsettled Darroch. She took her fairy-words to the scholars who dismissed them as redundant pleonasms. What was the use of words from a world they could not see or touch? The fairies had disappeared long ago and taken their kingdoms with them. Their dead language was hardly worth troubling over.

But Darroch knew that magic lay somewhere between land and speech. There was a link between stone and tongue. A lost place might return were its name to be spoken. If there was a name then there was a place. Words were keys, and she wanted to find the door these fairy-words unlocked.

She sought the nearby hillfort, where a stone fissure was said to be a portal between worlds. Squeezed between earth and air Darroch spoke her fairy-words to the dark, convinced that they were not names but essences. Darkness answered with deep silence.

She exited the cave, entering Huamstane’s gloaming. An owl screeched in the wood below, almost intelligible to her ears. The air stirred, purple and infinite, leaving spots of cold on her cheek. Ballygloom – a dusk-place. It had been lying atop Huamstane all along. Another essence – the master essence. The boggy, primal patch of her brain thronged. Without leaving home she had crossed into a new-old place, alive with names which no map could contain.


Boglach [Scottish Gaelic] a boggy area

Breunloch [Scottish Gaelic] – dangerous, sinking bog

Bruach [Scottish Gaelic] – natural peat bank

Súlukongur [Faroese] - female albatross known as ‘the gannet king’ seen flying with the gannets of Mykineshólmur, Faroe Islands, in the 1860s

Glanders [Old French] – bacterial infection fatal to horses

Flochter [Scots] – the sound of a bird’s flapping wings