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Ardy’s Plight at the Privy – Fairy’s song

Excerpted from 'Uncommon Boundaries: Tales and Verse' ©2012 SM Gallagher
[Dedicated to my granddaughter, Maya Annalisa Trask, turning four-years-old today!]


A large Irish family filled up two of the long pinewood bench tables at the Hare and Hunter - the small medieval fairground restaurant that had a larger than average terrace, catering to the sit-down crowds of wandering festival goers. This particular family appeared to be drinking more than eating, which wasn’t uncommon in the sweltering heat of a midsummer’s day in the shire. 

I sat at the table’s far end, furthest from the congested masses, as it was my short pause from working the lanes as a paid entertainer in fantasy costume, blowing stardust on delighted children, getting into mischief with the locals, and tickling tin whistles and whatnot – all the things one could imagine of a proper fairy of a local shire. During my pause, however, I didn’t want to be bothered for fairy wishes and the like. Instead, I ordered a pint, hoping for a frosty mug of very cold beer while watching the family celebrate what looked to be a birthday party with all the ‘for he’s a jolly good’ rounds they were singing. It didn’t take long for one of the men to eye another and smile at me. I was used to the attention, mostly because of my unusually feathered fairy wings made for me be a festival friend named Tailor Taylor the swatch and waistcoat maker. But I just called him Ty for short, as most of the rest of the shire did. And it was a brilliantly crafted set of wings that curved and flowed to allow all the soft, white feathers to flutter in the occasional breeze. Oh, thank God for those breezes. 

I lifted my glass to the man and took a relished gulp that temporarily cooled my very human body. He moved down a slat or two in hearing distance of me and asked; ‘So’s, you hear the one about the old couple married for 35 years?” 

I shook my head that was covered in a wreath of berries and flowers. One of the petals detached and alighted on his face. He blew at it and looked to the eldest members of the group. ‘Like me mum and dad there, they were celebrating their sixtieth birthdays.” 

“Congrats then!” I lifted my half-emptied glass to the couple, both with grey twinkling eyes. And they did the same back at me, draining their own.

And the man continued his story. “Suddenly a fairy joined the party.” 

I laughed. ‘Now where have I heard that one before?”

“Ah, but she said: ‘Because you’ve been such a loving couple over all these years, I’ll grant you each one wish.’ Well, the wife told the fairy that herself wanted to get away from her dish-washing machine and travel round the world. The fairy waved her wand and BOOM! The tickets were in the old woman’s hand.”

I raised a brow that had been pencilled in to look like an alien’s if I weren’t the festival fairy. And I sighed. “I wish I could do that trick.” 

“Ah, don’t we all, m’ darlin’ fairy. At least you’ve got wings…and a nice pair of them at that.”

“Now mind yourself,” I said with a smile, “or I’ll turn you into a toad.”

Eavesdropping on our conversation, the rest of the party joined in with riotous laughter. “He’s a royal toad already!” called out one of the other men.

And the one by me eyed the other with glee, turning back to finish his story. “Now it was the man's turn, who paused for a minute before confessing to the fairy. ‘Well, d'you know,’ he said, ‘I'd like to have a woman 30 years younger than me!’ At that the fairy picked up her wand and BOOM! If he wasn’t a day over 90.”

I laughed and drank up. My break was not all that long and I needed to find the loo, or ‘privy’ as we shire folk have learnt to call it during festival hours. I waved goodbye to the jolly partiers and left for the southwest corner of the site and one where a makeshift row of hutch-like covered toilets decorated the outlying area for all not wanting to go ‘wee, wee, wee all the way home’. It’s difficult for a fairy-costumed actor to actually take time off from entertaining the crowds without being disturbed. After relieving myself, I’d planned to hide out in one of the quiet nooks and crannies I’d found early on in the season. Other entertainers soon found them too. And they often joined me there for a bit solace, picnicking and jocularity. It was all in good fun, and we’d nicknamed these areas our outdoor ‘greenrooms’. 

Festival planners, if they’re good ones, attempt to modify the facilities needed to manage the large amount of people participating in the fair – be they paying customers, caterers, craftspeople or entertainers – to be in keeping with the medieval décor. Yet the fantasy world isn’t always as easy to maintain as one might belief, and the results are sometimes laughable at best. Shire privies were always set discretely out of the way, and their wood-covered construction was rustic yet functional. Entering the privy area meant going through a gate marked ‘Ye Old Privies’, of course. And the first thing one saw was a big cauldron-like washbasin that ran water out of a hidden spigot, resembling a natural spring. Hanging to the left and the right of the cauldron were huge soap and towel dispensers. Obvious solecisms such as these were allowed for hygienic purposes. 

And there I was, still back at the loo. It always takes a fairy a bit of finagling to readjust her tights and wings, but I was feeling much better when I exited, heading for the fountain. And it was there I saw a little boy recognised from the Irish party at the Hare and Hunter. He couldn’t have been much older than six, but he was in an obviously drunken state as he rolled the dispenser of towels round and round. 

“Well, well,” I said, spying him there. ‘What fairies’ mischief have you got yourself into, young lad?” 

He glimpsed me with a vacant grin but kept on rolling the dispenser of towels. 

I looked round for a parental figure but saw none. “And where are your mother and father?”

His grin held as well as his vacant stare.

“Take my hand then, and I’ll lead you back to your people.”

He suddenly paled and eyed me more harshly. “I never go nowhere with fairies.”

I sighed. “That’s a good idea on its own, but you shouldn’t have been drinking either!”

“I, I….”

“Come with me now, and I’ll take you back to your family.’

But the little boy took off running. 

I could think of nothing better to do than follow after him. And with my wings all a flutter, I looked like one fairy creature ready to take flight. 

Winged fairy or not, running through the shire was no easy feat without bumping into an unsuspecting troll or two. There were also the increasing numbers of summer festival goers to contend with who continued non-stop to pay their fees and flow in through the front gates. Dodging around all these bodies as I wove in and out of the lanes, I soon lost site of the boy who was, after all, quite small and lithe. 

So out of breath was I when reaching the Hare and Hunter again, and thankfully the party of Irish merrymakers was still there. I scanned both tables in hope of catching sight of the little lad back with his parents, but my heart sank as he was nowhere to be found. Without hesitating, I described him and the situation to the family. One of the female members rose to help me retrace my steps. Another left for ‘Ye old information booth’, a stall constructed by the front gate to take care of such emergencies. The rest of the party decided to fan out in search of the missing child. Yet half of them, I noticed, followed the woman and me back to the loo. 

Those accompanying us to ‘Ye old privies’ soon got in front of me and poured through the gates of the small facility as others came tumbling out. What a fiasco! And I would have laughed if the situation hadn’t turned serious, for the numbers were growing too large for the makeshift building. Suddenly, a side-section collapsed from the sheer weight and volume of all the milling bodies. 

I rushed in and pulled a few unsuspecting customers from the rubble. Luckily no one was very hurt – only a few minor cuts and scrapes. And there he was, the little Irish lad whose name I later learnt was Ardy. He was named after Ardan, the legendary son of Usna who helped Deirdre escape to Scotland so that she would not be forced to marry King Conchobhar MacNessa. But that’s another story! Anyway, Ardy of the partying merrymakers was right where I’d left him before he’d ran away from me. And he was once again standing wide-eyed beside the towel dispenser. 

I jumped back and blinked at the one I assumed was his mother, as she hurried over and clutched him to her bosom while clucking in a passion of love and fury. 

He looked to her, this wild-eyed dark-haired lioness still holding him tight. And, in a thick Northern brogue, he said: “Jeez, ma, I was just going to the loo!”

“But why did you run from me?” I asked.

He yelped. “And be a changeling?” 

“Oh, Ardy, son, you li’l ijit!” His mother squeezed him all the more.

“You’re not angry with me then, I mean, for drinking Uncle Connor’s beer?”

“I’m dearly sore. Indeed I am, son. But,” she laughed, “you’re right not to go off with the fairies.”

And that ends my tale of Ardy’s plight at the privy…. 
Aisling Books

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