Faerie Frollick

The "Faerie Frollick" shawl and story were inspired by Alice and Lisa Hoffman's beautiful collection of fairy tales and knitting patterns, entitled, Faerie Knitting.   


Once upon a time there was a widow.  For many years, she had raised her two sons on her own.  On the brink of manhood, they were handsome and witty lads, who lightened her spirits with their boisterous antics and good humor.  They truly were her solace, though she struggled to provide for them.

Her older son eased some of her burdens by earning money laboring in the fields.  One day, as he made his way home to the village after a day’s work, a troll approached him.  The ugly creature held out a bottle containing a potion that he said would make the youth feel like a king.  The boy had been taught to avoid trolls but was aching from his toil and downhearted at the prospect of never-ending days in the fields, so he asked the cost of this magical substance.  

“One mouthful is free,” the troll said, for he knew that he had much to gain if the boy took even one sip.  The youth took a swallow from the bottle, and immediately the pains from his work disappeared and he was filled with a sense of his own superior power and judgment.  

He returned home to the widow's humble cottage and saw his brother at his schoolwork. “What’s the point of those books?  You are useless," he said.  

His mother scolded her son for his hurtful words, but his only retort was a barrage of insults aimed at her.  Scenes such as this one were played out for several years.  At times, when the effects of the potion had diminished—just before the young man would seek replenishment from the wicked troll—the youth would soften a bit into a vestige of his old self.  During these moments, the widow begged him to cease drinking the potion. Her son, though, never heeded her words, and would seek more of the vile liquid and once again transform into a glaring monster.  

Ultimately, a dose of the potion, which contained deadly compounds, killed the boy.

The woman floated through the days immediately after his death in a state of numbness. 
Initially, the villagers were kind to her, but the widow soon isolated herself from them and their pitying expressions, for, as grief set in, she came to believe that she was to blame for her son’s death.  Had she been a good mother, her boy would not have succumbed to temptation. This guilt, like permafrost, threatening below the earth’s surface, lurked under her composed demeanor.  

Her remaining child, eager to make his fortune, left home to join an army fighting a war in the East.  Soon after, the woman left the village and moved to a cottage, on a slope of a nearby mountain, taking only necessities, including her spinning wheel and knitting needles. In her aerie in the sky, she felt close to eternity.  She could scan the hills each morning, looking upward, aware of the vastness of the universe and of her own insignificance.  

Each day the widow attempted to avoid thoughts of the past.  There were moments when she was released from her regrets.  As  she witnessed the burgeoning blossoms of spring or the first snowflakes of winter, she reveled in nature's raw beauty and escaped her thoughts.  And busying herself spinning fleece that she had purchased provided distraction as well as a source of income.  She sold the yarn in the village market, which was reached after a hike down winding trails.  

The widow yearned for the time when she would be reunited with her son, who was miles away in a mysterious land. One autumn afternoon, she walked to the post office in the nearby village, where she found an envelope waiting for her. Tucking it into her apron pocket, she headed back up the mountain but stopped at a farm halfway along the track to buy milk.  The dairyman walked with a crooked gait, and his clothes, with missing buttons and gaping seams, were threadbare.  The woman, eager to read her son’s words, waited patiently for the man to fill a small pail with milk and avoided making eye contact with him or with his small son, who peered at her from behind the wooden slats of a milking stall.  

The widow, carefully negotiating the steep path to avoid losing any of the milk, set off for home.  She only walked for a brief while, however, as there was a sunny glade not far from the trail, a place to rest and read the letter.  She placed the pail on the ground and sat down, bending her legs under her skirts.  She read her son's words:    

Dear Mother,

The war is over, and I am released from my duties.  Weeks ago, I headed for home but stopped to rest at a settlement along the coast, a place with sand the color of milk and a sea so clear, one can see into its depths.  There, I met a young woman of great beauty who brought me water and fruits and offered me shelter.  I intend to marry her.   Her father and five brothers make their living by diving into the sea for black pearls, which they sell for a great price. I have been welcomed to join them in their labors and in their home, where we spend evenings partaking of olives and other delicacies, which grow with ease in this sunny clime.  

I plan to remain here, but will, as always, write to you . . . . 

Stricken, the woman dropped the letter.  She looked up and noticed that the sun was now hidden behind a foggy veil.  The glade no longer seemed warm and inviting.  The moss on which she sat, once a soft carpet, was now a source of damp that seeped through her dress and chilled her skin.  Intent on hurrying home, where she might knit and spin--so as not to dwell on the words she had read--she retrieved the letter and gathered her skirts in her hand, preparing to rise to her feet.  She knew life made no promises.  She would console herself by imagining her boy as part of a sun-kissed, white-toothed family who basked in warm seaside breezes.  

As she stood up, though, she upset the pail of milk.  The sight of its contents pooling on the moss released something in her.  For the first time since she was a girl, who had just lost her mother, she sobbed deeply, releasing a torrent of tears.  Her beautiful boy and her husband were dead, and her remaining son would not be returning home. 

Faeries, who lived in at the base of a nearby tree trunk, took pity on her.  While, at times, they could be mischievous, reveling in playing pranks on humans, the woman’s display touched their hearts, which were made of sparkling light.  The woman’s keening, too, was beginning to upset them, as fairies have finally attuned hearing and are capable of perceiving frequencies which mere mortals cannot.  One particularly tenderhearted sprite sprinkled faerie dust over the woman, who soon fell fast asleep on the ground.  

The sun began its descent beyond the mountains, the hoots of owls resounded through the woods, and the padded steps of the bears could be heard by keen faerie ears.  In this dusk, the wee creatures set to work.  Using the bit of milk left in the bottom of the pail, bark from the trees, wild blue sage, nettles, and even a bit of copper from a nearby stream bed, they spun gossamer fibers from which they created a shawl, which they placed over the sleeping woman’s shoulders. 

Faerie Frollick is available on Ravelry.

As she slumbered, the woman dreamt of her dead boy, dancing in a field of waving daffodils.  He no longer had an ill and sullen appearance but glowed with the look of solid health and good humor. 

Upon waking the next morning, she saw that her pail was overturned but, oddly, she did not fret.  She felt well-rested and lighter somehow.  Noticing the shawl, she was intrigued not only by how it had come to rest over her but also by its airiness and beauty.  She thought how she had never spun any yarn so fine as that used to work this gossamer concoction.   

The woman's mind soon turned to home, so she rolled up the shawl and placed it in a small sack which hung from her waist.   Thinking about the hollow-eyed cat who had recently appeared on her doorstep, she decided to return to the farmer for more milk.  When the man’s daughter opened the door, the woman was surprised by the damask roses in her cheeks and the golden loveliness of her hair.  She had never before noticed the young woman's beauty.  The boy, not much older than a toddling baby, approached her and, rather than looking the other way as she was wont to do, the widow bent down and asked him his name.  The boy was happy to respond and to clasp the woman’s hand.  

“Please sit down and have a cup of tea, while I fetch the milk," the daughter said.

The widow accepted this invitation, one which had been issued and turned down on previous occasions.  She crossed the threshold of the farmhouse and sat at the table, the boy lingering at her side, his hand in hers.  He soon scrambled onto her lap, and the widow found the feel of the squirming body, with its slightly sour smell, pleasing.  Holding him evoked memories of happier times.

The farmer’s daughter returned with a pail of milk and smiled at the sight of the widow holding the boy.  He soon tired of sitting still, though, and was off to find his dog.  The widow took her knitting out of her sack and began to ply her needles, working a sock heel.  The young woman was intrigued and said that she had never learned to knit and was a poor cook and seamstress as well, as her mother had been ill for so long before her death that she had not been able to teach her these skills.  

“I will help you,” the woman said, unsure of what prompted this seemingly automatic response. “We can work a little bit each morning, after I have done my chores, if that suits you.”

Through the long winter, the woman did not dwell on her feelings of guilt or inadequacy, as she was too busy teaching the girl how to knit, cook, sew, and keep house.  She also baked sweets at her home to bring to the family, and shared her small collection of books with the boy and young woman.  The farmer himself, a taciturn and wary man, grew a bit more at ease in her presence, and his formerly gaunt appearance softened a bit from the much-needed weight he was gaining from his improved diet. 

One morning, when the crocuses bloomed in the valleys and the snow on the mountaintops had nearly melted away, the widow received a letter from her son.  He told her that he would be returning home, that he had suffered at the hands of his wife-to-be.  On the night before their wedding, she had come to him and had removed her clothing, revealing a covering of scales.  She—along with her father and brothers—was really a serpent, feeding on the blood of humans.  She had attempted to use her beauty and the promise of riches to lure the young man to an ultimately death.  He had fought her with all of his will and had managed to escape, but he was weak and had suffered a large wound on his leg. 

She awaited patiently, until one day  the farmer's daughter approached her door and informed her that the youth had arrived in the village and that her father was fetching him in his donkey cart.  The widow hurried down the mountain path to find the cart stopped on the path.  When the donkey had attempted to climb to the woman’s cottage on the mountaintop, he had faltered and balked.  The steep ascent was too much for the animal, the track too crooked and narrow for the cart.  

The dairyman managed to turn the cart and donkey around and took the youth to his farm, just a short distance down the path.  The young man was placed in a bed in the corner of the kitchen, where he fell into a deep sleep.  When he briefly awoke in the middle of the night, he thought for a moment that he must be dead, for the farmer's daughter, clad in a white nightgown with her waves of gold hair streaming around him, seemed like an angel as she stood at his bedside.    

He fell back asleep, and, when he woke in the morning, he assumed that the beatific vision was a dream.  He accepted the healing broth the girl offered to him and let her place a poultice of herbs over the wound on his leg.  

For several months, she and his mother, who visited every day, tended to him.  During much of that time, the little boy made it a habit to sit by his bedside, enthralled by the young man's tales of his wartime adventures.  

Late at night, the farmer's daughter would creep out of her bed and go to the kitchen, so that she might gaze at the sleeping young man’s beauty.  Often she would  hold a cool cloth to his brow or rearrange his bed covers, but he never woke at these times, so was unaware of her tender ministrations.  

In time, the young man's wound healed and he grew stronger.  While he was thankful for the tender care his mother and the girl had lavished on him, his thoughts soon turned to leaving once again, to seek his fortune by finding work on a merchant ship.  

Upon learning of her son's intentions, the widow felt the old darkness within her rise to the surface.  She had hoped her son would settle nearby but had always known, deep down, that she was not worthy of such a gift.  She occupied herself knitting socks for him and tried not to dwell on her negative thoughts.  He son was alive and strong, and she must be thankful.  

The night before her son was to depart, moonlight guiding her steps, she walked to the dairyman's farm and stole into the kitchen.  She had brought the faeries’ shawl with her, and she placed the delicate garment over her boy’s sleeping form. In the morning, the young man, who had slept long past dawn, packed his belongings for his journey and picked up the shawl that he had found covering him.  He walked outside and saw the farmer's daughter, her hair a golden halo, approaching with a basket of eggs she had gathered.  He saw the boy tossing a stick to his dog and the farmer busily loading milk jugs onto his cart to take to the market. 

As she came closer, he saw tears coming from her eyes, and he was overcome with tender love and longing.  He walked to the girl and placed the shawl over her shoulders.  He then touched a droplet on her cheek with his fingertips and attempted to wipe it away.  He felt something cold and saw that the teardrops on her face had turned into diamonds.  The gems fell onto the grass at her feet, creating brilliant shimmers of light. The young man embraced the girl. 

The couple lived happily ever after.   They used the riches from the diamonds to grow the dairy farm into a thriving operation and to purchase a flock of sheep, which provided the widow with soft and lovely fleeces.  The couple blessed the widow and the dairyman--who were now dear friends--with several grandchildren.  Tending her sheep, spinning, knitting, sewing, cooking, and caring for young ones kept the widow’s mind and hands busy.  She rarely focused on regrets.  There were moments, in the evenings as she sat knitting by the firelight, when she mused about the shawl’s transformative magic, but, at other times, she wondered if such powers weren’t within the reach of each one of us, if we could only see that we possessed them.  


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