The woods before the hill
Once upon a time, in Ireland, a potter with a crooked back was walking home from a long day at market. Because of the bump on his back he walked more slowly than most folk. Sales hadn’t gone well that day so he had more to carry home than he had hoped. Night fell well before he was home, but the moon was full so the road was well-lit. As Patrick walked he heard music off to the side of the road. He peered over the hill and saw a band of Wise Folk or Gentry (we would, of course, call them faeries) dancing in the moonlight. One, two, one, two… went their happy dance.
As he watched Patrick relaxed and dropped his bag. The Fine Lady leading the dance immediately sent her attendants to fetch him into their circle. “Who do we find spying on our dance tonight and what fine should we impose for the interruption of our festivities?” “I’m Patrick, M’lady, and beggin’ your pardon, Ma’m, but the music was so lovely and you all seemed so happy how could I not watch and wonder what it would be like to join such festivities?” “And why hide yourself and spy? Why not simply walk among us and introduce yourself?” Patrick shifted uncomfortably as he replied “You’re all so fine, and I’ve always been told such activities aren’t for the likes o’ me.” Just then Patrick’s pennywhistle fell from his belt, pinging from a stone and landing at the Lady’s feet. She plucked up the humble instrument, examining it briefly. “So, you’re a musician? Then there’s no reason for you not to join our nights merriment. Please, then give us a tune.” The world seemed to disappear except for the elegant, dainty hand returning his whistle to him.
Patrick forgot the stories he’d heard about how dangerous it was to interrupt the Gentry’s gatherings. A strange calm overcame him as he brought the pennywhistle to his lips and began to play a simple waltz tune. The fine people began to dance one, two, three, one, two, three… When the tune was done they all laughed and clapped and instantly requested another, so Patrick played another happy waltz tune…one, two three, one, two, three… and so it went until dawn hinted it’s arrival with the first blush of morning on the horizon. It was time for the good people to return under their hill, but before they did they repaid Patrick by removing the hump from his back and replacing his bag of goods with a sack of gold. In a blink they were gone and he found himself standing alone on the hill.
Patrick ran home for more wares to take to market. It was late so he had to run to market, too. This was the first time in his life he’d been able to run and he found it exhausting but surprisingly pleasurable, none the less. As he set out his pots and dishes the people in the market noticed the change, and realized the fine qualities they’d missed in him before. Although Patrick had more business than ever before, he still found time to fill everyone’s requests, and with money enough to be comfortable without working another day he still supplied the village with fine pottery. Now the girls of the village noticed his fine countenance and vied for his attentions, and while Patrick’s head wasn’t unduly turned by their attentions, William the Dandy of the village was jealous beyond words. If someone like that could benefit from a night with the Gentry, he thought, just imagine what I could get from them! So he then and there resolved to meet with the Gentry and collect his share of fortune that night.
While Patrick and the rest of the village slept peacefully in their comfy beds, William slipped out to seek the favour of the merry dancers. By this time the moon was full again, so he had no trouble finding the hill, and as he approached he heard them dancing one, two, three, one two, three… Without so much as a by-your-leave William strode over the hill, interrupting the dance and angering the fine Lady in the lead. She rose to her whole, terrible height and demanded “Who are you and why do you break our melody?” Not put off by the danger and ignoring his manners, he declared “I’m William of the Village, and I have a new dance for you.” “You do, so you say!? On with it, make us a happy dance for our party tonight!” was her command.
Without a thought William belted out the first song to come to mind, a simple march tune he’d learned in the pub from soldiers he knew. One, two, three, four, one two three four… The fine people fell into rank and file, marching step-in-step to the tune. “NO, NO, NO!” the Lady cried, “this is not fun! Stop! Leave us this instant!” Terribly insulted, William strode into the center of them all and started another bright tune, faster than the one before, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four… The dancers marched again, rank and file, in circles around him, barely keeping up with their feet. The Lady sprang out of the line of dancers marching, marching, landing in a swirl of silken robes and faced William with a countenance of anger that froze the tune in William’s throat mid-note. “Do not impose such lock-step exhaustion upon my people! If we wish to go to war we now know the tune to sing, and just you hope to never anger us again! For now be happy we’ll continue dance to our own pleasant tunes. Leave us and never interrupt our festivities again!” With that her attendants threw the hump onto William’s back and a chamber pot onto his head and in a blink they were gone beneath their hill, leaving William alone in his misfortune to hobble home to meet the laughter of the people in the village market.
William spent all of his remaining days complaining into his beer of his misfortune and never again turned a fair maid’s head or sang so much as a froggy croak. Patrick, now, he eventually chose a fine wife and had good and generous children who added to the quality of life in the village all the generations since Patrick’s night of music. From that time to this, when the moon lights the road, no one of the village dares disturb the Gentry’s merriment, although their music can be clearly heard from over the hill.