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AINSEL

This is adapted from a book called Scottish Folk-Tales and Legends, stories retold by Barbara Ker Wilson. A very good friend of mine gave me this book after visiting my page. There are five or ten stories in this book that I would like to "retell". I chose this one first. My friend had marked it with a note, which said that he used to tell this story to his children when he was ready to go to bed…

 

Once there was a little boy named Parcie. He lived with his mother in a little stone cottage in the Border Country. They were very poor, but the cottage was comfortable and they loved each other very much and so they were happy.

Parcie was a very good boy, as little boys go, and always did as his mother asked, except when it was time to go to bed. Every night they sat by the fire together, and Parcie’s mother would tell him old tales that her mother had told her when she was a little girl. But the stories always ended too soon for Parcie’s liking, and his mother would tell him it was time for bed. He would always get himself some extra time, begging for another story or asking questions about the one she had just told.

But one very cold night, Parcie’s mother had allowed to stay up well past his bedtime, to listen to an extra story by the toasty fire. When she finally told him it was time for bed, Parcie refused to go. His mother, impatient with her stubborn son, and eager for bed herself, left him in front of the fire and went off to bed, saying,

"If it’s what you wish, Parcie, you can stay up all night in front of the fire. But if the old Fairy-Wife comes to get you, you can’t say I haven’t warned you, and it will be your own fault for disobeying your mother!"

Parcie, of course, didn’t really believe in the old Fairy-Wife, that was just a story parents told their children to frighten them into bed. His mother had used that story a thousand times before. So he stayed where he was in front of the fire.

It was common in the Border Country in those days, especially on the more remote farms, that a brownie would come down the chimney every night to help the woman of the house with her cleaning, for there were never enough hours in the day to finish it all. Parcie’s mother always left a big bowl of goat’s cream by the cottage door to reward the brownie for his services. And every morning the cream would be gone, and the house would be swept clean and tidied!

This brownie had a mother, a powerful fairy with a nasty temper, who did not care at all for humans. She was the old "Fairy-Wife" of whom Parcie’s mother spoke. She was devoted to her brownie sons (she had several), and woe to the human whom she thought had done one of them harm!

Parcie had gotten his way at last, and was happy sitting by the fireside. It got late quickly, though, and the fire began to die down, and the room became cold and grew darker and darker. Parcie began to think that this staying up late was perhaps not the best of ideas, and he considered going to bed. Just then, he heard a noise from the chimney, a scraping, shuffling noise, and then the brownie jumped into the room! Parcie had never seen a brownie before, in fact, he was getting to the age when he was not so sure they really existed. But there he was in front of him. The brownie was about Parcie’s height, with skinny little legs and arms and pointy ears and a brown thin face. They stared at each other for a few moments, both as shocked as the other, for the brownie no more expected to find a little boy at the fireplace than Parcie expected a brownie to hop out of one!

"What’s your name," Parcie asked the creature.

"Ainsel", replied the brownie with a clever grin. For ‘ainsel’, in the dialect of the Border Country, means "own self’. "What’s yours?"

"My Ainsel," Parcie answered, with his own clever grin.

Parcie and the brownie took an instant liking to one another, and both being lively and young, set about to play. Parcie was amazed to find his new friend even more agile and tireless than himself. The brownie could jump to an amazing height, and from the high wooden dresser all the way across to the hearth. It was getting darker and darker, so Parcie decided to stir up the fire a little so they could play for a few more minutes. But he was careless, as little boys often are, and a glowing ember from the fire fell out of the hearth and right on to the toe of his friend the brownie. Now brownies, though quick and clever, are not very tough. Ainsel let out such a screech that Parcie was sure it was heard all over Scotland, perhaps all over the world.

In fact, the yell had not even been loud enough to wake his mother, who still slept soundly in her bed. But it did catch the attention of the old Fairy-Wife, who shouted to her son down the chimney,

"Tell me who has hurt you, my son, and I will come and do for him!"

Parcie was terrified, and immediately ran to his bed and threw the covers over his head.

"It was My Ainsel!" shouted the brownie.

"Then why all the yelling?" demanded his mother, the old Fairy-Wife. "How dare you disturb me over something that was the fault of your ainsel!"

And then a long scrawny arm reached right down the chimney and grabbed the brownie from the hearth.

The following morning, Parcie’s mother found the bowl of goat’s cream by the fire, undisturbed, and the room had not been either swept or tidied. She was mystified. The brownie never came to her cottage again, and her workday was that much longer and harder. But she found that after that night, she never had to tell Parcie twice to go to bed. For how could he be sure that the next time that long arm reached down from the chimney, it wouldn’t be to take his own self?

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Adapted by Queen Moon on September 25, 1998