Jun 012005
 

There once was a farmer named Michael Anderson—a tall, strong and winsome man. He was married to a beautiful woman named Ashley. She was comely and kind. She wore her hair down to her waist—so long that it swayed in the breeze. She bore two sons, and at nine and seven springs old, they were good boys, trusting and respectful. Their home was small and the furnishings were sparse. The house set in a field of heather and rushes at the edge of a strand of trees. On one side were three hills and on the other side of the hills was the village of Cairin’s square, where the market place was held. Times were hard in Cairin and throughout the countryside. During this spring season, crops grew scantly and hardly an animal gave birth. Michael’s own cows did not give birth to any calves.

One spring morning, Ashley shambled to their meager dinner table where her husband sat slumped over. “Michael… We are hungry. The children have not eaten in days. And the… cows are the last things we have of any value…” She sat and sulked next to her husband.

That afternoon Michael, determined and hopeful, took their best cow to the market place so he could sell it to buy food for his family. The sky was clear and bright and he heard songbirds fly overhead. He climbed up the first hill, his stomach growled and he stopped. Michael grabbed the end of his belt and reined it in another notch. He winced at the pain of hunger that dogged his every step. He focused on his drab cloths, the tattered shirtsleeves, sighed and ascended the hill. As he crested the hill, he ran into an old man. The old man with a wrinkled jaundiced face and tufts of white hair, wearing a coat several sizes too big. The oddest thing about him was his long bent nose. Michael tried not to fix upon the man’s nose; he knew it was impolite. He tried to see what else he wore underneath the large coat — it covered his whole body.

“Where good sir, are you taking that cow?” said the old man in a withered voice.

With a wry smile, Michael answered the elderly man, “To the market place at Cairin, sir.”

“Ah… Will you sell it to me, honest sir?” asked the man. He thumbed his crooked nose and smiled.

Michael’s eyes widened and his face twisted into a shrewd gleam, “Well… That depends on your offer.”

The old man’s face cracked into a smile that stretched from ear to ear. It looked as though it might crumble, before he laughed, a wheezing sort of laugh. His hand disappeared under his coat and pulled out a bottle. “I’ll exchange the cow for this bottle.” It gleamed in the sunlight.

Michael examined the amber bottle and quickly determined it to be worthless in value. Unable to contain himself, he burst into laughter at the absurdity of the offer. The cow mooed. A raven came fluttering and rested on the old man?s shoulder. The raven cawed and the old fellow stood in silence. He was unmoved and not the least bit offended.

He smiled that same crumbling smile. His nose twitched before he replied. “You may laugh now good sir, but you see…” he lifted it up nearer to Michael, “this bottle is worth more than you could ever imagine and more than you will ever receive in Cairin, or anywhere else for that matter, good sir.” The raven cawed.

They argued for what seemed like hours, a lot of bickering and a lot of convincing. The raven took flight at the arguing. However, the old man persuaded Michael to take the mysterious bottle. Before they parted ways, a warming breeze brushed across Michael. It didn’t seem to touch the old man. “Now, Michael Anderson,” said the old man after the breeze died down, “a final word of instruction. Do as I tell you and you will not be disappointed. When you arrive home, never mind what anger may come from your wife. Get her to understand and have her lay a clean tablecloth down. Once done, set the bottle on the ground and say these words: Bottle, do your work, and you will see something wonderful.”

Surprised at the simplicity of the “magic” words. Michael stammered. “Is tha… that all? No chants or anything of the sort?” He shook his head in disbelief and stared at the crooked nose.

The old man thumbed at his nose. “That is all, good sir. Did you want something harder? I suppose I can make something up for you if you like?” The old man chortled before he added. “You’re a rich man now, Michael Anderson, so good-by to you sir.”

The man left towing the cow, leaving Michael to wonder how the old fellow knew his name. He examined the amber bottle in his hands, turning it in the morning light. It appeared empty, he raised it to his left eye, peeked inside and found it was indeed empty. Michael turned for one last look; there was no one in sight.

Michael grabbed for the crucifix around his neck before he said, “Oh, my Lord, what enchantment works here? Be a hedge between me and seelie harm!” His eyes grew large, “He must be one of the faery folk, but… where is the cow?” He gulped in his distress.

He eyed the bottle again and opened his coat; stuffing it under an arm before he ran back home as fast as he could.

When Ashley saw him back so soon, she ran to meet him. Her hair swayed behind her as if she would take flight. “What happened on your way to Cairin? What happened to the cow?”

Michael told of what had occurred between the old man and himself. He shared his suspicions that he was a faery. He conveyed the deal he made before he disappeared with the cow. Ashley flew into a rage, wept at the loss. Michael persuaded his wife to follow the old faery?s instructions.

Ashley dug out the “nice” linen for special occasions dusted off the table and placed it on its top. The boys watched in wonder at their parents as they were working to set up for supper. Michael put the bottle on the floor. Its amber glass gleamed in the hearth fire’s light. “Bottle, do your work.” In an instant, a golden smoke poured out of the bottle and out came many little men—only knee high. Some had red shaggy hair and green clothes with pointed shoes, while some had red caps, black hair, brown aprons, carrying hammers and tools; their pointy shoes had buckles. Some of the red headed people held bristled brooms, some carried plates of silver and gold with delicious looking food piled upon them. Everyone’s eyes were open wide and they began licking their lips in anticipation.

Michael remembered from long ago, that the little men with red hair were called kobolds and the ones with red caps were leprechauns. Ashley tugged at Michael’s shirt, she remembered that the little men didn’t like to be disturbed as they did their work; they held their children’s mouths so they would not speak and left the room.

The kobolds with brooms went to work cleaning up, the others set their plates down on the table and jumped back into the bottle. Only to return with golden candelabras they set on the table. The leprechauns restored furniture, cracks in walls, mended garments and repaired shoes. When the little men returned to the bottle, the house looked immaculate and the table was set for supper. When the Anderson’s were done with dinner, the kobolds didn’t return to clear the table. The family took the plates, washed them and set them in a cupboard for safe keeping. The children went to bed. Michael and Ashley reclined by the hearth and warmed themselves and talked of the mysterious magic of the amber bottle.

They spoke of their newly acquired fortune. They decided to buy some more land, replace the cow with a few more and maybe a horse or two. They discussed purchasing a cart and some furniture for their home. However, they were determined to keep the existence of the bottle a secret.

The Anderson’s landlord was a gruff and balding man with dingy golden hair that was tufted around the sides of his head. He was portly with a greasy sheen and smelled of rotting elder berries and pipe tobacco. In spite of their efforts to conceal their wealth, he came to Michael one day and questioned him. He asked of their new found riches and of their changed circumstances. Michael buckled under the questioning and told of the amber bottle. With a greasy grin the landlord offered to buy it. Michael refused. The oily man begged and in the end, Michael succumbed to the pressures. He lent it out for a week.

When the time came for the bottle’s return, Michael traveled to his landlord’s home and ask for it back. The landlord opened the door, looked at Michael quizzically before Michael spoke. “I’ve come for the bottle, good sir. May I please have it?”

The landlord laughed in response before he said, “You were fool enough to let it go so easily, so now you can do without it. A fool and his possessions soon part. Hah, hah, hah…”

Michael, angered by the response, turned and stormed away in a huff.

The spring passed into summer, the summer flew into autumn and quickly into winter. Their gold and silver went quickly. The spring came, Michael was in need of money and now there was only one cow left. He left the next morning to the market in Cairin to sell the cow. He hoped to run into the old fairy on the way again, just as in the previous year. And sure enough, as he crested the first hill, a warm breeze brushed across his face when he saw the man sitting on top a stump. A raven was perched on his shoulder cawing. A smile stretched across Michael’s face, his heart quickened as hope grew within him.

The old man looked up, his crooked nose twitched before he spoke. “And how are you today, Michael Anderson?”

Michael’s face slackened and told him all that transpired with the bottle. He told of his family and finally the end, with his landlord. The old faery gave a toothy smile, thumbed his nose and nodded as if he understood. When Michael finished his tale, the faery sat still for a few moments and then dug under his coat. He produced another bottle. However, this one was green in color and gave it to Michael. The old faery cocked an eye at him before he spoke. “Here you are, Michael Anderson. You know what to do with it.” He nodded towards the cow; Michael handed it over to him, knowing what would happen next. The old man gave the cow a pat on its head and walked down the road.

Michael beamed at the new bottle and cried out of joy for his great luck. He knew he would not fall for the same trick from his landlord twice in his lifetime. This time he would keep it secret. He rushed home to his wife and tell her of the great news. He never looked back at the old faery. Soon he arrived home and saw his wife come out the door to greet him. He cried out to her, “I’ve got another bottle, my dear! Fetch the linen and put it on the table, quickly. We’ll have a feast this night, get the children. Wait… I’ll get them.” He hugged her and ran to fetch the boys.

Ashley unfurled the linen and Michael came down with the children for dinner. They came running and shouting in delight. When everything was set, he then put the green bottle on the floor and said the magic words; “Bottle, do your work.”

Black smoke poured out of the bottle and then in the twinkle of an eye, little ugly men rushed out of the bottle’s mouth. They were horrors that swarmed throughout the house, breaking furniture, dishes and nick knacks.

“Goblins! Oh, Lord… we’re ruined!” cried Michael.

Two trolls jumped out of the blackened smoke, carrying clubs. They jumped upon Michael and Ashley and beat the poor family.

“Mercy, mercy!” cried Ashley.

“Oh, please stop! I understand… please stop!” pleaded Michael.

Then the creatures jumped back into the bottle.

Oh, old man. I shouldn’t of given it up so hastily. I’m such a fool! He rubbed his chin as he thought and his eyes brightened at a realization. Thank you, old faery for the chance to get the other back! He jumped up and clicked his heals together. Michael grabbed his wife and swung her round. “Ashley, my lass. The old faery had mercy on us in giving us the green bottle.”

His wife stopped swinging and looked into Michael’s eyes. “Mercy? That thing is accursed, Michael Anderson. It near beat the tar out of us…”

“It’s a means to get the other one back. Don’t you see? I’ll take it over to ol’ skin flint’s house and give it to him. He’ll beg for mercy and I won’t give it to him. Not until he gives back the other. Don’t you see?” He hugged her and they both laughed.

The next day after Michael had recovered from the blows; he learned from the old faery and his reason for giving him the green bottle. The beating was for giving up the amber bottle so easily. With determination, he took the bottle, put it under his coat and went to see his landlord.

Michael knocked on his door; shouts and cheers emanated from inside. He knocked again. Laughing, the landlord opened the door. His countenance changed as soon as he identified Michael and crooked an eye at his bruises. “What do you want now!” he barked. Food fell from his mouth.

Michael’s face twisted into a toothy grin; his teeth gleamed as he spoke. “Oh good sir, I’ve got another bottle, better than the previous one.”

The landlord smiled at this, greed worked behind his eyes. He knew he could dupe Michael again into giving it to him. “Come inside my good fellow and let’s have a look. I’m having some visitors over and we are having a revelry. Come, my good man and lets see what it can do.” He ushered Michael in.

He stepped into the ugly man’s home and saw the guests stop their reveling to look at him. Michael smiled at them and nodded. They returned the greeting with smugness. He saw an amber glimmer at the corner of his eye; the bottle stood on a high shelf out of reach. Michael reached under his coat, pulled out the green bottle and placed it on the floor in the middle of the room. He stepped back into the hall outside the room, chuckled and said, “Bottle, do your work.”

Black smoke writhed out of the mouth of the bottle. A horrible stench filled the room followed by the goblins. The creatures took no time in demolishing the landlord’s home. The two trolls jumped out, brandishing their wicked clubs and started beating everyone in the room. They cried and shouted through the bludgeoning whacks of the clubs upon the company, except for Michael who watched from a safe distance. He laughed at what transpired. The guests, landlord and his wife fell to the floor under the beating and cried out. “Make these devils stop, please before they kill us!”

He snickered and smiled before he answered. “Not until you give me back my amber bottle.”

“Give it to him!” cried the whole company. The landlord nodded his assent, disappeared and returned with a ladder. He set the ladder against the shelf as he was bludgeoned. He retrieved the bottle and gave it to Michael. “Now make them stop! Please have mercy!” At this, the creatures jumped back into the bottle. Michael pushed the amber bottle into his coat and retrieved the green one. He stuffed it next to the other, turned and nodded again to the company. Michael whistled an old Gaelic tune as he left for home.

And after that, he and his family prospered. They lived peacefully and with much joy until their lives’ end.

Philip Reyth resides in the High Sierras, Nevada. His writes diverse stories from science fiction to fairy tales to poetry and fantasy. He has stories and poetry published in Simulacrum Magazine, Dawn Sky, Aoife’s Kiss, Revelation Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine’s ‘Political Anthology,’ Twilight Times, Gryphonwood Magazine and Revolution SF. He has forth coming work in Astropoetica, Dawn Sky, Writers Post Journal and Black Satellite. Philip wrote ‘The Tale of the Two Bottles’ while researching the origins of fantasy stories. He took pieces of fairy tales, mythical creatures, hours of work, added water, coffee, vitamins and this is what came out.

Image: Fairy Fortune: original artwork by Aria Nadii. Please visit her website at www.arianadii.com for more information about the artist and her works.

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