|Written by Sarah M Lewis / Artwork by Lee Kuruganti
My stepdaughter is in the chimney corner beating the poor servants off with a broom, her weird ululations, high
piercing bugle calls pierce my ears followed by hoarse coughing rattles, the echoes reverberating off the walls. I can
hardly credit these sounds coming from any human throat. Once, I woke every morning to Cyrethea singing and I
wondered how songbirds could make such melodies until I discovered Cyrethea could mimic all the songbirds’ calls
and weave them into tunes of her own composition.
The remains of the lovely dress I had paid for by pawning my mother’s jewels, all I legally owned, is hanging off her
in bits and pieces. She ripped it into shreds after she’d kicked the dancing master I’d hired in the shins
“Cyrethea is coming into womanhood and in need of a mother’s guidance.” I blink back tears remembering Gearoid
Fitzsimmons’ apologetic words as he proposed. “I know we are strangers and this haste is unseemly after your
loss, but marry me and I will be kind to you and your daughters.”
Gearoid had let Euphromia into his library and helped her select books of poetry and he had encouraged Priscilla to
ride. In a few short months he had talked more to them than their father ever had.
Poor Cook was wringing her hands, that strong reliable woman reduced to tears. “It’s no good, Madam, we can’t
get near her. And she won’t hear you talking good sense to her.”
Cyrethea has been getting worse since her father’s funeral when she had burst out laughing hysterically and
rocking back and forth. My daughters, Priscilla and Euphromia, tried in vain to calm her with embraces and smelling
salts. The minister glared at us, regarding Cyrethea with a mixture of revulsion and fascination, yet that man of
God continued to openly lust over Cyrethea. He hadn’t troubled to hide it while she stood beside me, her golden
head bowed, as I faced down his insistence females could not properly attend a funeral service. He even stood in
the doorway as if to prevent us from entering.
Now I want to weep at the sight of Cyrethea’s shorn head, all her lovely curls sheared off. When the hairdresser
exclaimed over her hair’s fineness and soft texture, like the flowing plumes of water birds, crowning her head above
her long swan neck, she’d seized his scissors and chopped off all the maidenly ringlets he’d arranged.
This is what those gentlemen, respectable landowners all, did to that lovely innocent child of nature the day they
came into our house carrying Gearoid’s blood soaked body and deposited my husband’s corpse on the front room
table next to the sideboard where the servants had laid out breakfast dishes.
Priscilla and Euphromia were wailing and tearing their hair while I caught Cyrethea in my arms to shield her from the
sight. I saw those men looking at Cyrethea, eyeing her the way a cat regards the fluttering bird it has caught
before tearing it apart with its claws.
Cyrethea looks up and sees me, tears streaking the ashes smeared across her face. “Look, I can scrub floors.”
She pulls the wig she’d snatched off the dancing master’s head out of her bodice, then drops to her knees and
pretends to scrub the hearth with it. “My father is dead and we have no money. Ugly as they are, Priscilla and
Euphromia will be governesses and I can scrub floors.”
When Gearoid brought me and my daughters to his house, Cyrethea came racing to embrace us, her arms full of
flower garlands for us, barefoot, running on her toes, her lovely hair flowing behind her. Cyrethea’s grief made her
unkind, but grief and anger are luxuries neither Cyrethea nor I can afford. I know exactly how many coins are left in
my pocket hanging from my belt beside the household keys I must hand over to the creditors in two days.
“Governesses have starved to death in their old age.” I tell Cyrethea, “And no married woman in her right mind will
hire anyone as beautiful as you are, even as a scullery maid, lest you catch her husband’s eye or worse, her son’s.”
Cyrethea’s eyes changed from clear deep blue to blue so dark they were black, turned purple. “My father told me he
had to marry you and take in your daughters, because as magistrate in charge he failed to find the highwaymen
and recover your money. You had to marry him. You had to pretend to love me and be good to me.”
Pretend to love her? My mother’s jewels, salvaged from the robbery because I insisted on keeping them sewn in my
petticoats while we traveled, would have paid my and my daughters’ passage back from Ireland to England and the
not-so-tender mercies of my brother James. I pawned them instead to buy Cyrethea her chance for a decent life.
I stand frozen listening to the hateful words spewing out in her beautiful voice. “You can’t take care of yourself.
This is why for all your talk about propriety you’re not going into mourning. No, you’re planning to marry me to a
rich man who will take care of you and your daughters too.”
Was there some justice in her accusations against me? A decent marriage settlement for Cyrethea would secure my
two daughters’ financial security and probably provide me a small cottage on the husband’s estate, but I wouldn’t
sell this child into such a marriage as my brother James made for me.
I’d trusted my brother to do right by me when our father died. Instead, I’d had to live as his dependent despised
by my sister-in-law, taking refuge in the old priest holes, relics from my family’s own papist days, to escape her and
her servant’s persecutions. James called me into his study and explained he’d arranged for me to marry Mr.
Lawrence, his wastrel friend, to whom he lent large sums of money, more than the amount of the annuity or dowry
he refused me would have cost him.
“This is your chance for marriage and a home of your own.” James told me.
“You intend for me to marry Mr. Lawrence?” I was incredulous.
“One of fates’ little quirks, my dear Hypatia, I may now call you Hypatia.” Mr. Lawrence smirked taking my hand in
his after signing the contract pledging to marry me in return for yet another loan from my brother. James accepted
all his wife’s objections to settling any money on me, but any money that passed between him and his friend, well,
that was “between men”.
“It’s her mother’s blood.” One of the footmen, O’Brien, whispers.
His words only make me more aware my scheme is a forlorn hope. Still it is Cyrethea’s best chance because of the
effect her beauty has on men for good or ill. I’d observed this with both the minister and with servants, though the
servants acted with more decency. The young stable boy who fawned upon Cyrethea like a puppy for smiling and
saying a kind word to him and a footman who couldn’t keep his eyes lowered around her; both took it upon
themselves to seek other employment.
“Do you think she’s possessed?” One of the two strong maid servants who had wrestled Cyrethea into a tub and
washed her after she’d rolled in the ashes the first time asks another. Cyrethea had broken free, wrapped herself in
the shreds of the dress she’d ripped up, and raced down the servant’s stairs to the chimney corner.
“No. She is not possessed. I’ll deal with her.” I answer the maid, then send the servants back up the stairs.
Once I’m certain none of the staff are lingering close enough to overhear, I turn my attention back to Cyrethea.
“Papa broke his promise. I begged him not to go out and attempt to stop that duel.” She declares.
We both begged him and I believed we had succeeded. Then as Cyrethea and I were retiring upstairs that man
came to the door and there were words spoken quietly to Gearoid. He called for his hat and his cloak and went out
“I trusted my father to take care of me and he went and got himself killed.”
I want to drag Cyrethea out of the chimney corner and shake her. “Do you truly believe your father broke his word
to either of us? We don’t know why he went out. Why take anyone else’s word he was shot by an accidental
discharge of a pistol trying to stop a duel?”
There was no duel, so no one could be charged with dueling and the pistol that killed Gearoid wasn’t fired by
anybody, so they claim. Those same men claimed Tories, Irish Rebels still lurking from the rebellion of 1798, only
two years past, killed my first husband.
“Do you remember that man wiping blood off his fingers with his handkerchief saying, ‘Too bad he doesn’t have a
son to avenge him.’ Strange words of comfort to the widow and child of a man dead by misadventure, don’t you
“Even stranger, those were the same words the leader of the highwaymen said after he pulled my first husband’s
dead body from my arms and threw it on the ground. The eyes of your neighbor standing over your father’s body
were the same eyes that had looked straight at me through the slits in a highwayman’s mask.”
I’m an English woman among the Anglo Irish, a stranger among these people but I know the Protestant rulers are
as gullible and superstitious as the native Irish they despise. I had hoped the guilt of Gearoid’s murderers would
become evident to the community by their absence from his funeral, afraid his corpse would bleed afresh in their
presence. None of Gearoid’s family, the relatives he had presented me to a half year ago at our wedding came to
his funeral. None of the neighboring gentry, Gearoid’s fellow landowners and magistrates, appeared.
Cyrethea knit her brow thinking. Her eyes had gone back to purple from crimson. “Priscilla and Euphromia stopped
crying when Mr. Warner spoke.”
Priscilla and Euphromia recognized the words, the voice, the threat and fell silent. My heart skipped a beat. Those
men knew we had recognized them. Then I realized they wanted us to know they had killed both my husbands.
Their leader taunted me because I was powerless, a woman with no connections.
Cyrethea is beginning to understand. “Papa always stood for what was right. He looked after the Irish. He wouldn’t
have false accusations of treason in his court and he was determined to find out who those Tory highwaymen were.”
Gearoid’s mourners were the poor, the Irish, the Catholics who would never set foot in an Anglican church if they
could help it. Afterwards as we were leaving, they, in their threadbare clothes, some barefoot, approached me and
my daughters, warily offering kind words and condolences. When they looked at Cyrethea, they crossed
themselves. I was touched by their humble gesture of prayer for Gearoid’s orphaned daughter.
“His murderers will turn us out by men’s rules of property, buy our possessions with the gold they killed my first
husband for and then re-pocket that gold for Gearoid’s debts to them. They were all looking at you, Cyrethea, the
way men look at a beautiful girl when they know there is no man to protect her.” Another reason why I knew I
could not bring Cyrethea back to England and introduce her to my brother James or his set.
I press the hard truth upon my stepdaughter. “And that, my dear, is why we must use the only weapon we have,
your beauty, to foil them. In our circumstances it would have been impossible for you to attend the Dublin Season.
This ball is a God send. The Duke and Duchess are almost never in residence at their country estate. You must be
beautiful, beguiling, and set your sights upon catching a husband.”
I look her up and down. “Come, we’ll get you cleaned up. There’s your mother’s ball dress, her slippers and her
court wig in her chest for you. She never supposed styles would change to low cut bodices and natural hair.”
I’d seen Cyrethea slipping to the chest with the duplicate key she thought I didn’t know she had. I’d seen her hold
her mother’s glittering gown to her, slide those feet of hers, all slender toes with that strong middle toe longer
than the others, feet with no heel, into the slippers that could only fit such unusual feet and glide across the floor
to the steps of old dances her father must have taught her.
Cyrethea’s eyes turned crimson again. “No. See what I look like now. I’m ugly enough none of those murderers will
even want to touch me.”
Euphromia and Priscilla must have told her, during happier times when the three girls walked arms linked in the
garden, how the highwaymen hauled the three of us out of the carriage to look my sobbing girls over in the
moonlight then declared, “They’re too ugly to be worth the risk of delay for a tussle in the bushes.”
I warn Cyrethea, “Lack of beauty would not have protected my daughters if the brigands had not felt pressed for
time and that faerie procession had not come out of the forest.”
I shivered at the memory. I shouted at them believing help had arrived, but the host swept past me without
pausing though a few looked at us with puzzled expressions as I stood there with Lawrence dead, my girls
hysterical, the robbers fled. It was then I realized they only had the shape of men and women, only taller and more
birdlike, their faces all sharp angles and pointed chins. Their mounts were not horses, their legs were longer and
their gait was different.
It had been Lawrence’s idea to liquidate all our property and move to Ireland. The money his relatives settled on
him to leave England for good also assisted in his decision. Lawrence refused to stay the night at the inn, refused
to listen to the innkeeper’s warnings and insisted on pressing on at night after paying with gold for our meals at
the tavern. I’m sure that was how the highwaymen knew of the large sum of money he carried on him. That sent
those murderers after us.
“I won’t marry a rich man who will care for us all but not lift a finger against my father’s murderers. My mother’s
daughter will not forget or forgive. I will work and keep myself safe by keeping myself dirty and hideous, forgotten,
beneath notice until I can strike back.”
How can I use Cyrethea’s fierce anger to secure her future?
“Meanwhile, those creditors should not have those things of your mother’s. Since you don’t want them, I’ll order
the servants to put them on a stool by the backdoor to burn tomorrow. I would have thought both your mother
and father wanted you to dance tonight, to see you defying the world until midnight, spirit’s noon.”
In the kitchen I counted out the servants’ last salaries. They would serve us better the last two days, see us leave
the property with dignity, with no doubts they had received the last coin owed to them. My hand shook when I
counted out onto the table the tiny stack of coppers I had hoped would assure a day or two’s meals for us at the
worst onto the table.
“That’s for a last bit of extra work from the stable boys. Remember the little open one-person carriage your first
mistress used with footmen in her own special liveries?”
I remembered all three girls in that little carriage, Cyrethea handling the reins, driving around the courtyard, with
the stable boys wearing the old liveries her mother designed hanging on the back. Euphromia and Priscilla were
laughing. Gearoid slipped his arm around my waist and I put my head on his shoulder.
Gearoid was extremely protective of his only child, keeping her shut away on his Wexford estate. Cyrethea told me
she never played with other children. Until Priscilla and Euphromia came, she’d never been around young girls her
“No one would pay anything for that except as firewood. Pay the boys this to chop it up tomorrow so we can use it
to keep warm the last two days.” Unless Cyrethea washes up with the bucket of water and soap I ordered left
before putting on her mother’s ball dress, unless Cyrethea pays the stable boys to hitch up the carriage one more
time and drive her to the ball.
Back upstairs I find Euphromia and Priscilla dressed for the ball wringing their hands.
“I don’t understand, “Priscilla said. “Cyrethea wanted to go and was afraid Step Papa would forbid it. I told her not
to be afraid, you’d persuade him.”
“Mama, Cyrethea must come to the ball with us.” Euphromia wails. “She must. She’s so beautiful society will forgive
us appearing so soon after…” Her voice broke before continuing, “All the men will know we’re her stepsisters and
want to meet us so they can meet her. We can’t go without her.”
“We can and we will.”
~ * ~
Euphromia plucked at my sleeve, “Mama, look.”
Cyrethea entered alone and conspicuous just as the Duke commanded the musicians to play something decent,
meaning a dance he remembered from his own youth. He was disgusted by the new dances in which couples
embraced inside of promenading and circling each other at arms’ length.
“Balls are intended to cause young people to decide on getting married, not publicly enact the intimacies of the
marriage bed.” The Duke declared loudly in his deafness despite the Duchess’s attempts to hush him.
My stepdaughter descended the grand staircase dressed in her mother’s gown, slippers and wig, the fashions of
twenty years ago, not much unlike what the Duchess still insisted on wearing. Her Grace had been heard saying
herself and not that softly, that even before she produced the Marquis, she had not considered displaying to the
world the equipment necessary, if wet nurses hadn’t been available, to feed a husband’s heir.
When Cyrethea, who was not well endowed in that respect, stepped into the line of bobbing boobies with her heir-
feeding equipment covered, and swung gracefully through the old fashioned dance-steps, a widowed squire and a
shy scholarly baronet daunted by more daring girls took immediate notice. I thought that promising and considered
it a setback when Their Graces sent their son, the Marquis, in her direction.
He was too high for us to hope for. I did not intend my stepdaughter’s future to include her being a mistress.
Cyrethea now chose to be charming. She danced every dance with the handsome Marquis, ignoring my subtle
signals to dance with other more obtainable young men until the huge ornate ballroom clock began to strike
midnight. Then she sprang from her partner and sprinted for the door at a speed I could hardly credit, more ostrich
then girl. As she passed me, she hissed, “Spirit’s noon and I have sold myself for my blood price not money.”
I realized what she meant when the chamberlain conferred a moment with the Marquis between the sets of dances
and collected me to conduct to Their Graces. Only this family had the connections and the influence to bring her
father’s murderers to justice.
I explained my stepdaughter was a shy modest girl, withdrawing to leave all to my motherly care.
Priscilla and Euphromia were married to the squire and Baronet. Distant relatives of Cyrethea’s father who were
invisible in our hour of need have come forward and assured everyone Cyrethea was always sweetness itself. Unless
bad treatment from her cruel stepmother has altered her nature, she will be a perfect match for the Marquis.
As for me, I wisely asked in the marriage settlement only for the required payment for placement in a distant
convent. I’ve discovered a desire to revert to the Catholicism of my ancestors before the Reformation. A regular life
of prayer and meditation with no more responsibility for my own survival or anyone else’s suits me. I pray daily for
Cyrethea’s worldly happiness which is all there is for her with hatred in her heart.
~ * ~
It is summer and the days are long. In the dusk, the tall very real faeries flit under the trees. Even in the distance
they can be seen lighting up like fireflies. Out in the countryside, they sing beneath the stars all night. One sang
outside my cell all night. All the sisters and the Mother Superior see them, but that is never to be discussed.
I was surprised when Mother Superior sent me to the parlor to receive a visitor and found it was Cook.
“I wanted to see you were well and settled in, Madam.” She explained. “And I was told to deliver this.”
I accepted the envelope puzzled to see Gearoid’s seal on it. Whatever this news is, I know I have to thank Cook.
“Bless you and the rest of the staff forevermore for spreading that story of a faerie godmother who chose
Cyrethea to be the Marquis’ bride and will see to good harvests as long as she lives happily ever after.”
Cook leaned toward me and whispered. “There’s some truth at the bottom of the story we told. Her mother was
one of them after all.”
“Faeries exist. My husband was married to a faerie and faeries are mortal.” I remembered Cyrethea’s mother’s grave
beneath the willow tree away from the house. I had wondered why Gearoid’s first wife wasn’t buried in the local
I remembered Cyrethea’s hair, her unusual feet, her boyish figure, her long neck. The odd way Gearoid kept the girl
isolated on his estate. How Gearoid and the servants would never speak of the first wife. The footman’s whispers
about the blood of Cyrethea’s mother.
“Madam, I never felt easy about not telling you, but the master wouldn’t have anyone speak of it. All gentry round
about gave him a wide berth and nobody would marry a daughter to him.”
If Gearoid’s wife wasn’t baptized, no church would have married her and Gearoid, which means anyone wanting to
make trouble could question the marriage’s validity. Gearoid’s kin expected to inherit everything the creditors
couldn’t legally lay claim to when he died. Would they call Cyrethea’s legitimacy into question?
I look down at the unopened letter in my hands, suddenly afraid for my stepdaughter as well as for myself.
“Cyrethea is baptized?”
Cook looked me in the eye. “It says so in the church register. Madam, everyone who could answer any question
about that is long dead now.”
Good. Then Cyrethea can be married legally and a strong case is made for the validity of her parents’ marriage.
“And her mother’s kin will bless her happiness.” Since coming to Ireland I’ve learned the practice of going to church
on Sunday, yet believing in the pagan religion and worshipping the faeries as if they were pagan gods the rest of
the week is not limited to the poor tenants.
“Madam, the high and mighty don’t know her kin the way I and my sort do. They don’t have naught to do with
those of their kind that marry our kind or their children neither and they don’t like us any better than the English.
But the stories we make up about them keep the nobles a feared and holds back some of their cruelties.”
Time to know the worst. I break the seal and read the letter.
A shocking discovery has been made. An old family friend from England requested protection for the presents being
sent for the Marquis’ wedding due to constant robberies in our forests. The Marquis was insulted. I suggested he
prove travelers without obvious armed escort were safe by arranging a hidden ambush as protection instead of
Three of my late father’s neighbors holding adjoining lands were captured. Goods from several robberies were
found on their estates.
I begged their hangings might be immediate so my delicate feelings would not be disturbed by thinking about their
deaths at my wedding.
You may want to pray for their souls.
I do not forget or forgive.
There was no signature.
Sarah has a BA in Art History, an MA in history and has been
published in Thema, Aoife’s Kiss, Tales of the Talisman and Mystic
She lives in Texas and always has her ears open to a good story.