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Image by Annie Spratt

The Glade of Sionn O'Shea

​​The turf clung to the instep of Aisling’s boots as she raced across the bog towards the forest. Her skirts whipped around her, wind biting at her cheeks and nose. Her father warned her about the bog, how one wrong step could pull you in. That no one would even hear her scream, and if they did it would be too late.

She’d heard about the bodies, pulled from the bog, ancient yet immortal. Mummified in one way, pickled in another. But being raised on the moorlands brought a lightness to her feet, and a knowledge of which places were too damp to tread, even after years of being away.

Her father was dying, in any case, resigned to his fate and ready to be returned to the bog and marsh that he came from. Ready to go home. If he had an opinion on her running over the bog, he couldn’t stop her. The trees towered above her, sheltering her from the chill as she entered the forest, hurrying along a path known only to her and the rust-colored fox leading the way.

At first, the trees were far apart, young and newly planted. But as she ventured farther, the forest thickened like roux, knitting tight together until the autumn-tinged branches caught on her clothes. She kept going, climbing over tree roots and slipping on moss as she kept sight of the fox’s tail. Her skirts were bound to be ruined by the time she was through. She pressed forward anyway, relishing the way the mud squished under her boots, and the smell of dirt, sweat, and wood that enveloped her as she continued on.

Soon enough, the trees parted and she came into a clearing. She stopped on the edge, not daring to enter. A soft light filtered in through the treetops, highlighting the dust that clung to the air. Her gaze traveled across the clearing, taking in the massive twisting tree trunks and roots, the short, soft grass peppered with wildflowers, and the first fallen leaves. A gleaming, silver pond sat in the center of it all—still and constant as the sky above.

It called to her and she stepped inside. A warmth spread over her, as if the seasons shifted back to high summer and forgot October’s morning frost. Silence filled her eardrums, with nary a chirp or whistle from any birds that perched in the surrounding trees. Tears pricked at her eyes and her chest filled with longing.

So it was real. 

She took a tentative step forward, then another, until she came to the pond’s edge. A warped visage stared back at her, reflecting her torn dress, muddy boots, and wild mousy hair. She cocked her head at the reflection.

“Might I be wrong, then?” She took a step to circle the water, muttering to herself as the reflection followed her movements. “The pond exists after all.” She bent down and touched the surface of it. “It’s not just a dream”

She came back to where she started and settled herself down to rest on the mossy bank, skirts ruffled up around her. A tear fell into the water, rippling outwards as she dared to wish that her childhood dreams were true. That Sionn O’ Shea was real and that he could help her.

Aisling was shorter than stalks of fairy thimble when they first met, spending most of her time in the small yard that bordered the moorland. Her father was a farmer and spent his days on the bog cutting turf, tending lambs, and moving hay with the other men in their small village. He’d come back at the end of the day, covered in muck and smelling of rot, but bringing back a single stalk of heather for her mother.

He’d go to ruffle Aisling’s hair with his muddy hands, and she’d shy away shrieking with delight. Her mother would push him off towards the sink telling him to wash up before supper, but left a kiss on his cheek as she placed the heather in a vase on the table.

After supper, they’d snuggle in the warmth and glow of the fire, and her parents would weave tales of the faeries that lived deep within the forest and how to avoid their tricks and rings. 

“They live in a land called Tír na nÓg,” her mother said, brushing her hair.

“The Otherworld?” Aisling whispered.

“Ay. And a reflection of our own.” Her mother answered.

She’d fall asleep to the gentle lull of their voices and wake up in her own bed, listening to her parents talk in the early morning light. When she stirred, her father would leave a kiss on her forehead and venture back into the fields for another day of work, and she’d do her chores and go out to play.

A day came when she wasn’t content to stay in the yard all day, playing alone till her father came home. Her mind swirled with thoughts of the faeries, living just over the moorland. What if she found them? Would they play with her or take her away? 

While her mother did the mending, Aisling packed a small bag with bits of cheese and bread to fuel her adventure. She wandered out of the yard and onto the moor, then further still into the bog, without anyone noticing her departure. The wild grass grew in patches taller than she was. Frogs croaked out their melodies over the marsh but Aisling passed them by, opting to keep to the zig-zagging dry paths. Heather swayed in the wind.

As she walked, she disturbed insects and other creatures, and soon found herself chasing butterflies and dragonflies and anything that fluttered with color. 

A particularly friendly dragonfly lured her deep into the woods, the shadows and sunlight falling in a patchwork pattern along the forest floor. Enamored as she was with her new environment, she lost the dragonfly to the whisperings of the trees. 

 Her gaze caught the glint of a fox’s eye as it winked at her and stepped into the clearing. 

“Do you know the way to where the faeries live?” she asked. It cocked its head and circled her in a curious fashion. She bent down and pulled off her rucksack, pulling out a bit of cheese, holding it out to the sly creature. It crept forward before licking the crumbling cheese from her fingers. She giggled and the fox seemed to smile at her before it gave a sharp nod and ran off. Aisling picked up her skirts and followed, ducking and weaving through the trees as she kept a careful eye ahead for the bounding, rusty blur.

“Wait for me!” she called, not wanting to be left behind. The fox paused on a tree root for her to catch up, but didn’t still for long. Aisling huffed as she fought to keep up with it. Soon enough she came upon the glade, but stopped just shy of the edge. The fox sat next to the pond, staring at her.

“I know better than to come into places like this.” She crossed her arms and glared at the fox. “I’ve not come looking to be taken.”

The fox stood and moved over to her, nudging the back of the legs, coaxing her to cross the threshold. 

“Is this an invitation, then? It’s alright?” She furrowed her brow and looked down at the fox, but it had disappeared. With a deep breath, she took one step inside the glade, a warmth spreading into her limbs. She bit her lip and continued forward until she came to the edge of the pond and waved at her reflection.

“Hello there!” She sat on the bank and pulled out some bread. “The fox told me it was alright for me to be here, so I hope you don’t mind. I really didn’t mean to go so far.” She nibbled on some bread and stared up at the green canopy above her. 

“Although, I did want to find where the faeries lived. Mamaí says you live in Tír na nÓg. Is that true?”

She leaned out over the water, but only found her reflection. Her question remained unanswered, and she blew some hair out of her face. The silence continued as she plucked clover flowers to make a crown, splashed in the water, and blew dandelion fluff.

The shadows grew longer as the sun moved towards its set. Aisling sat up, realizing that her parents couldn’t know where she was. Dadaí would come home soon, covered in the work of the day, and she wouldn’t be there to greet him. 

Her lower lip wobbled as she turned in a circle, trying to sense which direction she had come from and not recognizing the trees or the moss or the flowers or anything. She slumped on the bank of the pond, and her eyes burned. The shadows seemed to move on their own and she curled in on herself. 

“I wish I knew the way back again.”

A single ripple came from the center of the pond, reaching out towards the edges. The trees swayed, and Aisling caught sight of the fox coming into the glade. It nuzzled up against her arm, then sped off towards the treeline. She stood and hurried after it, in much the same manner as she had earlier in the day, until she came to the end of the forest, and could see the lights of her home in the distance.

“Thank you!” she said to the fox. It gave a bark in reply and hurried off. A drop of rain on her forehead caused her to run for home to escape the incoming downpour. Her parents fussed and preened over her when she made it back to the yard, but didn’t scold her for wandering off. They laughed at her story as they tugged off her muddy boots, citing a wild imagination for the colorful tale. For how could a fox lead her anywhere?

Aisling escaped from her mother’s watchful eye a day or so later. She ran over the moorland, hardly hearing the frogs calling out to her as she passed. Her feet darted over the marshy areas of the bog and she caught her breath at the edge of the forest.

“Are you there, Fox?” she called into the trees, hoping it hadn’t been her imagination or a dream. She caught the glint of its glassy eye from under a root, then its full bushy tail came into view. It stood just inside the shaded woodland, and Aisling grinned and ran to meet it.

This time they took a steady pace as they walked the distance to the glade. The fox only stayed a step ahead and companionable silence passed between them. As they came into the pond’s clearing, the fox disappeared once more and Aisling was left alone to explore. She spent half the day in much the same way as she had before, singing to herself, dancing in the sunbeams, and making new chains of flowers, as the ones she made before were gone.

But as the sun rose directly over the glade, she grew bored with playing on her own. It was the same as playing at home, except her mother was around to talk to if she had stayed in the yard. She pulled out her rucksack and sighed at the food as she pulled it out.

“I wish I had a friend to play with.”

Another ripple came from the center of the pond and Aisling shrieked and pulled back as something came out of the water. 

A little boy, just her age with shaggy red hair and laughing green eyes flopped on the bank beside her, sopping wet.

“Do ye greet all your friends this way?” He smirked up at her. 

“You came from the pond!”

“Ay. Is that a problem for ye?” He shook out his mess of hair and laid back on the grass. The sunlight made his hair shine with strands of gold. She shook her head and he offered his hand.

“Sionn O’ Shea. What’s yours?”

She shook his hand. “Aisling O’Broin. Did you want to play?”

He grinned and hopped up, pulling her to her feet. “Course I do, Ash!”

Letting go of her hand, he hit her on the shoulder and ran off into the trees. Aisling shouted in alarm before chasing after him.

She came back every day she could, and Sionn always waited for her. Soon enough, she didn’t need the help of the fox to find the glade, her feet remembering well enough on their own. One day, as the sun rose high over the glade, they sat next to the pond and Aisling split the food from her rucksack.

“My mam found out how much I was taking and made me stop. I’m sorry it’s not more.”

Sionn shrugged. “It’s alright. Ye ought to eat more of it anyway.”

“I wish there was enough for both of us.”

The pond rippled once more,and in a blink an entire picnic spread out around the two of them. Her face lit up in surprise and Sionn laughed.

“You have to be careful what ye say, Ash. Or things will just happen to ye.”

Every so often, Sionn would offer to bring Aisling to his own world.

“It’s right pretty here, but ye ought to see where I come from, Ash. It’s beautiful beyond what you know.”

“I know better than to go with strangers into ponds.”

“Ay, but I’m not a stranger now, am I?”

She gave him a look and he laughed.

“I understand, Ash.” He shrugged and pressed his palm flat over the surface of the water.

“Someday you’ll come with me, and that’s enough.”

“And how do you know I’ll come with you, Sionn O’Shea?”

“Because we’ll be married, won’t we? That way, we’ll always be together.” He glanced up at her.

She blushed and bit her lip. “I’d like that, Sionn.”

He twisted up a red clover bud into a ring and slipped it on her finger with a grin.

A few weeks after Aisling turned eight, a dark shadow passed over her village. Illness spread quick as fire, and just as deadly and hot. Her mother caught it and the fever that came with it. Her father stayed home from the fields to look after her, and Aisling stayed to the yard just in case.

The day that her mother died Aisling helped her father to stop the clocks to the time of death. They took black shrouds and covered the mirrors so her spirit wouldn’t get trapped and opened a window near her body so she could find her own way out. Aisling sat at her side and cried. Her mother looked so lifelike. For three days she kept to the house as they mourned with the village, singing, praying, and telling stories about her mother.

After the wake and funeral, Aisling fled to the glade. Her skirts caught on roots and she stumbled through, hardly seeing anything through her tears. Sionn sat at the pond as always, but jumped to his feet as she came into the clearing. He caught her in his arms and held her as she cried.

“I wish she hadn’t died!” she said. “I wish she was well! I wish I could have done something!”

She kept her eyes on the center of the pond, but the only ripples came from her tears as they dropped in the water. 

Sionn rocked her back and forth, shushing her. “I’m sorry, Ash. There’s nothing to be done now. The pond can only do so much.”

“No!” She shook her head and pushed away from him. “I wished! I wished and so it must be so!”

Sionn shook his head, the light gone from his eyes. “There comes a point when you have to stop wishing.”

She stood on shaky legs, tears pouring down her face, then turned and left the glade without another word.

Soon after, her father packed up their meager belongings and moved to a town on the coast. He said it was so he could find new work on the docks and she could go to school. But she knew it was because it was too hard to return to their old home and find it empty of what gave it life.
In school they taught science, mathematics, and literature, but never spoke of the faeries, or the way the heather bent in the wind over the moor. Her tanned skin paled and she grew taller and wiser. She rarely thought of Sionn, and when she did she smiled at the memory of an imaginary friend. 

An average rainy day in her twentieth year brought in a new grief with the slam of a backdoor. She looked up from her seat at her sewing table as her father came in, coughing as she’d never seen before. Setting her mending to the side, she hurried to help him to sit by the fire.

“What’s happened? Are you ill?”

“It’s just a tightness in my chest, child. It’ll go away soon.”

She nodded and went to prepare a broth or something to help his cough. But as the days passed, the illness became worse. One night as she sat by his bedside, wiping his brow with a damp cloth as his coughs kept them up, he took her hand in his.

“Aisling. We need to go home.” He emphasized the last word before another coughing fit came on. She knew exactly what he meant, too. This village on the western coast wasn’t home, it hadn’t been for either of them. Both of their hearts were back in the moorland. 

Early the next morning, she packed up what she could and helped her father to the train station. They returned to her childhood home after a decade of being away. It stood in disrepair, but it gave them shelter from the wind and a roof over their heads. She kept her father comfortable as his cough grew worse and he muttered about hearing her mother’s voice calling to him at night.

An old family friend suggested heather and coltsfoot tea to help soothe him, so Aisling set off on the moor to gather some. It wouldn’t save her father, but it might make him more at ease as death welcomed him. As she passed by the edge of the forest, a fox’s tail caught her eye. Without a second thought she started off running. 

And now, here she was, in the glade once more, thinking of Sionn for the first time in years. Another tear fell from her eye, rippling over the water as she came back to herself. The memories fading like old dreams. After sitting in silence for what seemed like hours, Aisling stood and wiped the tears away, gaze still set on the pond.

“I wish you were real,” she whispered.

“Who’s to say what’s real and what’s not, these days?” 

She whirled around and caught sight of a tall man on the edge of the clearing, leaning against one of the trees. His wild, untamed, red hair, and mischievous green eyes seemed familiar. She took a step back, her voice catching in her throat. He straightened and moved towards her.

“It’s been a while, Ash.”


He nodded and she shook her head.

“You’re real…I didn’t imagine you.” She closed the gap and he pulled her close to him.

“I’m more than real.” He ran a hand over her hair. “And now you’re back home again.”

She pulled away, searching his face. “I can’t stay, Sionn. My father will need me back soon.” She shook her head. “I shouldn’t have left him alone—he’s already heard the banshee.”

His expression softened. “I’m sorry.”

“I wish I could cure him.” She glanced at the pond, hoping to see it ripple the way it had when they were children. It remained still. Sionn moved to capture her gaze again.

“Ash, I have a secret to tell ye. Can ye keep it?”

“Of course.”

“The pond never granted the wishes. I did.” A subtle blush colored his features. 

She bit her lip. “Can you help him then?”

He shook his head. “I can’t. There’s much that magic and wishing can do, but it can’t reverse death.”

She nodded, blinking back tears. He swept some hair out of her face.

“Why don’t you come with me?”

“With you?”

“To Tír na nÓg.”

The Otherworld. It was a dangerous offer. One that she should refuse on principle. To take up offers from strangers or faerie would be foolish. But Sionn wasn’t just any faerie. He was hers and she his.

She took a deep breath, the first step, and his hand all at once. 

They walked together towards the pond, until they came toe to toe with their reflections. He gave her a nod, and they both stepped into the water. 

A dizziness spread throughout her and she blinked, finding herself facing away from the pond. She glanced over at Sionn, who grinned back. The clearing seemed different. Brighter. Vibrant. Warm. He squeezed her hand.

“Welcome to my home, Ash.”

He led her through the forest, teeming with life and energy. Animals trailed behind them, different than the ones she knew. Deer with jewel toned fur instead of tawny brown. Rabbits with long tails and stripes. Sprites instead of butterflies and dragonflies. Aisling stared in wonder and awe at the creatures as Sionn pulled her along.

They came to where the bog should have started, but instead of marshy ground and turf, they found a garden filled to the brim with flowers in every color she could name, but growing wild and free. Where the world that Aisling came from reeked of turf smoke and dirt, Sionn’s world blossomed with perfume. A bluer sky could not be found in any mortal realm, and Aisling couldn’t stop smiling.

“I told you that you’d love it,” he said.

“I never questioned that.” She grinned at him and he squeezed her hand again.

“Come on. There’s someone who’ll want to see ye,” Sionn said as they came to where the gardens met a stretch of short grass and clover. Rows of houses glittered in the distance.

They came down the hill at a good clip, with the wind at their back and the sun shining its soft warmth upon their faces. The roads shone with silver and gold and they passed other folk as they moved along. Each smiled and waved at the couple and Sionn greeted most of them by name.
They came to a house at the center of the square, and he opened the door wide.
“Mamaí, I’ve brought her at last!” 

Aisling stepped in, finding the interior much larger than the exterior, but still just as cozy and lived in as any mortal home. A hearty stew smell followed a lively woman with red hair and hazel eyes as she came in from the kitchen. Aisling couldn’t help but feel as if they’d met before.

“Oh, Sionn, she’s just as pretty as you said she was.” His mother swept them both up in a hug. She stepped back and held both of Aisling’s shoulders to get a good look at her. “But she’s seen the edge of the earth and returned! Look at the state of her! Come now, let’s get you cleaned up and into some dry clothes.”

 Sionn reluctantly let go of her hand as his whirlwind of a mother hustled her up the stairs and into a spare room. She opened a closet and handed Aisling a beautiful grey wool dress, woven with flecks of every color imaginable. When she tried it on it fit perfectly, as if it were made for her. Aisling gave Sionn’s mother a questioning look, but she shook her head and guided her down the stairs.

“You’ve always had a place here, love. Don’t look so surprised.”

Sionn stood at the bottom of the stairs, gaze softer than the fabric that she wore.

“Oh, Ash. You’re beautiful.”

“It’s the dress is all. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” She gave a spin, and he caught her arm bringing her close to his side. 

“The dress is just plain fabric. You’re what makes it shine.”

They spent the day together, exploring the gardens and laughing in the sunshine. The color returned to her cheeks as a joy she hadn’t felt since her mother had died filled her to the brim. Sionn taught her the song of the wild, and used his magic to make nature dance and sing around them. As the sun set, they sat on the grass by the pond as they had many times before in years long past.

“I can’t stay here, can I?”

“You could. It’s your home as well as mine now. Has been for a while.”

“Do I just have to wish it, Sionn?”

“There comes a point where you have to stop wishing, Ash.” He kissed the top of her head, and she yawned snuggling closer. 

“I’ll be waiting,” he said, as she fell asleep.

The shadows of twilight danced in the glade as she woke by the pond alone. An autumn chill wrapped itself tight around her bones as she sat up and looked around.

“Sionn?” she called, with no response. She glanced down and found herself back in her own clothes. “So it was a dream after all.” Aisling swallowed back a fresh round of tears. 

She pulled herself to her feet. Giving one last glance to the pond, she headed into the woods to make her way back again. The sun continued its descent as she weaved around the trees towards the bog. As she reached the edge, a sharp yip caused her to turn. A fox sat in the shadow of an oak tree. 

“Fox, what are you still doing here? Don’t you know the glade’s just a glade? I almost wish you’d never taken me there.”

The house was dark and cold when she arrived, and she hurried to her father’s bedside, breathing out relief as his chest rose and fell. He stirred as she sat on the edge of the bed, and reached out to take her hand.


“I’m here now, don’t worry.”

He nodded and lay back, giving her hand a faint squeeze. 

That night, Aisling opened a window, despite the frost on the moor. She covered the mirrors in the house and stopped the clocks. The village came with new and old faces to grieve with her. The wailing and singing blended together into a mournful melody that wove across the moorland. 

The day of the funeral mass came, and she followed behind the procession to the church, dressed in shadows and moving as such. As they entered the church, she dipped the tip of her finger in the font of holy water. It rippled out and she froze, staring at it, before she blessed herself and hurried inside. Her mind wandered as the mass started, her heart pulling her back to the clearing in the forest. Her own little glade and the rippling pond she found there. Wishing wouldn’t be enough to make it real. Believing would. 

When the mass was over, she dipped her finger in the font once more and the ripples shone and sparkled with a light of their own. As she followed the procession out to the graveyard, she caught the gaze of a fox on the edge of it. It bowed its head to show respect, but stayed exactly where it was. Aisling stopped by the side of the casket. 

“Dadaí, I think I need to follow it.” Tears sprung to her eyes, as she touched the cold wood.  “I don’t know that I’ll be coming back.”

When the final prayer was spoken, and her father was returned to the earth at last, Aisling left the graveyard to find the fox. 

It had stayed by the gate, hazel eyes deep with sorrow. It stood to meet her, and walked by her side as they moved through her little village.

They walked past the house she was born and raised in. That her parents had died in. They walked over the moor, with the heather in full bloom. The pink, purple, and white flowers swayed in the breeze. She paused, trailing a finger over the stems. It felt like love and smelled of home.

The fox waited as she gathered a bouquet of it and then they both continued to follow the zig-zagging paths over the bog. She hesitated at the edge of the forest, but the fox pressed on and she felt obliged to follow it.

The trees welcomed her like an old friend as she wove through the forest, the fox at her side. They kept a slow pace, stopping here and there to listen to the warblings of the birds and to weave a crown of wildflowers to place in her hair. The bird song dwindled as she approached the glade. She paused at the threshold and the fox stopped by the pond and stared up at her.

“I used to know better than to come into places like this. But this time, I am looking to be taken.” She stepped across into the warmth and light, and the fox gave a sly smirk before darting off into the trees. Aisling moved to the edge of the pond and peered at her reflection.

Instead of her mourning dress and shawl, her mirror image stared up at her in a beautiful blue dress. The wreath of wildflowers sat on the crown of her head. Aisling knelt down, touching a finger to the water, sending ripples out to the edges. She closed her eyes and listened to the song of the wild. The wind swept through her hair as a whisper reached her ears.

“Hey, Ash.”

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