A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the moths, the lovesickness, and the green torch.
A young man grows enchanted with one of the beautiful moth girls that dance amidst the marsh fires and tries to coax her to his side.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. If you want to read as well as listen you can find a transcript and mp3 download on patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the moths, the lovesickness, and the torch.
The Dancing Moths
A long time ago when roads did not yet lead to everywhere, there was many a village completely surrounded by marshes or swampy grassland with only one road to guide the villagers through it.
In those times and in just such a village, there once lived a young man. People had hardly stopped calling him a boy, but he was very proud to be independent and he had just finished building his very own house. It was small, but sturdy and it sat at the edge of the village, looking out across the marshes.
With his very own house all finished the young man was finally free and independent. He worked hard every day but he did not mind at all, because he worked for himself and no one else.
Besides, it was good coming home to rest in his own little house after a good day’s work. And every evening he sat in his chair at the window, looking out over the marshes. After all, he had not built his house on this spot for nothing. He loved the view, enjoyed being able to stare far off into the distance.
As autumn came and the days grew shorter, the young man sometimes saw fires flicker far away in the marshland. The shorter the days and the longer the night and twilight, the oftener the fires appeared.
He knew what they were of course, the marsh fires. All children were warned about them. Following the light of a marsh fire would lead you straight into the swamplands. And even if you did not get lost or drown, you would not be safe. For the warm flames attracted wandering spirits and swamp creatures that no one should ever meet.
The young man knew all this, but the more he looked at the fiery glow in the distance, the more beautiful it seemed to him. The light did not look eerie to him anymore, it looked inviting and adventurous.
Sometimes the young man asked the other men in town:
“Have you ever seen the marsh fires up close?”
But they all just scoffed and shook their heads and told him that he was a boy yet if he still dreamt of such things.
They were wrong to say that however, because the young man had never longed to see the fires when he had been a boy. He had been afraid and had kept well away, never stirring outside the village after sundown. But now… now the fires seemed to hold a charm they had never had before and it began to vex the young man he could only see their glow. He wanted to see the dancing of the flames. Hear the crackling of the sparks. He wanted to be where the fire was burning.
Such longings are very powerful and they can become a true affliction. Weeks went by, but the young man could not forget the fires. He worked longer days to tire himself out. He drew the curtains shut to hide the fiery glow from view. But by then the fire was in his mind and it would not leave him.
So one night, when he had not even tried to go to bed, he could take it no longer. He had lost track of time while standing at his window, staring at the distant glow and the twilight was long gone. The sky was black, as even the stars were hidden behind the clouds. The whole village was deep asleep and there was no one to see the young man leave his house and feverishly hurry towards the distant marsh fires.
It was a cold night, but his mind was full of flames and he did not notice the chill in the air. The marshes were full of hidden water and deep mud that sucked at feet and walking sticks. But the young man had lived here all his life and the marsh could not trick him.
He carried on, never turning from the inviting glow in the dark.
Just when his hurried walk in the cold night started to tire him, he saw the fire. Not just the glow, or sparks flying upwards, but the flames themselves. The young man’s breath caught in his throat when he saw shadowy figures dance around the fire. For a moment his mind wandered to the stories he had heard as a child and he thought of ghosts and trolls. But the crackling of the fire sounded to him like laughter and he could almost feel its warmth. So the young man slowly crept closer, his eyes wide open, staring at the dancing figures.
With every step he took, the figures became easier to see in the firelight. They could not be trolls, their feet seemed hardly to touch the ground. Neither were they ghosts, the light did not pass through them.
After a while he was certain he heard cheerful voices laughing.
One more step the young man took and he exhaled like he never wished to draw breath again. The cheerful dancers around the fire were neither trolls, nor ghosts or witches. They were night-fae, dancing sprites, clad in dark moth’s wings draping down from bare shoulders, attracted to the fire like all their kind.
Enchanted the young man watched their dance. He had not thought creatures so graceful could be allowed to exist.
Softly he sank to the ground, sitting in the damp grass, simply gazing at the spectacle before him.
As he sat there, one of the pretty moths whirled round, turning her face towards him for an instant. She was the sweetest thing the young man had ever seen. Breathless he followed her with his eyes as she followed the circle.
Her feet were so small they nearly disappeared in the grass, whenever she touched the ground. In the flickering light her large brown eyes shone and her short hair was as soft, dark grey, with a glistening shine in the locks.
Never had the young man seen a creature that enchanted him so much. No girl could ever be like her. She was perfection in his eyes and he watched her all night long.
The beautiful moths danced and the young man sat and watched, not even noticing the dew forming on his coat or the beetles climbing over his shoes.
Nothing seemed able to distract the moth sprites from the fire and from their dance. They danced until the sky began to grow pale with the promise of dawn. As the darkness slowly turned to shadows, the marsh fire began to wane. The moths wailed for the slinking fire and looked up at the lightening sky with pouting lips. Quickly they wrapped their dark, velvet wings around them and flitted away into the morning twilight.
Only when they were gone, could the young man move again. He was stiff and cold and slowly returned home. His head was full of dark eyes and silky grey hair and at work that day he accomplished very little.
That evening he watched from his window until deep into the night, but no fire appeared in the distance. The marsh fires were fickle and they came and went as they pleased. Finally the young man fell asleep from pure exhaustion, but the next night he sat up again. Waiting.
How his heart jumped when he suddenly saw the fiery glow appear in the marshes. Hastily he left his house and ran to exactly the same place as the night before last. His joy was indescribably when he recognized the same darling moth girl in the ring of merry dancers.
Filled with happiness he watched her skip and twirln, until the pale light of dawn came to dim the fire, chase the moth sprites off and send the young man home.
From then on, he spent his nights either in broken-hearted sleep when no fire appeared, or admiring his beloved moth girl when it did.
Of course the people in the village noticed that the once cheerful young man had become silent and tired, but he did his work as best he could and no one wanted to pry in another’s affairs. So they didn’t.
The young man was in a bad way, however. His longing for the flames of the marsh fires had died out. But his love for the moth girl burned brighter than that first longing had ever done. He could not bear the uncertainty of not knowing when he could see her again.
More and more he longed to join her and dance with her in the firelight, but he dared not come closer. So all he could do was watch, eyes strained to catch every movement and every detail.
This was how he noticed that she jumped the highest and laughed the loudest when the sparks that shot from the crackling fire were green. The green shimmer delighted her so that she would chase the sparks till they were all burned out.
That morning, during his cold and lonely walk back across the marsh, the young man said to himself:
“If only I were a green spark, then she would chase me. I would not care if I burned out, if only she danced with me for as long as I glowed.”
Suddenly a thought entered his mind. What if he crafted a light that would give only green light. A torch that burned green and nothing else. Oh, how the moth girl would love that. He was sure it could be done. Doctors and chemists had so many strange things nowadays. One of them could surely teach him how to make a fire burn green.
Once he had had this idea, nothing could stop the young man. He worked day and night and made a beautiful torch. When he finally lit it, he held his breath. The fire spluttered into life and green flames shook pale green sparks high into the air. It was a small, steady fire, green like the mist above the sea that the young man had seen only once in his life.
“Now perhaps, she will love me,” he wished, and extinguishing the torch he sat down to wait for nightfall.
To his delight the marsh fire burned that night, and with the torch hidden under his coat the young man ran all the way.
Feverishly he searched for his darling moth girl and when he had found her, he held his torch at the ready. When she was nearest to him and accidentally jumped a pace away from the circle, he lit the torch.
Green light danced in the darkness and joyful sparks flew upwards. The moth girl’s large eyes drew to the light and she jumped at one of the sparks. She ran at the flickering green flames until she had reached them and saw the young man, petrified with fear and adoration.
The moth girl revelled in the green light and laughed and clapped her hands. Merrily she grabbed the young man’s hand and danced around him and his green torch.
Never had the young man been so happy. He danced with the moth girl in the light of his torch and slowly he led her way from the marsh fire. He danced all the way to his home and the moth girl gladly followed, her face lit up with joy and the green flames reflecting in her dark eyes.
Finally the young man closed his front door behind him and stared in wonder at the darling moth girl standing in his front room. She laughed at him and skipped through the house as he lit the lamps. She shrieked with delight over the bright lamplight and the young man felt dizzy with happiness.
In the lamplight he could see her skin was a dusty colour, speckled with grey. Circling patterns framed her large eyes and her hair was fine like spider silk. Her form was not quite human, not completely, so thin and wispy as she was. Her little feet looked wholly out of place on his rough wooden floor, but she was so merry and carefree that all doubt and guilt left the young man’s mind.
The whole night long he danced and laughed with his moth girl as she admired the lamp and the green torch, but when the sun rose the moth girl scornfully turned away from the window. She wrapped her soft grey cloak around her, drew back in a corner and fell fast asleep.
The young man fell into a chair. His feet ached from dancing, but his chest was all aglow and with a last look at his moth girl he fell into a blissful sleep.
Nobody understood what was the matter with the young man that lived in the little house at the edge of the village. Whatever had plagued him before, it seemed to have gotten worse, because he rarely left his house anymore.
Whenever he did venture outside, he looked like a ghost, pale and fatigued.
Some people said they saw his lights on in the middle of the night.
Calling on him did no good, he would not let anyone in. He spoke to no one and seemed to be far away in his own mind.
The son of the village elder, who had always been good friends with the young man despite being quite a couple years older, worried the most of them all. He spoke about it so often that his father took notice and began to worry too. The quiet youth had always been a good boy and a promising young man and this strange illness that had come over him was clearly a serious affliction. Whatever was plaguing him, it must be put an end to.
So one night, not breathing a word of it to his son, the village elder wrapped himself in his thick coat against the cold and went to the little house of the young man, at the edge of the village.
On the way there he saw the marsh fires flickering in the distance, but he paid them no heed.
The young man’s house shone like a beacon in the dark village. Every window was lit and dark silhouettes moved inside.
The village elder carefully approached one of the windows and looked inside.
There was the young man. In one hand he held a torch that burned with green flickering flames and with the other he clasped the hand of a strange girl.
They made an extraordinary couple and they danced so wildly that it took a while before the village elder began to see she was more than just a strange girl.
He heard her high voice laugh and as she twirled round he saw that her eyes were far too large in her thin little face and her skin all adorned with patterns in grey and brown. The village elder drew back in shock.
So that was what kept the young man up all night. He had caught one of the night creatures and was slowly turning away from the daylight himself.
Slowly the village elder walked back home, his face as grave as his thoughts. This could not go on. The young man would be lost forever and as village elder he felt responsible for all, especially the young.
When he arrived home and his wife asked him what was the matter with him, he confessed to her what he had gone out to do.
“And, did you find out what plagues the young man at night?” she asked.
“He has brought his own plague upon him,” the village elder sighed. “He is in love with a moth girl.”
His wife shook her head in dismay:
“Oh dear, that just won’t do. How could something that loves nothing but the light in the dark ever love you back?”
“But what can we do about it?” the village elder said.
“The poor boy likely thinks the moth is in love with him too,” his wife answered. “We must show him that just isn’t so. He lured her with light, so if we lure her away with light, perhaps he’ll understand that it’s the light she loves, not him.”
The village elder thought this was a very clever plan. So he got together with his eldest son, a young man so calm and steady that the sight of an elven queen might not even have upset him. Together they made a torch that burned bigger and brighter than the one the young man had made.
“Now get in your big coat with the collar turned up and draw your hat down far over your eyes,” the village elder said. “You must lure away the moth girl without your friend recognizing you.”
The village elder’s son promised to be careful and in the middle of the night he went to the young man’s house.
He walked a little way into the marshes and lit his torch. The green light burned bright in the darkness and he held the torch steady and waited patiently.
Inside the little house the moth girl was dancing and twirling, when she saw the beautiful light outside. She gasped and cried for joy. The young man turned round, but before he could stop her the moth girl had darted outside.
He went after her, dropping his torch, crying out for her desperately.
But the moth girl did not hear him, the green light was moving away and she was chasing it, laughing all the way.
The young man ran and stumbled, begging her to turn around. He did not understand where the big green light had come from and his heart was breaking because his moth girl was running away from him.
His tired feet could not carry him fast and finally he gave up and sank to the ground crying.
Meanwhile the village elder’s son lured the moth girl far away from the village. He found a marsh fire in the dark and when he was quite near it he suddenly stuck the torch into the muddy ground. It extinguished with a hiss and the moth girl gave out a cry of disappointment. For a moment she stood in the dark, but then she saw the light of the marsh fire and with a merry laugh she skipped towards it to join the others once more.
And the joy of the circle to have her back again was so bright and abundant that the elder’s wife might have changed her might about the love of the creatures of the night if she had been able to hear it.
As it was, there was only the son to witness it. And after a moment he broke his torch into little pieces and let the pieces sink into the swamp. Then he walked back to the village, where he found the young man crying in the grass.
He took his friend home, left him asleep in his bed and took the torch, that was lying burned out on the ground, with him when he left.
In the morning the young man woke up with his heart broken, but his head much clearer. He understood now that the moth girl had never really been his. He did not look for his torch when he did not find it where he had left it. But he did go look for his friend, because for all the cloudiness of his mind, he did remember his face in the dark.
For a very long time the young man was sad, but he did slowly become himself again. The first to notice this was once again his friend, who was quiet in his relief, but loud in his shows of friendship.
The villagers too breathed a sigh of relief and from that time on they all took a bit more care whenever someone seemed to be drawing back from life too much.
Never again did the young man go wandering into the marshes at night, but some nights he still sat at his window and watched the fiery glow in the distance that had led him such a merry dance.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. You can follow this podcast on podcatchers like Spotify, iTunes, or Stitcher, but for an mp3 download, transcripts, themed tags and summaries, you can check out patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com, where you can also contact me and find out about my other projects. Like my book Coffee and Faerie Cakes and my webcomic The Fisherman’s Favour. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com which is full of folklore and urban fantasy, or you can follow @patchworktale on twitter.
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Share your meal, don’t bend too low over the well, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.