The Friendly Valley
Loch Caraid was a small blue lake tucked into a Scottish mountain valley. On its shore were a half dozen cottages that had no names and one stately house that did. It was called the Stone House, and a little girl named Martha Morse lived there with her family many, many years ago.
The name of the valley was Glencaraid. That meant "Friendly Valley," and Loch Caraid meant "Friendly Lake." The people who lived in the valley had a story about those names. One summer evening, when it was just cool enough for a fire made of peat grass to flicker on the hearth, Martha heard the story from her mother.
Martha's three brothers and her one sister were downstairs in the kitchen begging plums from the cook. Her father was busy at his writing table. Father was laird of the estate of Glencaraid, and he had important letters to write. So just for now, Martha had Mum all to herself in the cozy corner beside the hearth of Mum and Father's big bedroom. The scratching of Father's feather pen was a pleasant accompaniment to Mum's story and the soft whirring of her spinning wheel.
"It was many hundreds of years ago," Mum was saying, "that a man named Edward MacNab caught his first glimpse of the loch from high above on the mountainside."
"MacNab!" Martha said. "But we're MacNabs!"
"Aye." Mum nodded. "That we are. You have MacNab blood on both sides, for your father's grandfather married a MacNab girl, and my own mother was of that clan. Although your name be Morse, my lass, you're more MacNab than aught else."
"Is your mother in the story?" Martha wanted to know.
Mum laughed. "Och, nay! This happened long years before my mother was even dreamed of, or her mother, or her mother. Now--shall I go on?"
"Aye!" Martha nodded, her long red curls bouncing on her shoulders. She scooted her stool closer to Mum so that she could hear better above the spinning wheel's hum. Beneath Mum's fingers golden-brown flax fibers twisted into one long, spider-thin thread. The peat fire glowed and crackled. Even though it was summer, the mountain wind carried a chill to the valley at night.
Mum's tale spun out above the thread. Edward MacNab, she told Martha, had been traveling for a very long time. He was bone-tired and hoped to see the smoke of a chimney in the valley below, for he had a longing to spend the night in a warm bed.
But the evening was misty and dim. All Edward could see of the valley was the dark water of the lake at the foot of the mountains. In the gloomy light it looked exactly like a mouth waiting to swallow anyone who dared climb down. Not far from the lake were two little ponds that looked just like two angry, staring eyes. Edward MacNab shuddered and gave a low whistle.
"'Tis no a friendly sort of a place, that!" he said. He spoke aloud, for he thought there was no one around to hear. But he was wrong. He was not alone.
A water fairy lived in the lake, and she had wandered onto the mountain that evening to gather mist from the rocky crags. When she saw Edward, she wrapped some shreds of mist around her so she wouldn't be seen. And she would have stayed hidden, if only he had spoken more wisely--or not at all.
"But it is ever the gift and the curse of a MacNab to speak the thoughts that pop into his mind," Mum told Martha. "Your father has it, and so do you, my bold wee lass. As soon as you could speak, you were saying things aloud that others would only dare to think. Never will I forget the first time you met auld Laird Alroch. Marched right up to him, you did, and asked if it was true he was bald as an egg under his wig!"
"But what about the water fairy?" Martha said impatiently. She had already heard the story of what she had once said to the kind old gentleman who lived on the other side of the mountains. Fairies were much more interesting.
"Well," Mum went on, "it did not sit well with the fairy to hear this stranger speaking of her loch in that way. She crept up to Edward and laid one pale hand on his shoulder. Quick as a wink she turned him to stone.
"'Not friendly, is it?' she said to Edward--for though his body was frozen in rock, he had yet the senses of a man and could hear her. Edward stared at the water fairy with his stone eyes that could not blink.
"Her skin was whiter than new-bleached linen. Her hair was the pale green of a spring leaf just opening on the twig, and it fell in ripples all the way to her feet. She had slanting green eyes and a little pointed chin. Edward MacNab thought he had never seen aught so lovely."
Martha thought to herself that the fairy must have looked like Mum, except Mum's eyes were blue and her hair was a rich golden brown instead of pale green. She wore it piled high on her head in a mass of shining waves. Her blue eyes always had a laugh peeking out of them, even now when her brows were drawn together fiercely in imitation of the water fairy's anger.
Mum's lilting voice grew cold and furious as she spoke the fairy's words. "'Who are you to judge this loch?' the water fairy said. 'You who set eyes on it for the first time not five minutes ago? I'll not have you speaking ill of my home!' Her eyes blazed like two coals burning through a white sheet. Inside his stone skin Edward MacNab quaked. He wondered if he would spend the rest of his days as a boulder on this mountain."