Names will never hurt
After a morning of vigorous exercise clearing away a lazy vagabond who had set up camp in his south field, Farmer Brown decided to cut himself a new shillelagh from the ancient blackthorn thicket.
The old shillelagh, with its smoothly worn knob handle and spikey shaft had broken due to his perhaps over-eager discouragement of the traveller.
“Damned scrounger”, he had yelled, throwing the broken stick after the ragged figure of the fleeing man who was clutching a mandola in one hand and a bundled kerchief of possessions in the other.
The shillelagh’s loss was the only thing he regretted from the encounter, since the stick had belonged to his father and before that to his grandfather. By tradition it was said to bring luck to its bearer.
A new bargain with 'the lady' was best sealed by selecting a replacement stick from the very same thicket, growing beside the holy ballaun stone, that had been chosen by his grandfather.
The gaffer, as he was called, was a wily one, and was rumoured to have struck a deal with the thicket’s faery owner.
Not that Farmer Brown really believed in that nonsense. Still, better to be safe than sorry.
Hence, when he reached the hollowed out bullaun stone, Brown followed the old ways carefully, first circling it three times.
Each time he passed the holy stone, he threw a pinch of salt over his left shoulder to protect against bad luck.
On the third circuit he recited in a confident voice, “If anyone objects to me taking a stick from this thicket, please speak now.”
From the thicket came a stern voice, “Farmer Brown?"
The farmer was dumbstruck. “Who calls my name?", he asked cautiously.
"Would you like me to appear?", came the reply.
Brown hastily denied any desire to see the tricksy faery.
"I bring honey and goat’s milk,” he stammered.
“That’s better! Do you think a fine shillelagh grows on its own?”, came the reply.
Brown swallowed hollowly and, facing away from the blackthorn bush, set down the traditional gifts of honey, now somewhat crystallised, and a small crock of milk that had almost gone off.
After all, as he had told his wife, it was only a token, wasn’t it?
There was an anxious wait as he sensed rather than heard a presence sampling the crystallised honey and sipping the sour milk.
With sinking heart, he heard a gagging noise.
Seconds later, a confused whirl of movement came. The bewildered farmer felt a rough burlap sack being thrown over his head, blocking his vision entirely and confining his arms.
“You have not given fair price”, said the voice. “Therefore I must, by the laws of faery equity either take three fine sovereigns or gift you with seven years of bad luck.
“Do you agree with my bargain?”
Now terrified and anxious to see the end of this ill-judged affair, the farmer stammered, “Yes, yes, take the gold and let me be.”
He felt a deft hand relieve him of his goodly purse of leather and heard a faint clinking. The faery counted, “one, two, three, sovereigns, come to me.”
The gleeful voice continued, “Are you ready to receive your stick?”
The farmer kept his eyes pressed closed under the sack and muttering “yes” in a somewhat subdued voice.
A furious rain of blows from a hefty stick followed, knocking Brown right off his feet.
The attack continued without pause for several minutes as the farmer rolled over and over desperately trying to protect his more vulnerable parts, and cursing helplessly.
At last the faery let be. With a thud the new blackthorn stick dropped beside Farmer Brown’s bundled up form, together with his good leather purse, now much lighter than before.
After a few minutes of silence, Brown struggled cautiously out of the sack, flinging it to one side, and picked up the purse, angrily kicking the new blackthorn shillelagh aside.
Prudently, with never a backwards look, he limped home, a wiser, but poorer man.
From behind the blackthorn thicket the vagabond watched Brown go with an inward chuckle before continuing to dress his bruises from the morning’s encounter with vinegar and brown paper.
When he had finished, he picked up the mandola, and played an impromptu tune. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, he sang. Then he patted with a grin the pocket in which now resided three sovereigns bright.