The Cunning Man's Wife
So when the Cunning man wanted a wife, what did he do? White Mary had faded from public view and it was the Cunning Man that people came to consult so he was now well known. Few were the women who would come to live in his cottage in the Haunted Wood. But there was one with a bit of independence of mind who had caught his eye, and he thought he had caught hers. So he went to her , and he wooed her, and in due time she came home with him as his wife.
But that was just the start if it. As they passed Mary’s cottage he pointed out the nosegay of herbs Mary had left for her. But they were green and grey for the most part and she paid little heed of them. That was her first mistake. When they entered the cottage the spaniel, who could be either there or not there, as was needed, was not there, as she had no need or heed of her. That was her second mistake.
‘Oh well’, thought her husband, ‘She’ll learn’. A few days later, when she had settled in, he had to go out for the day and would not be back until late that night. Before he went he warned her not to move or change anything around the cottage. Later that morning she went out to the well for water. Just beyond the well an ash tree’s branches hung down and were bedecked with seven bright ribbons. She took two for her hair. The well itself was difficult to get to because of the stones arranged around it. So she moved them.
During the afternoon she started to get a feeling that she was being watched, but she ignored it. Then as evening drew a shade across the forest, she began to hear noises. She looked out through the front door and realised that the ash tree was right up against the house. How had that happened? Then she saw that one of the branches was moving towards her. She screamed and retreated into the cottage. Where could she get help? This was her only thought. And at that thought the spaniel suddenly appeared beside her. The end of a branch pushed open a window and the spaniel jumped snarling up and through the window. There was a terrible commotion outside for a while, then it subsided. She went to the window for a look and saw that the tree was gone but the spaniel was now at the well where the green head of Nicky Nye had appeared. Fear gripped her and she shrank back.
But then she heard a soft voice singing and she peeped out again through the window. A woman with a face like moonlight was walking around the well and putting the stones back in their places as she sang. By the time the Cunning Man returned all was quiet. Nicky had gone back into the well and the spaniel was sitting at his wife’s side having her ears scratched. The next morning he went out to survey the damage. The well was as it had been and Mary must have come back at first light as fresh herbs had been strewn all around. But the ash tree was gone save for a gnawn branch on the ground. He took the branch away later and came back with a sapling ash to put in the place of the one that had gone. Then Mary came with new ribbons and another nosegay which his wife took with thanks and hung over the window in their bedroom.
For the most part she got over that night and now the spaniel was at her side most of the time. But the thing she didn't get over was her fear of Nicky Nye and because he knew her fear he had power over her. He never again appeared at the well but she could feel his presence when she went down to the river so she always kept away from the water.
A few years passed and a young child was growing up in the cottage. One day he toddled down to the river as they walking towards the bridge. He looked into the water and saw Nicky looking back. Then a green arm emerged and began to encircle him and the green teeth of Nicky Nye protruded from his open mouth. The mother’s fear was tested but she found new strength and running towards the child she pulled him back, hissing at the creature. The spaniel was there too and Nicky retreated with the spaniel in pursuit. He kept away after that, but whether it was because of the spaniel or the fact that the wife had won over her fear, or that she was by now part of the magical configuration of the place, is hard to say. But so it was.