Way back in the mists of time there was a small hamlet situated on the northern fringes of Dartmoor called Ockington, today the small scatter of houses has grown into the town of Okehampton. But back then the tiny hamlet was merely a small cluster of cotts and farmsteads. As with any manorial settlement the Lord owned a corn mill at which all his subjects were compelled to have their corn ground into flour. Some might say that this was a generous gesture from the Lord except as with most things nothing is for free and extortionate fees were charged for this service. It should come as no surprise that the miller was not exactly at the top of peoples Christmas card list, far from it. Whilst all his neighbours lived on the breadline (no pun intended) the miller enjoyed a life of comparative luxury. So much so that over the years his family had grown to fourteen daughters and one son, just enough for a rugby team.
The location of his mill was idyllic to say the least, the sort of place where people pay good money to rent as holiday homes today. It had the lot, the gurgling mill stream, a sprawling oak wood, a rustic clam bridge and a lily clad mill pond. There can be no question that the miller toiled long and hard in the service of his master but as the years ticked by he found his work load becoming harder and harder. No problem you say, he had a son to help him with the daily grind (again no pun intended) but sadly that was not the case. Although a strapping teenager the son lacked the will to work and preferred the easy life and wanted no part in the dusty daily chores.
Over the years the miller had been very careful with his coin and had amassed a princely sum which he has put aside to pass onto his children after he had shed his mortal coil. This stash comprising of shiny gold nobles was carefully locked away in a small wooden chest which was hidden in a secret cupboard beside his hearth. The miller had an annual custom which took place on the eve of each new year. He would sit the family around the kitchen table and then with great ceremony produce the wooden chest. Everyone would then watch him count his coins after which he would proudly announce to his fourteen daughters and son that when he had passed on all that wealth would be shared out amongst them. They would never have any worries and always be able to live in the manner to which they had come accustomed.
Month by month the years ticked by and year by year the miller kept going, much to the disappointment of his son who was desperate to get his idle hands on his inheritance. Eventually the son could wait no longer and announced that he was going out into the world in search of good times, a bit like the kids of today and their gap years. In order to do this he needed money and so demanded that his father hand over his share of the inheritance immediately. There was no way the old miller was going to see his hard earned savings frittered away in such a manner and so he flatly refused. This resulted in the son throwing a hissy fit which lead on to a bitter and very heated argument. The boy was told in no uncertain terms that not only would he not get the money then but in fact he would never get his share as it was all going to his sisters.
In the early hours of the morning when the household was asleep the son crept down to the secret cupboard lifted out the money chest and set forth into the darkness in search of good times. Well you can imagine the uproar in the morning when the secret cupboard door was found opened and the contents gone. The girls were inconsolable as they realised that their futures were not looking so rosy anymore. The miller was heartbroken to think his son could do such a thing and that his daughters were no longer provided for. Naturally the girls blamed their father for the loss, working on the theory that if he had not quarrelled with his son the money would still be there, oh, and what was he going to do about it? The old man explained that there was nothing he could do as it had taken years to amass the wealth.
For the next week the girls stomped about the old mill with faces looking like slapped backsides, if they were not sighing they were crying. Eventually the miller’s wife came up with a solution, cut down the trees in the oak wood and sell them for timber and firewood and then sell off the land. At first the miller was dead against this plan but on realising he had no other option if he wanted peace and calm restored the miller eventually agreed.
Bright and early the following morning the miller went out to the wood with sharpened axe and saw and set about felling the trees. No sooner had his first swing of the axe bitten into the trunk of a tree than the wood was filled with the eerie sounds of sighing and wailing. For many years the old man had suspected that his family were not the only things living at the mill. On hearing those pitiful noises he now knew that they had been sharing the place with some piskies which was not good news as far as his plans for felling the wood went. Suddenly a nearby clump of bracken began to shake and from its midst emerged a little man dressed all in green. To say the diminutive piskie was not well please would be a slight understatement, he explained in no uncertain terms that the oak wood had been home to him and his kin for centuries. The diddy man then went on to ask for what reason the miller was about to demolish their abode. The old man explained his predicament and was told that if he promised to spare the wood the tiny munchkin would reveal where a great treasure was hidden which was worth ten times what the wood was worth. The trove was hidden deep in the darkest heart of Dartmoor and was guarded by a huge black eagle but the piskie also offered guide the miller there that very night – done deal.
Nothing is that simple, the treasure was buried under a gigantic granite boulder which no living person or otherwise could shift without using a magic word. The only thing that knew the word was the eagle but as the miller couldn’t speak ‘eaglish’ there was not a lot of hope. But, the piskie explained, growing amongst the ancient mosses in the nearby dwarf oak wood was a plant which when eaten gave humans the powers of understanding the language of birds.
So, once the moon was high in the night sky the miller and the piskie set off across the moor to Blackator Copse and on arrival the titchy umpa lumpa soon found the plant they were seeking. The miller grabbed a handful of the plant and began to chew on it, almost immediately a nearby owl was hooting and to his amazement the old man could understand every twit and twoo. OK, now they set off to find the huge boulder and its guardian which luckily were not far away. Silhouetted on a gigantic rock and lit by the moonlight the miller could see a large, black bird. More to the point it was having a conversation with a passing Goatsucker (nightjar) and the old man heard mention of the secret word that would shift the boulder – ‘heaveho‘. The eagle then asked the Goatsucker if it wanted to go for some supper to which the bird eagerly agreed, sadly it did not realise that it was going to be the supper. Nevertheless the two birds fluttered off into the night thus giving the miller the opportunity he had been waiting for. He scrambled down to the boulder and uttered the magic word – ‘heaveho‘, immediately there was a heavy grinding sound, very much like his grindstones make at the mill, and the boulder began to swivel backwards. The man and the piskie peered into the small cavern and could plainly see an old iron cauldron in which the moonlight was glistening off a hoard of gold.
The miller quickly produced a dusty flour sack into which he greedily began to pour the gold pieces and soon he realised that the contents of his sack were worth much more than ten times what he would have gotten for the wood – the piskie had kept its word. Mindful that the black eagle may soon return the pair scuttled off back into the night, the old man groaning under the weight of his new-found wealth.
In the morning when the family gathered for breakfast the old miller proudly produced his sack and scattered the pile of glittering gold across the table. Oh glad tidings, his daughters were ecstatic, their future of comfort and joy was once again affirmed. It was a good hour before the excitement died down and only then did anyone think to ask where all the wealth had come from. In a whisper and the occasional glance out of the window the miller related his adventure with the piskie and the bargain he had struck. He also made everyone in the room solemnly swear that never would they allow their oak wood to be felled which naturally they all did.
From that day forth, each night bowls of thick Devonshire cream and milk cream were left outside the old mill door along with some tiny scones and lashings of jam. In the mornings they were gone with only the odd crumb or drop of milk left and the family were sure that these small rewards were enjoyed by the piskies. In all reality it was probably a passing hedgehog or one of the mill cats who scoffed the treats but it made the miller feel good to think that the piskies had them. Family life was back to normal, God was in his heaven and all was well with the world albeit not with the begrudging neighbours. As a final thank you on New Year’s Eve the miller left the front door open and invited his new found miniscule friends to attend the annual ceremony of counting his gold, only this time he would let nobody see the secret hiding place. It was not that he mistrusted his daughters but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Now wasn’t that a quaint, happy little tale filled with cheer and merriment. ideal for Christmas, except that’s not the end of the story, on no, not by a long chalk. If you would like to see how this story takes a nasty turn click – HERE.