Tranquillity reigned in the Miller’s household and the family were getting on famously with their new piskie neighbours. In fact, so much so that that the daughters were invited to the monthly piskie revels which were held in their grand underground hall. The girls would put on their best frocks for the occasion which was a glittering affair by all accounts with a feast fit for a king served on golden platters. To drink there was heather nectar wine which came in jewel encrusted silver goblets inlaid with the finest gold tracery. Once the banquet had been devoured everyone joined in with the singing and dancing which went on until the dunghill crow crowed. Just before the girls left the shindig they were always each given a precious jewel, sometimes it would be a diamond and others an opal, Over the months these gems added to their growing fortune and each time they always renewed their vows never to fell the oak wood.
Do you think things are running too smoothly? If you do you’d be dead right for dark clouds were gathering on the horizon because unbeknown to the miller and his family the son had squandered his fortune and was making his way back to Ockington. One fateful day the boy who was now a man appeared at the mill along with his wife and a tribe of kids much to the consternation of the miller. From that day hence things began to rapidly go down hill, the son along with his wife and brats moved into the mill. As before, he had no intention of working there, just to sponge of fthe labours of his father who by know had just about reached the end of his working life. This was a puzzle to the son because clearly the old man had become decrepit yet somehow the grain was always ground into flour and the heavy sacks moved around the mill. It did not take him long to find out how, the piskies were doing all the work. It also appeared that not only were they doing some of the chores at the mill but also at all the surrounding farmsteads and cotts.
As the weeks past the son spent most of his time visiting the neighbours and somehow managed to convince them just to let the piskies do all the work. Why bother milking the cows, churning the butter, making the hay or reaping the corn? After all, the little folk would do it which meant everyone could live the life of riley and spend their time revelling and feasting. Just imagine that, you don’t have to lift a finger but your income still comes in, I suppose it’s very much like being on the dole today. Perhaps that’s it they are not real people working in the social security offices they are piskies?
Anyway, that is exactly what happened until the diddy men had enough of being taken for fools. One day they simply decided to down tools and did diddly squat to help the villagers. All of a sudden the folk had to carry out their own chores which after such an easy life did not sit too well.
With all his so-called friends now having to spend their daylight hours toiling in the fields the son was at a loss, no longer could he sponge off them which meant he was penniless, which would not do. As luck would have it his wife happened to be talking to one of the daughters who made the mistake of showing her the jewels which the piskies had given her. Naturally the next question was along the lines of where the precious gems came from. Unfortunately the daughter wasn’t the highest card in the deck and without thinking revealed her source. Well, guess what the topic of conversation was around the table that night? The son suggested that his wife should swap places with his sister the next time the piskies held their revel which by coincidence was the following night.
Sure enough, the next night the wife swapped the daughter’s party frock and traipsed along with the other gaggle of sisters to the piskie revel. When the food and drink was brought out the wife’s eyes were out on stalks, not because of what was being served but what it was being served on. Greedily she eyed up the jewel studded plates and goblets, a quick calculation told her that her plate and cup alone would fetch a handsome price. So, when she was sure nobody was looking the wife slipped her goblet into her cloak, the plate would have disappeared as well except it was to big to conceal. Once the singing and dancing was over the gang of girls made their way back to the mill, each clutching the customary gift of a priceless gem.
Proud of her night’s work the wife tottered home to show her husband the booty she had stolen and it goes without saying that he was well pleased. He figured out that if this little scam could be repeated every month then money would never be a problem again and he could resume his extravagant lifestyle.
Many years ago I worked for a wealthy man who owned a large estate and every Christmas he would invite all the neighbours around for a plush dinner. There was no expense spared and all the best crockery and silverware was bought out for the occasion. Some colleagues and I were enlisted to attend purely to keep and eye on the valuables and also the given responsibility to count the silverware out and then count it back in. Not that he didn’t trust his guests but it was best to be on the safe side? Anyway, just like him the piskies were of the same mind and every plate and goblet was counted out and then counted back in. The following day when all the washing up was being done they realised that one of their goblets was missing and quite understandably they were well hacked off. To think that one of the guests abused their hospitality by half inching the goblet sent blood pressures soaring.
Now its one thing to have a valuable goblet but another to sell it in such a small hamlet so the son had to travel to Exeter where he went to the Jewish jewel quarter. He soon found a jeweller who was keen to buy the goblet and better still the negotiated price was far above what he had expected, in fact too much. But without further ado he handed over the goblet, took the gold and immediately sought the nearest tavern. What he didn’t know was that the jeweller was a friend of the piskies and had recognised the goblet as being one of theirs. That same night the man travelled to Ockington to return the stolen item, the piskies were overjoyed and rewarded him accordingly. Before he left they asked the jeweller to describe the man who had bought the goblet in, which without hesitation he did. It was an excellent description and immediately they recognised that the culprit was the miller’s son. Vengeance is mine said the piskies.
One form of revenge that all piskies are noted for is creeping into their victims cott and swapping any baby for one of their own, a bit like the cuckoo in the nest. Unfortunately the miller’s son had just become the proud father of a bouncing boy and so, as is their want, the piskies stole in one night and exchanged it for a changeling. Over the coming months the piskie baby did nothing but scream and wail from dawn to dusk. This alone was cause for the parent’s concern but additionally the little mite never grew an inch or learned to walk and talk. The local hedge witch was brought in and immediately suspected that the baby was a changeling. She told the couple that the only way they would know for sure was to get it to talk, having dispensed her diagnosis she hurriedly left. Despite all efforts the infant remained mute, apart from that is the constant yelling and bawling, then one day it actually spoke. The wife was baking some scones and as she was about to put them in the oven the changeling announced that in all the hundreds of years that it had lived it had never seen such crap scones. Imagine that, for months wishing your baby would talk and then when it finally did it said your scones were crap? But at least it confirmed the matter, the thing sprawled out in the crib was a piskie changeling.
That very night the wife took the changeling to the wood and laid it at the foot of the mighty oak where the piskies lived along with offerings of butter, cream, jam and scones. Considering the changeling’s verdict on the scones, maybe leaving them was more of an insult than a peace offering? Early the next morning the woman returned to the spot to find that the piskie baby had gone and in its place were her scones and no sign of their son. Slowly she trudged back to the mill wondering all the way how she was going to tell her husband that their baby had gone for good. As expected he went ballistic when he found out and swore that he would get his revenge. From that day forth any mishap that occurred in the hamlet he blamed on the piskies in a malicious hate campaign. Every time a sheep died he would tell the owner it was the work of the piskies, if a horse went lame it was the fault of the little folk etc. etc.
As time went by the miller’s son had wheedled his way into a position of power with the residents of Ockington, it’s amazing what a few carefully bought rounds of cider can do. At the next mayoral elections thanks to his bribery he was handed the salubrious office along with its gold chain – risky or what? There was one slight problem, the money he got from the sale of the goblet had now gone and he was once again skint. No more parties, no more drinking sessions with the boys, no more card games in the taverns of Exeter and therefore no more popularity. He needed a cunning plan which eventually took the form of his father’s origin idea long ago – fell the Oak wood and sell the land. So he announced to all the family that the next day the trees were coming down which as you can imagine caused one almighty rumpus. Everyone reminded him of the promise they had given the piskies never to clear the wood to which he reminded them that he had made no such promise and the trees were coming down. That very day the axe men moved in and set about felling the ancient oaks and not a branch was spared the cut of their saws.
As it happened all the piskies folk had gone over to Wistman’s Wood for the annual gathering at the fern fair and so they knew nothing of their eviction until they returned home two days later. By that time all that remained of their home and banqueting hall was a forlorn stump and a scatter of twigs. The poor little folk were gutted, just like their abode and to a (little) man they decided somebody must pay and that must be decided by a higher authority.
For those who don’t know Dartmoor there is just below and to the north of Black Tor a small island amidst the waters of the river Okement known as the ‘Island of Rocks’. What many people don’t realise is that beneath the large, mossy boulder is the entrance to the piskie king’s palace and it was to here that the homeless made their way. Immediately the piskie king heard of the predicament he dispatched messengers to every corner of Dartmoor to summons all the Piskies, Tommy Knockers, Water Sprites and every other kind of legendary being to a parliament. Across stream and tor they went travelling into every combe and goyle crossing stream and mire to spread the word. That night all the creatures left their dells and dingles, caves and caverns to make their way to Hawks Hollow which for centuries had been their special meeting place. It did not take long for the hoards to gather and as they all waited expectantly for their king to arrive the chirping and chattering grew louder and louder. Eventually a small boat could be seen making its way down the Okement from the Island of Rocks, at its stern stood the king, arms folded and looking very serious. A deathly hush fell over the multitude as he made his way up onto the speaking rock, here he explained the reason for the gathering. The Ockington piskies sat just below him all wearing pathetically sad faces moistened by the occasional trickle of tears. Finally the matter was thrown out to an open forum and various suggestions of retaliation were soon forthcoming. After much debate and deliberation the king decreed that as the man people had deprived the Ockington piskies of their home then they would no do the same to them. In order to do this the piskies were ordered to play hang with the farmers by any means possible. This would include torching the hay ricks, stealing the livestock, curdling the cream and flattening the growing corn. The water sprites were tasked with diverting all water from the leats which would mean no power to drive the water wheels and no water for the farms and cotts. Some of the inhabitants of Ockington were tin miners and it was to them that the Tommy Knockers were to turn their attention (at this point I have had a request to put a link to Stephen King’s film which is titled ‘Tommyknockers’ so just for you Patience, it’s opposite). It was their job to lead the miners to dangerous parts of the mine where there was no tin ore by knocking, hence their name. This would be easy because when relationships with the man people were hunky dory they would do the same but lead the miners to the richest loads. So it would be perfectly natural for the miners to follow any knocking noises they heard in the future.
Over the next couple of weeks the campaign of hatred was carried out to the letter, mother’s lost their babies and gained changelings, anyone found out on the moor was piskie led into the various deep and dangerous mires where they were left to flounder. Every vegetable patch became choked with weeds so much so that the crops died, all the water sources dried up and the miners spent countless hours fruitlessly digging in the mines. Farmers livestock mysteriously vanished or died and their crops were trampled pancake flat. Then one evening, just as the sun was setting over the moor a little piskie strolled into town, well Ok Ockington then, and gathered all the inhabitants. He explained in no uncertain terms why all the misfortune was occurring and exactly who was responsible. Then he delivered an ultimatum, remove the miller’s son from his post as mayor and once this had been done the little folk would appoint one of theirs to take his place. If this was not done then the folk could expect much worse to come and this time there would be no chance of a reprieve. It did not take much debate for the moor folk to decide to accept the piskies offer. The following day the miller’s son was ousted from office and was replaced by an elderly piskie who took no time in restoring order to the hamlet. This was achieved by banishing the miller’s son and all his cronies from the hamlet, it is rumoured that they ended up living in some grotty caves deep down in Lydford Gorge. In stark contrast the homeless Ockington piskies simply moved into the warm and cosy cotts left by the exiles.
It did not take long for things to get back to normal as on the whole piskies are forgiving creatures and so once again they set to helping the man folk with their daily chores. Butter was getting churned, crops harvested, spinning spun, flour milled, hay made and livestock tended. Once again God was in his heaven and all was well with the world.
So there we have it, a nice happy ending for Christmas – except that is quite not the end, oh no, the miller’s son was not one to give in that easy and so…. the next thrilling instalment is HERE.