11th April

The Demon Lover

from an old ballad

She wondered if her heart would burst. Seven years! Love, desire, grief and fear surged through her.

‘Where have you been? After all this time?’

‘Does it matter? I’ve come for you, for the promises you made.’

She was enraged. ‘Promises? Who made promises? You left me! And now I’m a married woman.’

He turned as if she had struck him in the face. Tears welled in his eyes.

‘I’d never have come back but for you. Never. But for you,’ he continued bitterly, ‘I might have had love in another land. I might have had a princess.’

‘And it’s my fault?’ she cried. ‘If you had the chance, you should have taken it. Fine well you knew no princess was waiting for you here.’

‘I don’t give a damn about princesses. It’s you I want.’

The way he looked at her – she felt the old, fierce passion. She thought of her husband, kind and dull and bloodless, the children who exhausted her, the grinding poverty of her life.

‘What can you possibly offer,’ she said, ‘that would make me leave my family?’

But she knew, as soon as she asked it, that she would go.

‘My ship is in the bay,’ he said. ‘My crew and every comfort you can imagine await you.’

So she kissed her babies for the last time, and went with him, and he took her out to the beautiful ship.

No crew greeted her when she set foot on deck. The sails filled of their own accord, and he steered the ship unaided, and in cold silence.

The land faded from her sight. ‘Who are you?’ she wept.

‘Save your tears,’ he said. ‘You’ll have plenty to cry about soon.’

On the horizon – soft green hills bathed in sunshine. Hope rose in her. He saw her looking and shook his head, laughing.

Another mountain rose from the sea, vast, black, covered in ice. She turned to him, and he nodded, and laughed again.

Then with one push of his hand he toppled the topmast, and with his knee he cracked the foremast, and he broke the ship in two, and sank it beneath the shadow of that terrible mountain.

Reader: Gerda Stevenson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harp: Esther Swift
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