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Tales by the Fireplace

Fiammetta Falchi

A black and white image of a young dark-haired woman sitting by an unlit old stone fireplace. She has a notebook on her lap and is writing something. Around her is a backpack, a set of pens and pencils, and a piece of paper.

As I sit down by the ancient fireplace that once warmed and lit the Castle Hall, I touch the now-cold stone. Suddenly, I am invested by a strong urge, an internal gust of wind, to tell an ancient fairytale:

There was once, in Edinborough, the daughter of a fisherman. Father and daughter lived together by the harbor, in a little house overlooking the cold North Sea. In all her child-life, the fisherman’s daughter had never seen, nor dared to dream, of anything more than that wide expanse of water.  She was so devoted to her papa, and grateful for their good, quiet life, and the time they spent together. 

One day, her old, fatigued father fell very sick, and the poor child had only one way to help him overcome his sickness and save both their lives: she must embark on a journey to the witch’s hut who lived in the countryside by the old ruins of Craigmillar Castle -- or so she’d heard from local gossip. 

Having no other means to reach this fairy place than her own two tired feet, she made her way up and down the hilly city. On an unusually hot and sunny day, she eventually reached the old castle's ruins. Seeking shelter and comfort from the heat, she adventured herself inside. At the top of a narrow staircase, there was a wide, chilly hall, dominated by an equally wide and chilly fireplace. 

The child climbed into it, and, using her bassoon as a pillow, she lay down to rest her eyes. Only for a little while, she thought, before resuming her quest for the witch's hut. But as her eyelids were about to touch, a rumble, followed by a tremble, and a breath of wind came roaring from within the fireplace. 

In the blink of an eye, she was standing bolt upright, staring at the old stonework. The once empty fire vessel where she had sought rest was now filled with a purple, evanescent light, and a voice coming through this enchanted smoke spoke to her:

"My dear child, why hast thou come to this place? Speak! What is thy request?"

And the child answered:

"I wandered all alone to this place to find the witch who lives by the ruins of Craigmillar Castle. I need a cure for my father who has fallen very sick, and we live by the harbour and the sea."

Hearing these words,  the witch, whose voice had filled the hall with a rumble, a tremble, and a breath of wind, felt compassion for the poor, lonely child -- which is not quite what people would expect from witches -- and, taking on a bodily form, she revealed herself. 

The witch kindly extended her left hand, giving the girl a dark brown bottle filled with a colourless liquid.

"Pour a drop from this bottle into your father's mouth at night", said the witch, "and he will recover before the next full moon rises. Now go! And do not tell a soul that you found the witch who lives by the ruins of Craigmillar Castle.”

The child was frightened. And yet, gratitude for this kind, evanescent creature who had asked for nothing more than a simple deal in return filled her with resolve. She got home that same night and gave her father the potion as instructed. The old man felt immediately reinvigorated and stronger than ever. The next day, the first full moon of May rose, shining in the night sky, and the old fisherman sailed out to the Isle of Cramond, where he filled several chests up with fish, and mussels, and blackberries enough to feed his precious little girl for a month.

To this day, the people of Leith still say that the child never revealed where she found the mysterious cure, and that the Witch of Craigmillar was never seen again -- not that we are aware of!

About the Author:

Fiammetta Fidia Falchi, born in Cagliari (Sardinia) on 23 July 1996.

I am a passionate Art Historian and Cultural Heritage Professional with an interest in European medieval history, material culture, and museum exhibition practices. I have written and delivered talks about 14 th -century Italian sculpture and decorative art, and the role that antiquarians played in their modern displacement and display in world-leading museums including the V&A in London. Working directly with the public in historic heritage sites, and as a digital content creator, I am committed to engaging different audiences with fascinating, hidden stories behind artwork.

You can also find me on Instagram @fi_hearte and on LinkedIn.


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