30 May, 2017 by katelaity
We drove a long for some time until the bustle of the port city gave way to more sedate lanes. Our carter, Terry, promised that we would have good lodging not far from our collector so we pulled up at a charming little residence that he said catered mostly to sporting men. He ordered the stable hands around with such imperiousness that I immediately rejiggered my ideas about the social standing of carters in this land.
Our belongings squared away with such efficiency we were happy to be taken on to the home of the mysterious Mither Wishart nearby. I was immediately disappointed for it looked like many of the other houses we had seen nearby, a small neat home of considerable age but scrupulous upkeep. Venerable rather than ancient then, but entirely too respectable for the home of a woman who collected oddities.
Ushered into the tidy interior while our carter waited outside—he was quite willing to be placated with some home brewed ale from the lady hostess—I felt a vague sense of disappointment. I had truly expected some kind of exoticism. Perhaps Dr Rae’s adventurer’s home had raised my expectations a little too high.
Mither Wishart herself was as homey a woman as you could imagine. A woman of some considerable age, but so pink-cheeked and lively that she wore the years lightly. Short and stout she was but quick on her feet, fussing around us as we were ushered into the ‘parlour’ as she called it. Tea was brought which included any number of delicious looking cakes and shortbread (by far my favourite culinary delight in this rough land, though I had yet to taste the legendary haggis), so I was quite content to listen to her ramblings while I refreshed myself. The old dear was bound to have something entertaining to tell us, and if not, there was cake.
While Tansy quizzed her about the nuances of some strange Scottish term I glanced around the parlour. It was rather pleasant to be in a charmingly feminine room of this sort. Though I much preferred the comfort of my club on the whole with its smooth leather and ancient wood, the experience of a room like this reminded one of the genteel nature of the weaker sex. Everything was soft and pretty. And the cakes were delicious.
‘Elf shot?’ Tansy said with surprise, drawing my attention over to their conversation once more. ‘Do you mean enchanted?’
Mither Wishart shook her head and laughed. ‘Not at all. While the name might sound fanciful it’s just another way of describing the illnesses we know to pass without visibility to the naked eye, as Mr Leeuwenhoek demonstrated so long ago.’
‘But they kept the arrows?’ Tansy looked perplexed, which was not surprising.
‘Not arrows, arrowheads,’ Mither Wishart explained, rising from her seat to fetch an item from her shelves. ‘Look, here is how they kept them. See? Encased in silver and worn on a chain about the neck.’ We both leaned over the table too look more closely at the item she produced. It was a tiny stone arrow clasped in silver. The shape rather reminded me of a heart.
‘And what’s this on the back?’ Tansy asked. The markings were rather like mason marks—abstract lines and angles. ‘Are they runes of some kind?’
‘It’s impossible to know,’ she said with a sigh. ‘They were passed down through families for generations, valued as protective but against what may well have changed. We know the term elf-shot from rhymes that probably went along with them, but my grandmother—who wore it every day—said only that it kept her safe from the shivers.’
My glance strayed to the shelf from which she’d plucked the charm. I could feel my eyes widen. I had mistakenly assumed the shelves to mostly hold knickknacks and pottery like most ladies’ shelves did, but now that I peered closely the truth was rather stranger.
‘What on earth is that?’