The Blackbird Man

The Blackbird Man

A Story by Tertia
"

Luke sets up a farm in no mans land and has all he needs except companionship and love. Help comes in the unexpected form of stranger, Mick.

"

- THE BLACKBIRD MAN -

 

- Territory -

 

Luke, son of Jon Black lay claim to four fields in no man’s land and marked them out with a boundary of hedge, ditch and fence. The fields were large in a two-by-two formation with a small gap in the centre giving access all ways. It was there that Luke built a lookout post and from it he watched for trouble, opportunities and people that generally walked the coastal path that was the only thoroughfare in the area. He lived in a makeshift tent that was in reality an awning against the remnants of a dry stone wall. It was cold most nights, even with a fire so he spent all of his time, while not farming building a cottage for himself and one day for the family he hoped to have. He was only twenty so he considered himself to be doing well. His mother said he was handsome as he was tall and had dark curly hair.

 

The sun shone brightly the next day and stood high in the sky early and as Luke was out working the soil he saw at the far end of the top field, on the coastal path side, a man camped in a low hollow of the hedge. He took his time and walked up to him calmly. ‘Good Morning,’ he said when he was standing right over him.

 

‘Morning,’ the man mumbled from the nest at the bottom of a clearing of the ivy and brambles. He man didn’t look up, he kept chewing on a vegetable he held.

 

‘It’s nice to see someone here and have a soul to talk to,’ Luke said leaning on his small wooden hoe that had been passed down through the generations of his father’s family.

 

‘Nice spot ‘ere it is. I might stay,’ the man said quickly. He flashed a look at Luke checking his reactions.

 

‘You are welcome here so long as the fields aren't disturbed. I’m farming it all, you see,’

‘Yes, I can see that you are,’ the man said holding up the raw turnip.

 

‘Ahh,’ Luke looked at it and found himself getting angry as he had planted those turnips last season and so he turned to go. ‘If you need anything, I’ll be down the field. Luke’s my name,’

 

‘Aye, thank ‘ee,’ the man laughed knowing he’d made Luke angry. ‘Michael, I am,’

 

‘Good day, Michael, I’m sorry but I must get on, I have so much to do,’ Luke walked off.

 

‘It’ll be good for opportunities here, I can feel it,’ Michael called. Luke spun on his worn heels and looked straight at him. He saw a ramshackle figure, that looked like a tramp, none of his clothes fitted, all were old and he was under dressed for the time of year. It was still Spring and was cold.

 

‘Opportunities? What do you mean by opportunities?’

 

‘All sorts. Unsuspecting passers-by walking the path,’

 

‘Oh,’

‘Idiots, drunks and gullible fools. I can fleece them, turn ‘em over you know. And women too,’

 

‘No,’ Luke felt himself getting angry again. ‘No, I don’t know,’

 

‘It’s their own fault. They’re ‘alf expecting it and almost grateful some of them,’ Michael said laughing to himself. Luke stood there, staring wondering what to say. ‘It’s not robbery, it’s just gentle persuasion, you see,’

 

‘I do and don’t see, yes,’

 

‘They’re only giving what they would have done anyway. Perhaps less if that makes sense. Other more ruthless types would take more and throw them over that cliff over there,’

 

-Something Sighted -

 

A strong aroma of coffee drifted through the trees that evening and catching Michael’s scent, as Luke thought he came down and sat with him by the fire’s edge. With only the distant roar of the sea for any type of sound they exchanged their tales of the day and their lives over the last few months, then over the years and then finally they hailed back to their childhoods and all the while their faces made grotesque and twisting shapes in the shifting firelight. Michael Shanahan was from Kerry and had left his village to find work, any kind of work. He’d lived off the land and slept in the bushes and ditches ever since and had been shot at several times by the English army for the only reason that they didn’t like the look of him. When he’d reached the east coast of Ireland he’d stowed away on a merchant vessel bound for Wales and had never been back to Ireland since or heard from any of his family.

 

‘For all I know they could all be dead and buried and there’s thirteen of em‘ in all’ he said.

 

‘That’s a terrible, morbid thought,’ Luke said and told of his family who lived in the next county down and how he’d left with a handful of possessions one night when he couldn’t stand the infighting any longer. His story seemed tame compared to Michael’s so he glossed it up by saying ‘There was fighting, we were so poor and father was a violent drinker who lashed out at us without warning,’ and with little reaction from the Irishman he shared the broth he’d made.

 

‘Thank you, Sir and what’s with the lookout post?’ Michael said pointing at the bottom of the rickety ladder.

 

‘I guess I’m just plain nosey,’

 

‘Hah. You’re on the look out for something,’ Michael said waiting for a reply and when there was none he added. ‘Are you in fear of someone?’

 

‘No one other than my father,’ Luke looked down at the ground, his brow deep as the soil he had furrowed.

 

‘Oh,’

 

‘I ‘am’ looking for someone to be honest with you,’ Luke whispered after a silence.

 

‘Oh?’ a whisper came back in the darkness.

 

‘There is a girl who walks this way. Along the coastal path,’

 

‘I see,’

 

‘There are several girls, she is one of them,’

 

‘Yes, you are on the look out for love,’

 

‘Mmm, yeah,’

 

‘What does she look like this girl you are in love with?’ Michael chuckled.

 

Luke laughed. He prodded the fire, stoking it up. ‘She is fair, not short and has a lovely smile. She always wears tunic of golden brown and does not wear a hat or carry a bag even when it rains,’

 

‘Oh,’ Michael said trying to think. ‘I don’t know her. But, what’s she really like? Has she a nice figure? Is she pretty?’

 

Yes, oh yes,’

 

‘Have you met her?’

 

‘Once along the road. On my way here to begin with. I only said hello to her and smiled at her,’

 

‘Young, is she? than you I mean,’

 

‘Yes,’

 

‘Ah, well, Luke my good friend what shall we do about this? She is certainly no good to me. I am an old man of nearly thirty I think,’

 

‘I have a plan,’


‘Good and help with this plan, can I?’

 

‘I...I...I don’t know,’

 

‘While you’re growing crops tomorrow I could be up the lookout tower,’

 

‘Yes, if you like,’ Luke said, drawing out his words.

 

‘She is a worker at the mill and’s walking back to the village, I shouldn’t wonder,’

 

‘Hmmm. On the fields that edge the path I have planted thick rows of lavender, rosemary and lemon balm. The breeze blows the scent over the path.’

 

‘Yes, so?’

 

‘It’s to make my land more enticing. There’s mint,’

 

‘Ha Ha, that’s a slow method of attracting a woman. Your land you say?’

 

‘The village elders know I am here and they have given their approval in a provisional sense,’

 

Luke said trying to see Michael, trying to catch his eye in the darkness. There was no response. ‘Every working day I am putting out a bunch of wild flowers on the hedge,’

 

‘You are sweet, but by the time she realises what’s going on some handsome millerman will

have whisked her off her feet,’

 

‘I am going to play my guitar, the music will get her attention,’

 

‘Ah, well yes. A sweet song may woo a woman, true,’ Michael agreed. ‘If you have the balls to do it,’

 

There was the sound of liquid glugging. ‘I shared my broth with you, will you not share your ale?’

 

An open bottle flashed before Luke’s eyes and he took it. ‘Yes, my good landlord,’

 

‘I ought to charge you rent,’ Luke said taking a large swig of the wine.

 

‘I’ve no money. Who has?’

 

‘Then you can work while you’re here,’

 

‘I will, I will,’

 

-Working Together -

 

The next day the sea was a rich cerulean blue and it glittered as it reflected the clear sky above. The two men set about their tasks, Luke worked the fields and Michael set about getting the bottom field ready for its first use. After midday they both worked on the cottage and got part of its back wall built with rocks and stones collected from the surrounding area. At intervals they took it in turns to look out along the path and to watch for danger, ‘the opportunities’ and the girl. On one of Michael’s watches he suddenly disappeared along the path as he had seen a man lackadaisically ambling along in a zig-zag and couldn’t resist the temptation to exploit him. He later returned looking happy and holding a bundle of money.

‘What did you do?’ Luke asked fearing the worst.

 

‘All I’m a saying is I played some cards,’

 

‘Cards! that man was blind drunk,’

 

‘He won’t remember,’

 

‘I live here, you’ll get this place a bad name and then those from the village will kick me out,’

 

‘Don’t worry,’ Michael said waving his arms dismissively. He climbed the lookout post again and looked along the coast once more. A while later as the sun was starting to dim he gave out a shout. ‘They are here. I can see them,’

 

‘Who are?’ Luke shouted.

 

‘The girls from the mill,’ Michael shouted back. Luke got up the tower with him and saw a slow moving line of mill workers, in ones and twos heading along the coastal path for the village. Luke dusted himself down and went into his tent. He got changed into his best cotton trousers, put on his best black silk shirt and picked up his three quarter size Spanish guitar. He strummed a few chords as he walked out happily, humming a tune and walked down to the edge of the field by the path. Michael was nowhere to be seen. He sat by a gap in the hedge where he had earlier put a bunch of wildflowers and strummed a tune and waited. There was a cool land breeze going out to sea blowing the scent of the lavender and rosemary across the path; the plan was going well. A couple of women went by him listening to him playing and singing. Walking on her own was the girl he had been thinking of and dreaming about. He stood up and started his song, she smiled, not knowing what to do, she stood still in the middle of the path and listened. As the song was short and he didn’t know any others he gave it a long intro, building chords up until he sang, as soft as a lullaby.

 

Blackbird Blackbird

I hear you sing

In the branches

In the hedges

I know she won’t be long

 

Blackbird Blackbird

A nest is there

Of young ones

Of loved ones

Who will take to the air

 

She clapped a couple of times and walked on and Luke gave a theatrical bow. He held up the flowers to her, she took them, smelling them. ‘Thank you,’ She walked on looking behind her.

 

‘Luke,’ he said putting his palm against his chest.

 

‘Rose,’ she whispered, laughing. A couple of women caught her up and linked arms with her.

 

‘Seems you’ve got an admirer,’ one said laughing and leering. The three of them walked on together to the sound of beautiful violin playing ahead and their attentions naturally turned to the slow beautiful sadness that it spoke. Luke looked up the path and saw Michael standing proudly. As he played on a small crowd gathered around him, including Rose. Luke felt his anger rise again, but could only admire the music.

 

-A Big Row -

 

Luke and Michael had a big row that night. Luke blamed Michael (or Mick as he now was calling himself) for his plan going wrong. He accused Mick of stealing the limelight and drawing Rose’s attention away from him. He told Mick how he’d spent ages building up to the moment and it had all been ruined by him. He told Mick to clear out the next day and he never wanted to see him again. Luke was aware he was getting angry and aggressive and was also aware that Mick was bigger than him, stockier, well-set. If there was a fight Mick would come off better.

 

Luke sat by the fire in the half-light of the late evening breathing heavily, his head in his hands, tears seeping through his fingers. ‘All is lost,’

 

‘All right you big cry baby, I’ll be in gone in the morning, but I think I was helpin’ you, you know,’

 

‘How?’

 

‘By keeping the general public, people, particularly those young women here for longer, extending the show, your little song, nice as it was, only lasted a half a minute. What would y’have done for an encore? Anyway there was more than one gal there. I am a man you know,

I do have feelings, emotions, needs,’

 

‘You made me look stupid,’ Luke said sulkily.

 

‘Far from it, you’ll see, there’s always tomorrow,’

 

‘And you’ll be gone I hope,’ Luke sulked.

 

‘And I’ll be gone,’ Mick confirmed. He walked to his hollow nest at the top of the field and as he went he put down the wine bottle. ‘You’ll need this more than me,’

 

The next morning Luke woke up late with a throbbing head and found that Mick had gone. In his anger to spite Mick he had drunk the whole bottle down in one go and had collapsed under the close atmosphere of the awning. He dragged himself up and gave himself the easy job of sewing potato seeds in a pre-dug furrow. He thought of Rose, Mick and for the first time his family and his father. Tall and thick-headed clouds rolled by in thick squadrons of black, grey and white. As his anger subsided his reasonable mind crept in saying ‘it wasn’t Mick’s fault’ but possessive jealousy had dictated otherwise. ‘He was only trying to help’ it went on.

 

It was hot that day and at midday he drank water and sat in the sun. A few moments later he heard the clip clopping of hooves that then became a large man on a fine white stallion. The man was well dressed and wore a three pointed felt hat that looked almost theatrical.

 

‘Good Morning, Sir,’ the man said in a loud booming voice.

 

 

‘Good morning,’ Luke replied looking at the hat and its fine golden braid.

 

‘I am Tom Ford from the village, I am a chief Elderman and we say what comes and goes around here,’

 

‘Yes, Sir,’

 

‘We gave our approval to you using this land did we not?’

 

‘Yes, you did,’ Luke said holding the horse steady with the loose reins. He talked to the horse soothingly.

 

‘Barring a few discrepancies you can start givIng a tenth to the tithe barn,’ Tom Ford said. He looked around at the earth, the fields and the state of the hedges.

 

‘What does this mean, Sir?’

 

‘It means the land is yours so long as you can contribute a tenth of your yield. Good day, Sir. I have much to do,’ He pulled his horse and trotted away. Luke followed him out to the path and watched him proudly clip clop on in the direction of the mill. He looked at his fingers, a tenth was one in ten, right? maths he was no good at.

 

He walked further along the path and saw there was a newly made opening in the hedge where a smaller one had been. The Elderman was there and was looking at a small plant in wooden pot.

 

‘How much is this?’ The Elderman said holding up a small Rosemary plant. Luke had to think on his feet and realised Michael Shanahan had been at work!

 

‘Um, nothing to you, it’s free,’


‘Thank you, but a tenth, remember. My wife will like this,’ The Elderman said and made off. A small table had been erected with a tray of plants ready for sale. On the table was a small wooden collection box which had simply written in it in chalk: ‘Plants a penny’. Luke worked for the rest of the day and saw or spoke to no one.

 

-For Sale -

 

Rafts of high cumulus came over from the west, they were tall and powerful and blocked the sky. They created shadows making the day dark and cold. Crows flew low in a wavering straight line and some touched down in the fields, pecking at the freshly turned earth. Luke scared them away, but they came back again and again; he was fighting a losing battle. He kept his head down for the next week, trimming the hedges, watering crops from the river and sowing more seeds. He kept an eye on the path every now and then and saw Rose a couple of times walking to and from the mill. Occasionally a buyer would come up to him and ask how much a plant was, he would give them the price and rely on their goodwill; not checking the collection box. Sometimes they would haggle and he’d say ‘give what you can’. At the end of the second week there were offerings of bread, biscuits and ale in exchange for the aromatic herb plants.

 

‘How much are these?’ a voice said, breaking the peace as he dug a drainage ditch. It was a hot day, he was bare backed and sweating. He didn’t look up and kept stabbing his spade in the soil.

 

‘A penny,’

 

‘I’ll give you half a penny,’ It was a soft voice said. Was it her? It sounded familiar. He couldn’t tell.

 

‘A halfpenny and a farthing,’

 

‘You are mean,’ the voice said harshly. He looked around to the corner of his eyes without moving his head and caught a glimpse of a thick brown tunic and turned in shock.

 

‘I’m sorry I didn’t know that it was you,’

 

‘Me, yes it’s me,’ Rose said. ‘It’s always me, I’ve never been anyone else,’ she laughed.

 

‘No, of course you haven’t. So seeing as it is you the cost is nothing,’ He ditched the spade and wiped his hands together. She smiled. ‘to go with the flowers?’

 

‘That you’d give to any pretty girl,’ she said and turned to go, giving him one last glance over her shoulder. He stepped along behind her, keeping his distance.

 

‘they were only for you,’

 

Under the hedgerow a male blackbird ran, his wings half open, his head down so his beak was trailing the ground. He chased another away, his tail feathers high. After a lot of squawking, chirping and flapping of wings the chased blackbird took flight across the path and over the shore. Luke and Rose stopped briefly, to watch the show and then returned to the slow moves of their courtship. They stood by the makeshift table where the plants for sale stood and Luke opened the collection box. Coins spilled out, there were pennies, half pennies and farthings.

 

‘Good god,’ he said. He looked at the small table that was now half empty with gaps where plants had been taken. Rose put her plant down and went to go. ‘Take it,’ he pleaded.

 

‘I don’t want it,’ she said. He held it up to her.

 

‘I’m not sure about you,’

 

‘Give it to your mother then, perhaps she’ll grow to like me,’

 

‘All right,’ she snatched it and went.

 

The blackbird sat high in a branch calling out its song. Its head was high, its bright yellow beak was as wide as it could be, it didn’t know how to give up. Luke ran along inside of the hedge, following the path and overtook Rose. He appeared in front of her, casually sitting on a rock.

‘the thing is when I saw you something took over me and that was it I knew I had to talk to you, get to know you. I wasn’t in control.’

 

‘try and be in control,’

 

‘I am man of prospects,’

 

‘You’re no more than a boy with nothing at all,’

 

‘I am twenty. I have all this’

 

‘Fresh air and dreams. You have no prospects,’

 

‘I have this farm,’

 

‘It’s a bloody field,’

 

‘I’m building a cottage. Let me show you,’

 

‘Which will be taken down. You have no rights to build here,’

 

‘I was visited by the Elderman today,’

 

‘And?’

 

‘He gave his consent. I am to pay the tithe,’

 

‘Who was this?’

 

‘He called himself Tom Ford,’

 

‘My uncle!’ she exclaimed. She spun to face him, looking searching out his eyes for a truth. Nonchalantly he looked back at her. She looked out to sea at the waves as they broke reaching the shore, white horses were making spray. She looked back at him with a deep and thoughtful expression and down at the plant in her hands, putting it to her nose and taking a smell from it. ‘Your friend has been annoying folk, getting drunk in the tavern and playing his fiddle loudly at night,’

 

‘Aahhh, Mick,’ Luke said. He rubbed the stubble on his chin, his eyes wide and glassy.

 

‘He seems upset by all accounts,’ Her body swayed, she flushed pink and looked full of life to bursting, without realising it, making her presence known, while her eyes were still distant and thoughtful; her mind far away.

 

‘I will go and see him. I was angry with him,’

 

‘Do you lose your temper often?’

 

‘Not often, no,’

 

‘Do you lose your temper with women?’

 

‘Never, but they are infuriating creatures,’

 

‘Have a shave, I don’t like men with beards,’ She quickly walked off. ‘Good-bye,’

 

When Luke got back to the fields the blackbird was there high on a branch, his song quieter and softer than before and there on a lower branch was a brown female blackbird. He sang to her in soothing sweeter tones and soon they were together as one.

 




- THE END -


© 2020 Tertia


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Reviews

This is a brilliant story, really is.. tried to read it slowly and I couldn't, had to see what happened at the end.. and in between, of course.. Firstly some great phrases: ' .. Rafts of high cumulus came over from the west, they were tall and powerful and blocked the sky. They created shadows making the day dark and cold. Crows flew low in a wavering straight line and some touched down in the fields, pecking at the freshly turned earth. Luke scared them away, but.. ' AND ' .. Under the hedgerow a male blackbird ran, his wings half open, his head down so his beak was trailing the ground. He chased another away, his tail feathers high. After a lot of squawking, chirping and flapping of wings the chased blackbird took flight across the path and over the shore. Luke and Rose stopped briefly, to watch the show and then returned to the slow moves of their courtship.. ' Such an ability you have to say so much in quite a few words, graphic and smooth.

Love the way the two men's friendship is, both caring and teasing.. and their dialogue is grand, natural. Snippets of history appear, such as the tithes paid in using the land.. and the building of houses when and if time and working land is passed, agreed. You describe the surroundings so well, use the Irishmess in a clear but subtle way.. and, the ending is wonderful.. truly. Wont's say more right now..but will come again. Brilliant storywriting.

Posted 1 Month Ago


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Thank You so much for dropping your piece on sonder group on WC. It was published in our blogs- https://sonderteam2020.wixsite.com/sonder/post/the-black-bird-man

Posted 4 Months Ago


Tertia

4 Months Ago

Wow thanks I will take a look
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Good dialogues. Good characters. Your writing is engaging and smart, congratulations!

Posted 4 Months Ago


Hello Tertia ! Really the story the suspense and the way of expressing is just amazing ... I guess you are the only story writer in my friend list .... others are poet just as me ... and I like to read the stories of none other than you friend . great ! 🤍🧡
-Aj

Posted 4 Months Ago


Tertia

4 Months Ago

Thank you, that is nice to hear. I’m glad you like the story
I added this one to my favorite. You weaved a wonderful tale my friend. I started reading and I couldn't stop. The locations, the characters and the story line mad me want to read more. You wrote a masterpiece and thank you for sharing the outstanding story.
Coyote

Posted 5 Months Ago


Tertia

5 Months Ago

Thanks Coyote - glad you enjoyed it
Coyote Poetry

5 Months Ago

I did enjoy and you are welcome.
I am turning seventeen shades of green envy! This is the best writing I've read here at the cafe in a while. You know me, I always have something to say about the longer stories, but I have no corrective ideas on this. Your storytelling is superb . . . unbelievable pacing, compelling us with interesting details & interspersing symbolic & enjoyable passages of observations, such as surrounding nature . . . love how your story dips in & out of refreshing changes to keep things stirred & yet every moment has a purpose to build this story so carefully. Your Irish brogue is some of the best I've read . . . I could hear it perfectly & yet it didn't weigh the writing down a bit, as sometimes this can feel like reading a slightly different language, but not here.

phone call . . . be back

Posted 5 Months Ago


Tertia

5 Months Ago

Thank you very much. There is a hidden parallel or meaning, I wonder if you picked up on it?
barleygirl

5 Months Ago

I admit, I'm no good at reading meanings into anything. To me, this story seems more straightforward.. read more
Tertia

5 Months Ago

It is straightforward, yes, but the Story is named after the main character for a reason
Amazing work. The theme, the character. Overall I loved it.
It would surely get success which it deserves

Posted 5 Months Ago


Tertia

3 Months Ago

Thank you for your review, glad you enjoyed the story
That's a brilliant piece of writing. I appreciate.

do write more and keep it up!

Posted 5 Months Ago


Tertia

5 Months Ago

Glad you like it, I will, it’s too late to stop now
Pragati Chaudhary

5 Months Ago

:) Surely My friend!
the blackbird man will be a great hit

Posted 6 Months Ago


Tertia

6 Months Ago

Thank toy for being a believer
 wordman

6 Months Ago

you`re welcome

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Added on May 25, 2020
Last Updated on September 11, 2020
Tags: courtship, love, beauty, romance, nature, tenderness, Mating, match, naivety, instincts, wild, simple, life, hope, promise, honesty, tradition, village, people, prospect, spring, friend

Author

Tertia
Tertia

United Kingdom



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