Word of the Day: Messan


February 16, 2018: messan \ MES-uh n \  noun;

1. Scot. a lap dog; small pet dog.


It chaffed, being here, like this. Especially with all the others. Especially since he had been the first. They were, in some ways, his fault after all.

When he had first heard the tale of Lady Elspeth of the Black Wood he, like all of them, he supposed, had felt a sense of duty, of destiny. A beautiful laird’s daughter, kidnapped and held hostage in a high tower in those woods by an evil enchantress. It was the sort of thing faery stories were made of.

He should have known better. They all should have.

But instead Rory had geared up his horse, kissed his mother goodbye, and gone off to find his fortune.

And he had to hand it to the enchantress. It really was like a faery story. The Black Wood lived up to its name–it was impenetrably dark, even at the height of the day, and it was impossibly quiet, as if nothing could bear to live in such a place. It was the perfect setting for a heroic quest.

And not a day into his journey inside, he had found an injured doe in a small clearing where just enough moonlight had found its way through the dense foliage to reflect off her pale white fur. He had known exactly what to do; he tended its wound and brought it water, and before it had left, it had laid its head in his lap and cried a single tear, a single tear that had become the bright, clear crystal he still had on a leather thong around his neck. It was perfect, and magical, and the very first step towards his doom.

A few days onwards and he met a little old woman in the wood, trying desperately to start a fire. He smiled, and started it for her, and he shared the last of his food with her, because that’s what heroes did in these kinds of stories. Heroes didn’t suffer from gnawing hunger, like he did now. They were rewarded for their generosity with directions straight to the tower, and a warning to stay away. A warning he had laughed away then. A warning that had been more enticing than any invitation anyone could have given.

And he had reached the tower three days later. Not even a week into his quest, but he was starting to get so hungry that he wasn’t quite thinking straight. Or maybe he was just that naive. He wasn’t sure anymore.

The tower had no door, and was made of some kind of shining white stone that was almost slick to the touch, so there was no question of climbing it. He circled it for another day, and hacked at it with his sword, and made up magic words, but nothing touched the tower.

Until one night it started raining, and the white stone started flaking away, and Rory chipped at it with his sword until he made an opening into the pitch darkness of the tower. That’s when the doe’s tear started to glow, and Rory smiled triumphantly, because this was exactly right. Through kindness and generosity and patience he had made his way into the tower, and now he was going to save Lady Elspeth and be rewarded by her rich laird husband, and they would marry and she would father him strong sons who would be heroes just like he was.

He hoped the ones who had come after him hadn’t been quite so foolhardy. So that when they realized it was all wrong, it hadn’t stung quite so badly. Only, they were surely more foolish than he was, because he’d been the first to chase the legend of Lady Elspeth, he’d chased it when it was fresh. How could this beautiful young woman still be stuck in a tower so many years later? Why did they still come? She hadn’t even changed the story, he knew that because she laughed about it. Especially to him. Her favourite.

He charged up the steps of the tower. Well, at first he had charged. And then as the steps continued, his pace slowed a little. And the steps continued. Impossibly high. Higher than the tower could have been from the outside. But that had to be a mistake, he was just tired, and hungry. He pushed ahead, the light from the tear flickering fitfully as he finally found a door. He pushed it open just as the tear winked out and there, in the moonlight, was Lady Elspeth. And she smiled at him.

And his breath caught in his throat. Only, it wasn’t because she was beautiful. The cord around his neck was tight, so tight, and getting tighter. He clawed at it, but the tear was a searing coal against his hands–he would have screamed if he could get any air in his lungs. He fell to his knees, and the woman laughed.

“You’ve come so far, don’t give up now,” the enchantress said lightly, watching him with fascination as he clawed at the leather cord.

“Stop… this… you… monster…” Rory choked out, his vision growing dim.

“Monster? Why, I thought you came all the way here to see me?” Her face, the picture of innocence, was the last thing he saw before he blacked out.

When he woke up, he was curled up on a bed, with his head in a warm lap. Looking back, he hated himself for the rush of relief that had gone through him at that moment. He had actually thought things would be okay. But when he looked up, it was the enchantress’ face he saw. He opened his mouth to speak, tried to lurch from her lap, but all of his muscles betrayed him.

“Shhh,” she cooed, petting his hair. “There, there, no need to fuss.”

His eyes had darted around the room, then. Looking frantically for the Lady Elspeth. He still had to save her. He still had to be the hero.

“Hmm, my sweet boy,” the enchantress said, smiling softly. “You’ll figure it out soon.”

She had to be here somewhere. Maybe she had been transfigured into a piece of furniture. Or she was invisible. Or…

“Have you come to save me, my sweet boy?” the enchantress asked, her nose crinkling as she smiled.

Rory’s eyes flicked from the enchantress back to the room. No, no, she had to be here somewhere.

“But where are my manners! You already know my name, but I don’t know yours,” she said, with a pleasant, quizzical look.

Again, Rory opened his mouth, but nothing came out. To his eternal shame, he had begun crying.

“Oh my sweet boy, it’s all right. I’ll look after you! I’ll even give you a name!” She stopped and thought for a moment. “I know! Messan. You are my sweet little messan, aren’t you?” She had laughed then, and it was the cruelest sound he had ever heard.

And of course, new heroes came to save the Lady Elspeth from the evil enchantress, only to find themselves in the same state he had. Or they didn’t pass Elspeth’s little tests, and were killed by the white doe, or the little old woman, or died trying to find their way back out of the woods. Rory wasn’t sure which she liked more, when they succeeded, or when they didn’t.

For a few years, as the heroic youths kept coming, Rory hoped she would forget about him. But he would always hold a special place in her heart. On cold nights, she would curl up in front of the fire, and pat her lap, and he would come and rest his head in her lap, and she would pet her sweet little messan until he fell into a dark and dreamless sleep.


Note: These slang words really throw me off. Hopefully the Scottish names and my very learned use of the word “laird” set this enough in Scotland that the whole “messan” thing wasn’t too incongruous. Either way, it’s nice to finally write something a little more fairy-tale-y which will always and forever be my favourite genre. Also, just try and talk me out of naming our kid Elspeth now, husband! Such a great Scottish name. <3

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