In the forest was a cottage. It sat old and abandoned until found by a small girl named Gemma. Inside of the cottage there were rich luxurious fabrics which Gemma’s grandmother was sure to love.
…and so Grandmother found herself being wheeled through the forest of North Leicestershire at break neck speed.
“Slow down, sweet girl. What is so important?”
“There’s a quilting cottage!” This is the answer to our prayers. It will solve all of our problems!” Gemma squealed, but when they arrived at the cottage, there was no longer a cottage there. Gemma scratched her head and wondered if she had imagined it, but she hadn’t.
Grandmother looked grief stricken…”Dear girl, are you trying to play a trick on me?” Grandmother smiled wearliy.
“No Grandmother, perhaps we can’t see it because I have brought you back with me?” Gemma had a feeling. She reached out to where the cottage door would have been and it opened.
“It’s a magical cottage?” Gemma asked.
“Best be on our way then. This isn’t meant for our eyes, I can assure you. Your aunt is no longer with us because of this cottage.”‘
“You know about this place? My Aunt died because of this place?….But Grandmother…. look at the quality of this fabric.” Gemma stepped out of the cottage with a bolt of the most luxurious cloth. “You could save the farm with quilts made from this.” Gemma brought the fabric to her grandmother to feel. It was most impressive, but this design was too familiar. She held it up to her cheek and it brought back tortured memories of her childhood. Of course she had seen this pattern before.
“Put it back Gemma. We best be on our way. I have felt this fabric before and no good will come of being involved with it.”
“Grandmother…that’s not true.” Gemma said. She had the shameful habit of talking back to adults. She lowered her head at the sight of her grandmother’s disapproval. “But, I am not a quiltmaker. Maybe you could teach me. I can then make enough money to save the farm and surely have a bit extra to save for our future.”
“Fine then Gemma, wheel me back home and we will begin your lessons at once. Leave that fabric here, if you know what’s good for us. I can’t stress enough that utter ruin will befall us.”
“Why….what happens Grandmother?” Gemma asked.
“Well, I really rather not tell you what happens, dear child. You are too young…but I can tell you about the queen..at Bradgate Park, six miles north of here, on the edge of Charnwood Forest, was born and grew up- the girl, Lady Jane Grey. She was famous amongst her contemporaries for her learning and her piety but a little known fact, was her love of quilting. The cottage was built for her by her father and only those who see it’s phantom presence are allowed to enter.”
“Lady Jane Grey…I don’t know of her.”
“She was the Nine Days Queen of England, in the 1500’s” Grandmother said.
Grandmother went on. ” ….the poor girl was the victim of a sinister plot for the throne and was queen for exactly nine days from July 10th to July 19th, 1553. She was wrongly accused of high treason and was held in the tower of London. She was just 16, when she was beheaded on Tower Hill on February 12th, 1554. The queen was buried beneath the altar of the Tower’s Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, and her ghost can be seen roaming the grounds usually around the anniversary of her death. I couldn’t enter into this quilting cottage Gemma. All who enter without her permission, find themselves in an early grave.”
“But why Grandmother? Was she an evil person?”
“It’s doubtful that she was evil in life. She was just a young girl. But, legend has it that she wanted more than anything to be a mother. She never got the chance of course and her one wish was to have…let’s just say… a quilt made by a child of her bloodline.”
“Who me?” Gemma asked.
“Appears that way, doesn’t it?” Grandmother said. “We are distant relation…let’s go back to the farm. Your mother will have supper ready and I have grown quite weary of talking of ghosts, ancestors and quilts.”
“Ok,” Gemma said, but why have you never spoken of this before?” Gemma asked. Grandmother looked stricken. Her grey hair turned to white and her eyes, like saucers recalled a time that haunted her. She put a wrinkled hand to her mouth and gasped.
“Now that the Queen has chosen you- you will not be left a moments peace until you make her that quilt. God help you child. There is nothing that can do to prepare you for the horrors that will come. I try not to speak of the Nine Days Queen so that I don’t summon her- like we probably have now and I would just as soon forget about her all together, now let’s go home. I didn’t want to alarm you before, but there’s not a moment to waste. The queen will be here any moment.
Gemma wasn’t done with the cottage, nor the quilts and definitely not the ghost of Lady Jane Grey and so she made plans to come back that very night. When the farm grew quiet, and the hound dogs were snoring. Yes, she would make her way back. She marked the spot in her mind where the cottage was by noticing a large boulder just to the left of the invisible door. The farm could be saved if she was willing to deal with a ghost and learn how to make a quilt. I can do this, she thought.
“Don’t come back here on your own Gemma.” Grandmother said. “Someone needs to know where you are at all times, especially since the Nine Days Queen has shown you the cottage.”
That night Gemma made her way to the cottage with a small lantern she took from the barn. She could hear a baby crying in the direction of the cottage. When she arrived she saw what her Grandmother had warned her about. She tried to turn away and run back to the safety of her home, but it was too late. The Nine Days Queen had seen her.
“You will make me a quilt…” The queen said to Gemma with an outstretched arm. She was grey and still beautiful, other than her broken neck, which lay to the side like bent plastic. The skin around the neck was in tact. Gemma looked away in fear.
“Look at me child.” The queen straightened up her neck and screamed a banshees scream. “You will make me a quilt from your skin and I will wear it to look young again. I was murdered in the prime of my life. I want a quilt made from the skin of my bloodline.”
Gemma tried to run. She had been told to listen, time and time again and this…this would have been the perfect time to have obeyed her grandmother.
“You can not run, child. You will come into the cottage and we will begin making a quilt.” Said the Nine Days Queen.
Gemma was being forced, as if she wore a straightjacket towards the cottage door.
“No queen, no. I need to make a real quilt to save my family’s farm. I can’t come into the cottage, and you cannot have my skin today.”
“You are going to lose your family’s farm? But, that is a farm that has been in our family for generations.” Said the queen, releasing the magical grip on Gemma.
“I know, and I was thinking that you could help me.” Gemma said to the queen, in the way that only a child could get away with speaking to someone who in fact, held all of the cards.
Gemma thought for a little while. “I have an idea. If you help me make a quilt out of these fine fabrics, I can sell it. Many people will be impressed with the quality and want to know where I got it from. I can lead them to you…and after saving my farm, you can have my skin or the pick of any of the other people’s skin who come to see you to buy your fabrics.” Gemma reasoned.
“You think I want money?” The queen hissed. “What am I going to do with a fabric shop? Hahahahaha…” She laughed. She was delighted. She hadn’t laughed for ages. “Come closer to me child. I would like to get a good look at you.”
Gemma was forced to come closer to the queen and the queen began examining Gemma’s face. She looked over her hands and her feet and even the quality of her long brown hair.
“I’ll make a deal with you, because you made me laugh. You can make the quilt with your grandmother who is a master seamstress and you can sell it. You can save the family farm and then you will be brought back here to me. You have one week.
“Ok.” Gemma said, relieved to hear that the farm was going to be saved. She wasn’t concerned with herself. She couldn’t imagine her family being out on the street. Times were hard.
One week passed and Grandmother indeed helped Gemma make the quilt.
“Why did you go back there my love. I told you that there was nothing good that could come from going back there.”
“Grandmother, that was my choice and I am ready to face the consequences.”
“But darling, I know what she asks of you. The quilt that she ultimately wants is made of human skin and will be draped over her own decaying flesh. She is an nasty, evil, malevolent witch.”
“Shhhhh. Grandmother please.” Gemma said. She held the completed quilt up and brought it to her face. It was soft and pleasant…the way a baby chick feels when you put it up to our cheek. “Take this to the market to sell and pay the men for the house. There is more fabric here, in case you need to make another one in the future…..I love you Grandmother……” Gemma was being forcefully taken.
“Gemma!” Grandmother screamed. “No, my baby.”
Gemma was transported to the cottage and placed in a cage. It was a comfortable cage because it was lined with quilts made from the queen’s cotton fabric. Gemma was smart. The queen had listened to her before, perhaps she would be able to convince her to listen to her again.
“Queen, my grandmother told me that you wanted to be a mother when you were alive…before…well,…you know.” Gemma put her hand up to her neck and made a face.
“I wanted to be a mother more than anything.” The queen said.
“Well, why not be a mother to me then.” Gemma said. “Keep me alive as your daughter.”
The queen thought about this for a while. They sat there together in the cottage. A fire was blazing in the fireplace for light as much as for warmth and the queen was making tea. She put out cookies and some bread and a bit of cheese, which Gemma admitted was the best she had ever tasted.
“Queen…make me your daughter. I will be the princess of the dark. A princess of the spirit world and you can teach me the ways of the banshee.” Gemma said in her little voice.
“I’m not a banshee,” the queen corrected. “I am much more than that.” The banshee queen looked at Gemma and shook her head slowly….”Yes, I agree to your terms. I will spare you and make you my daughter. You will be the princess of the night and you will sell the fabrics for money through merchants that I make deals with, so that you may eat.”
“May I see my family again?” Gemma asked eagerly.
“No, you may never see them again.” The queen said bitterly. “You are mine now and we have much work to do. I will stop caring about my youthful appearance as much because I am a mother now, but you will help me with something else.” She wanted to be a mother more than she wanted to be young.
“Anything.” Gemma said. She was relieved to still be alive.
The banshee queen smiled. She seemed light and buoyant, almost happy and she started flitting around the cottage tidying up. She let Gemma out of the cage and set up a proper bed for her. Gemma knew she wasn’t able to escape because the queen had control of her physically. If Gemma ran, she would forcefully be returned here and Gemma knew that she probably didn’t have any more chances to save herself like she had today.
Gemma turned eighteen and had become rather close to the banshee. The banshee had learned to love. This was an incredible turn of events in her mind and was forever indebted to Gemma instead of the other way around.
One lucky day in June, a prince came to the forest. He was hunting quail and didn’t see the cottage of course. Gemma was inside of the invisible house and so she had no problem seeing him. He was handsome and kind to the men he was hunting with. He laughed easily and had an air of conviviality that Gemma adored.
Gemma had a daily trick for getting the attention of birds, deer and mice outside of her window. Of course she couldn’t leave the cottage, but she could toss pieces of bread out to feed the animals. She loved to do this and when the banshee was gone sometimes for hours at a time, this is what she did to pass the time. Gemma decided to write a letter. She frantically scrawled out a letter to be delivered to her family at the farm. She was hoping that the prince would deliver it for her. She folded the letter into a square so that it had some weight to it and flung it towards the men who were taking a break and talking amongst themselves outside of the window.
The letter hit the prince in the arm and he looked back, turning around to see where the paper had come from. Of course he didn’t see anyone but picked up the letter and read it right away. The letter explained Gemma’s predicament in detail and that she couldn’t leave the cottage. The prince looked towards the direction that the letter came from and he nodded.
Gemma was so relieved that her family would know that she was ok, that she cried.
The Banshee came home a few hours later and noticed that Gemma was in a fine mood.
“What is going on dear girl? Why are you in such great spirits?”
“It’s a beautiful day. I am just so happy to be able to see the sunshine is all. After twelve years living with you in this cottage and never setting foot out of here, I am still ok, because I get to see the beautiful sunshine.”
The banshee thought about this for a while. She so loved Gemma, that she had begun to look young again over time. In fact she looked almost like she looked in life. Twelve years living in a blissful state will change anyone, but a banshee, the change was accelerated. She was happy and so she decided that in the morning, she would let her daughter out of the cottage to feel the sunshine on her face.
Gemma, quite astute, had asked the prince in the letter to come back the following day at day break. She knew the banshee well enough now to know that she would let her out of the cottage to feel the sun. Gemma, in twelve years was careful to never ask for anything so that when it mattered most…she could ask for something and have it granted.
When the queen let her out onto the grass. Gemma took off her slippers. She felt the grass between her toes and the sun on her face and she smiled at the banshee.
Gemma was wearing a luxurious gown that she made herself. She was beautiful and had delicate features. She was very pale from not seeing the sun, but she was also very healthy and strong. The prince was taken back by her beauty of course, but more stricken by her circumstance.
The prince’s men gathered up Gemma at once and rode off with her to the castle. The Banshee before she knew what was happening fell to her knees crying at the betrayal. Yes, she had learned to love again and the pain of losing her daughter was too much for her to bear. She watched her ride off with the Prince’s men and did nothing.
The Nine Days Queen disappeared into thousands of magical particles and the cottage did too.
Will she roam the earth with a broken heart now for millennia? It’s possible, but in Gemma’s betrayal, she also felt the loss of her love and felt inexplicably happy for having finally known what love was. What it truly felt like.
So if you find yourself with luxurious blankets from the forest of North Leicestershire, know that you own a piece of history and a piece of love.
If you find this fun and interesting and decide to expand on this story- let me know how this story continues in the comment section below, and as usual…happy writing!