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Marbendill Eyes

Marbendill Eyes
by Abigail Putnam

They lived together on a cliff above the sea in their round little stone houses. The walls spiraled inwards to keep the biting winds from snatching the heat from their fires.

They were women with long fingers, skin worn ragged from the gathering of sea lettuce down in the cove and then the dragging of it back to dry by their fires. The long stringy fibers of every color of green, and a few of pink and orange, were then woven together to form blankets to warm their children by night, and to be traded away in the day time to passing travelers.

Their husbands had long since gone to fight a king’s war that they did not understand, but which they said would be the making of them.

Their husbands had promised to send back whatever they could to help with the buying of food in the winter months when the women could no longer scavenge for bird eggs on the cliff and when the seas were too rough to cast their nets into. But it had been many winters and nothing had come.

The children took the path down the cliff to the cove every morning so long as the weather was good. It was their job to mind the nets for fish, though more often than not, they would scavenge the beach for the perfect little circular pebbles that washed up there.

“Marbendill eyes,” they called them, for they believed them to have come from mermen.

These creatures their fathers had told them stories about. Wild as the winter whipped waves that licked up the cliffs to frost their doors with ice, and dangerous enough to steal any little children who had not been safely tethered to their beds at night. The marbendill were the ones that sang the cliff music in the evening, haunting tunes of wind-sighs to make listeners dream about strange glowing eyes. Magic eyes that could see anywhere.

Their fathers told them these stories before they tucked them in under brightly colored sea lettuce blankets—before their fathers were gone—before the children had to use the marbendill eyes to hold up to the sun to see those places in which their fathers were battling monsters just to return home to them as they had said they would.

Their mothers told them there was no such thing as a marbendill.

Their mothers told them that they were just weary from weaving all day and feared their eyes would not be sharp enough to make sure the children stayed put under those brightly colored blankets and did not go wandering off at night where they might tumble headlong down the steep path to the cove, or worse, be swept off the cliff by a strong wind and dashed against the rocks in the raging ocean below.

The women did not tell their children why they also tied themselves in at night, did not tell them about a bright-eyed younger women from among them who had fallen under a strange sickness. She would pause in her work with the sea lettuce to gaze out over the sea and sigh. She was soon unable to work at all, listless, wordless, spending her days roaming the cliffs and the beaches. Then she stopped sleeping, and would wander the cliffs at night, listening to the odd songs, dreaming of the eyes while she was yet awake.

The women remembered the day when she stopped speaking to them and left the stone houses. They remembered when they found her on the beach the next day starring up into the sun with odd, luminescent eyes. They were the same color as the stones the children liked to play with. She told them she had made a deal with a marbendill, had traded her pretty eyes for ones that could see the future as a marbendill could. She told them about a war that would come, that their husbands would not listen to their pleas, would leave to fight anyway, would die for a cause they did not even know.

The mothers grew angry at this younger woman who said such things, who hadn’t woven blankets or collected food in days, who would make up lies about their futures with a tale of something that wasn’t even real. Their lands were at peace and their husbands would never abandon them for some war they did not understand.

The mothers shunned the young woman, did not let her return with them, made her stay on the beach with her strange eyes and stranger stories. And there she lived for a few more days, eating raw fish, sleeping with the waves as her blanket, seeing everything and nothing. Then she disappeared. Back into the sea, they thought, for there was no body to find. Perhaps she was out there still, watching them with those eyes.

The women sometimes caught themselves pausing in their work, or saw their children halting in their games, to stare out over the waves. Sometimes they would hear words in the wind-songs that played over the cliffs. Sometimes they had sleepless nights.

The women thought it wise to take precautions, to tie themselves and their loved ones in at night. Just in case. Who knew what marbendill could be watching?

* * *

Abigail Putnam is from Tidewater Virginia, where the humidity just might kill you and the nearest museum keeps a hundred-year- old ham on display. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University and her fiction has appeared in Maudlin House, Five on the Fifth, The Dirty Pool, and Frostfire Worlds. She is also the co-founder of Penultimate Peanut Magazine, a local VA ezine. You can see what she’s up to @abi_putnam.

What do you think is the most important aspect of a fantasy story?

In the fantasy genre, and fairy tales in particular, there’s usually an element of caution. As Amber Sparks writes in her essay “The Useful Dangers of Fairy Tales”, “We are born into a certain world, and how we navigate that world is part spunk and part, frankly, wariness and warning.” This is such an important aspect of story telling. What fantasy is able to do so effectively is to take the dangers and darkness of the world and then reanimate life into those same old problems with new worlds, or with talking animals, or with shadowed monsters.

Fantasy takes very real and relatable problems and makes it so we can’t look away, so that you have to see those children push the witch into the oven or the girl waste away after eating goblin fruit. This is probably the most important aspect of fantasy to me as a writer. And really, the most terrifying thing about becoming an adult and re-reading fantasy is realizing that there isn’t that much difference between the wolves in the stories and the actual wolves you will meet in real life. No joke.