Spinning by Candlelight

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September 23, 2022 by The Citron Review

by Marianne Villanueva


One late winter night, in a humble dwelling built of thick sod and grass, a wife sat spinning by candlelight. Her husband and son had gone to bed.

For a while, the wife listened to the North Wind blowing. Slowly, slowly, her eyes drifted shut and she began to dream about:

A sea creature with slashing teeth
Bracken and mountain moss
Her husband and little one
Her cheese and butter-keg
Her comb and wool cards
Her thread and distaff
Cow and fetter
Horse and traces
Harrows and hoard
Needles and loom
The Holy Book and a rowan branch

Who could explain why, at such an hour and in such weather, a knight walked in the door, bringing with him the dark.

The knight’s eyes were shielded by the visor of his helmet. The wife saw that it was wet outside; drops were on his armor.

“God and Mary bless ye, good Sir,” the wife cried. “Are ye lost?”

The knight shook his head. “Are ye?” he asked.

The wife was taken by surprise and could not answer. She raised one hand to tighten her shawl more closely around herself.

“Are you wanting supper, Sir,” the wife said, gesturing to the rough-hewn table beside her. “You may sit.” For politeness was always the best way to deal with strangers. Even though she had hardly any eggs to spare. And only days-old bread.

“No,” the knight said. “I cannot stay.”

“Where are you from?” the wife asked, surprising herself with her boldness.

 “From across the sea,” the knight said.

The woman thought the knight had something of a mad look about him. Something about the eyes. And his voice was not the voice of these parts.

But, really, how could one judge, when all she could see of him was that little slit in the visor of his helmet.

He extended a mailed hand, as if he expected to pull her back with him into the dark. Looking at the silvery fretwork of his glove, the woman thought of a sea creature, the one in her dream.

The woman quickly made the sign of the cross, put both hands behind her back, and shook her head.

The knight lowered his hand. His stance breathed disappointment.

“Each day you shall – “ he began.

But the woman did not hear the rest of the sentence. She blinked, and the knight was gone. The door where he had stood was nothing but an empty black square. Above it, she saw the rowan branch she had hung there a short time before, merry with dark, green leaves. A hinge was loose and the door swung, back and forth, back and forth, blown by a high wind. The woman went to the door to make it fast, the bottom edge dragging across the dirt floor.

Though the knight had left only moments earlier, there was no trace of him, or of his horse. Where had he come from? Was he a true knight, or was he the devil?

She was greatly relieved to still be in her cottage, with the spinning wheel right behind her. She was tempted to tell her husband the story, but something she saw in his face the next morning made her think better on it. And she became even more confident in her decision when, mid-morning, a green plover came from the direction of the marshes, all alit, its voice crying of mystery.


The villagers made fun of her because she was born with only four fingers on one hand. Sometimes, standing at the shore with her husband, she tried to cast her mind into the briny deep. Her husband kept tight hold of her arm. He was thinking the same thing.

She took a long, shuddering breath, her knees trembling. But a small seed of discontent took root in her breast that night and, try as she might, she could never dislodge it.

The following winter, she had a new son. Unlike his older brother, this one liked to wander. He liked to feel the moor’s springy heather underfoot. He ventured far, eating his mother’s oat cakes and cheese, arriving home late and always enormously and insatiably hungry.

His father beat him, for the goat had not been milked, and the cock and hens had not been given their corn.

One day his father did a terrible thing, and the boy did not return.

“Oh!” cried the father. “He is carried away by the fairies, I am sure.”

The wife sat spinning, wishing she had the courage to cross the wide sea.


One cold winter night, the wife sat dozing by the fire.  So many years had passed that her hair had turned quite gray, and her heart felt like a lump of useless clay in her chest. Her husband and her eldest son had long since gone to bed. The spindle had fallen from her hand, and the fire had died down to a few embers.

She began dreaming of her boy, the one who loved to wander. She saw his young, clever face, and his mild eyes. His hair was still thick and brown, but shot through with streaks of silver. He turned a solemn face to her and said:

Horse and traces
Harrows and hoard
Needles and loom
The Holy Book and a rowan branch

Then the wife awoke. She looked at the door, expecting it to burst open at any moment. But it remained fast. She got up and flung it wide.


Marianne Villanueva was born and raised in the Philippines and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila, Mayor of the Roses, and The Lost Language.




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