Plenty for Everyone by Maggie Willey

She had given him a hood made from the pelt of an otter. He held the warm garment, rubbing the fur between his thumb and forefinger, and gave her a brilliant smile. “It is beautiful, thank you.”

“It will keep you warm at sea,” she told him. “Perhaps the spirit of the otter will protect you from the waves and send the fish to you.”

He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. “Perhaps it will at that,” he murmured, breathing in the scent of her hair. She smelled of woodsmoke and moorland, of the peaty pool in which she bathed, of honey and herbs, and, above all, she smelled warm and female. They tumbled together onto the sun-warmed machair where they sealed their marriage and conceived their daughter in laughter and love.

Three weeks earlier, he had been walking the path of the burn, hoping to catch a glimpse of the eagles who had moved into the area. Unlike his kin, he enjoyed the sight of the wild hunters. “Plenty of fish for everyone," he told them, refusing to harm the wildlings which his human neighbours considered competitors, trapping and killing them when possible.

He stopped by the pool into which the burn tumbled. A movement near the waterfall caught his eye. An otter, caught by her foot in a hidden snare, was barely able to keep her head above the water. She was trying hopelessly to scramble onto the rocky ledge, but the snare held her fast and she was exhausted.

“Poor wee lassie”, he spoke aloud. Although he did not wish to anger a neighbour, he felt sad at the pointless loss of a life and the cruelty of setting a trap which would slowly exhaust, and then drown, the animal across the water from him.

First checking that nobody was watching, he crossed the burn a little downstream, where the water was shallow. He walked up to where the otter watched him, then lowered himself carefully into the water. He spoke softly to the animal. “Nah, nah, don’t bite me, I’m not here to harm you, little one.” He felt beneath the water, supporting her while cutting through the snare. Having freed her, he placed her onto the ledge to recover her strength, and pulled out the snare which he would later destroy and bury in a peat bog.

“Plenty of fish for everyone,” he murmured to the exhausted animal. She looked at him thoughtfully, it seemed, before slipping from the ledge and swimming away.

Two days later, he was sitting at the door to his cottage mending his net. Looking up, he saw a young woman walking towards him, carrying a basket over her arm. Small, plump, and with dark hair and eyes, he recognised her as the daughter of a family who lived up by the haunted loch, high in the moors. They kept themselves to themselves, not interacting with his clan. Although there was no enmity between the families, each treated the other with suspicion, avoiding even speaking unless there was absolutely no excuse not to do so. Seeing a daughter of the clan walking up to him so openly astonished him.

As she stopped in front of him, he stood up and bowed, cautiously.

“A beautiful day," he spoke to her.

She smiled and handed over the basket. Inside was a salmon, fresh and gleaming, wrapped in kelp to keep it cool.

“My father’s compliments,” she told him. “He will be honoured if you would join him tonight for supper, if you would be so kind.” Turning to leave, she spoke over her shoulder. “I hope that you enjoy your meal. Plenty of fish for everybody.”

He bathed in the shining waters of the bay that afternoon, then combed his hair and beard. He had only the one set of clothes which he was wearing, but he brushed them well, and finally satisfied with his appearance, he set off walking up the moor and towards the haunted loch. He was met and greeted by the patriarch, welcomed as a dear friend, long awaited. The family surrounded him, hugging and chattering before leading him to the place of honour at the table.

The evening passed and still the feasting continued, singing and drinking into the night and towards the dawn. He felt himself to be under a spell, but happily so. It was no surprise to him that by morning he found himself betrothed to the dark-haired daughter. His new kin wanted him to stay, but he insisted that he must go to his mother, to fetch her for the celebrations, and to meet his bride-to-be. Reluctantly, they sent him on his way, making him promise to come back within the month to claim his bride. This he did gladly enough.

The next morning, after pouring a ewer of cold water over his head to disperse the fumes of the night’s celebrations, he ran down the hillside, leaping down the rocks beside the burn and more cautiously clambering down the steep cliff at the foot of the burn to find his mother. She was collecting oysters from the rocks and pools left exposed by the retreating tide. Unable to contain his happiness he blurted out his news, explaining that she would be welcoming a new daughter into their small family.

To his disappointment, she did not share his joy.

The family by the loch was fey, she explained. They were descendants of the Old Folk, universally distrusted, and even thought to be witches by some.

“And yet what harm have they ever done?” he asked angrily. “Who would know they even existed if they weren’t occasionally glimpsed by a cutter of the peats?”

His mother had hoped that he might be lucky enough to marry into the family of settlers from the lands of ice, to the north. They had a beautiful, unmarried, daughter. She was tall and slender with golden hair and blue eyes, and her family was rich, with a small herd of cattle and a horse. True, the mother admitted, she and her son had naught but a coracle, but he was a hard worker, a good fisherman too, if he would only plan ahead. He would never catch more fish than he needed for his mother and himself though, except for maybe to take home a few extra to salt, for when the weather was too poor to risk going out.

There were plover and other eggs in spring to supplement their diet, and guga for the table, for those who would brave the cliffs where they nested. He explained, as he had done many a time, that the sea and the air, the cliffs and the land, provided more than they needed and that they should not be greedy. It was sufficient for all, without having to ever take too much.

Seeing that he was determined, his mother held her tongue. Swallowing her disappointment, she told him that she was looking forward to meeting her new family.


“Take no notice”, his bride’s father advised him as they gathered for the wedding. He could see the sadness in the young man’s face, his mother seemingly unable to join in the shouts of welcome to the new couple. “She will come around as soon as she has grandbairns gathering around her skirts.” A wise man, he spoke with prescience.

A home was waiting for the two lovers, with space aplenty for the young man’s mother. There was always food and warmth, without any need to worry for the future.

Their child, a daughter, was born the following summer. It was a hot day, alive with the sound of birdsong. The sky was blue, the whole day a blessing. The child was dark and plump like her mother, and everybody loved her, none more so than her grandmother, who had been so against the union of her parents. Her personality was as sunny and as warm as the day which birthed her. She grew up into a comely young woman, bright as the dawn and as hardworking as she was loving. There were no siblings: her parents, for all they tried, never produced another child, but this did not matter somehow. They had sufficient, as her father always said.

Her grandmother often took her down the path of the burn, carefully down the steep, rocky way, to the shoreline. She taught her how to harvest shellfish and shrimp in season. She showed her where her father had lived as a small boy and the secret spring where they had collected the water. Together they named the rocks, the seaweeds, the shorebirds, the different moods of the sea, and the restless tides. It was here that she caught the eye of a young man, the son of the woman of the north, the originally hoped-for daughter-in-law.

Fierce and handsome, bright with youth, he watched the beloved daughter and sighed, wondering how to prove his worth. He told no one of his plans, but lay unable to sleep at night. When he did manage to sleep, he dreamt of the longboats of his ancestors. He saw himself as the master of the boat, conquering other lands and bringing back slaves and precious gifts to lay at her feet. He believed her family to be curiously unambitious; although they seemed to live well enough, they did not appear to ever have a surplus.

One summer night, unable to sleep, he got up, slipped from his bed and down to the beach. Sitting quietly in the light of a half moon, he watched as an otter hunted the tide line, stopping every so often to play with pebbles. He thought of the girl, and in particular of her father, who sometimes wore a hood made from the skin of an otter. The idea formed that perhaps a gift of a similar hood for the woman he wanted would serve as an introduction to the family.

Late the following afternoon, he returned to the empty shoreline and set a snare where the otter, if it returned, would surely be caught. Close to midnight, he came back to the darkened beach.

To his delight, the otter was caught fast and had been for some time. It was twisting in panic and had resorted to chewing at its limb, trying to escape the returning tide. As it chewed through sinew and bone, it screamed in agony, a curiously human sound which froze him to his marrow. As he hesitated, the otter was suddenly freed, but leaving a front paw behind. Realising that he was about to lose his quarry, he sprang forward, swinging the club he had brought. He caught a glancing blow to the beast’s head, but still it escaped to the water and he could only watch in frustration as it swam away.

The next morning the grandmother climbed down to the shore alone. Her granddaughter was nowhere to be found. The whole family was out looking for her. As she approached the sea, she saw her neighbour's handsome grandson holding something on the rocks. He was keening terribly.

Her blood running cold, she scrambled towards him, fainting when she saw that he was cradling the body of her granddaughter. The girl’s left hand was missing, and she had a dreadful wound to her head.


The wind blows, rippling the heads of the cottongrasses, creating small waves on the surface of the haunted loch and driving the midges away. High on the moor where no human dwells, the bubbling call of the curlew echoes across the landscape, over the scattered ruins of an ancient dwelling.

It is pleasant to sit in the warm sun, watching the huge, electric blue dragonflies dart among the reeds and the butterworts, as your heart sings with the larks rising to the high, white clouds, scudding across a vast, blue sky.

Perhaps if you stop, if you listen and watch, you will see a trail of silver bubbles under the surface of the loch, and if you are very quiet and still, you might hear the whistles of otters calling to each other. You are unlikely to see them, for although you might find evidence of their presence, they are very shy of the human visitor, waiting for the moor to be completely empty before emerging from the water.

You will be gone long before the sun lowers itself from the sky, however. There is a curiously unpleasant feeling as the dark spreads across the land, and shuddering, you wonder why this small body of water is known as the Haunted Loch.


Maggie Willey is a 63 year old, somewhat disabled woman who lives in a yellow bus with some birds, two dogs and various musical instruments she plays badly. Other than the bus and her phone, which is smarter than she is, she eschews modern living to a great extent. She is largely uninterested in how things, and people look on the outside, but is endlessly fascinated by the rich inner life of all the beings, human and otherwise, which surround her. Most of her characters are real people, but she fictionalises both them and their situations, as nobody would believe in them anyway. She is vegan and likes cake.

Author's note

Set in the mythological, far north of Scotland, "Pleny for Everyone" involves a family who are somewhat similar to the well-known Selkie mythology and the witches who turned themselves into hares, their nature being discovered when the hare was injured and the witch was seen to have an identical injury.