On the black banks of the river Alt, there was a poor widow who had one son named Tommy. Being a good and dutiful mother she’d pack him a lunch when she sent him to market, beat him with a stick properly so he would remember what to get, and to go directly.
Tommy had other ideas. The vinegar maker’s daughter, Merrily, lived in the other direction, and his mother’s cooking was the type that made your taste buds stand on end. Merrily made a scouse that was truly a king’s feast. Tommy was a man after all, and his mother wasn’t the boss. Licking his wounds and straightening his hair, he took a turn towards happiness.
Down the road, and through the blacksmith’s yard, where unattended geese made a ruckus, he made his way to Merrily’s house. He passed a hole in the ground local folks called Cheese Well. Those who passed were wont to throw in a piece of cheese, as an offering to the Fairies, to whom it was consecrated.
Tommy mused as he paused to look into the hole, wishing he could throw his mother in. “Dwarves in mines, elves in the woods, and fairies in a wretched hole; cheese is too expensive for the lot of you. Cheshire, you want, my mother’s stew you’ll get!”
He threw his lunch pail into the well, Merrily would treat him right.
He had only gone five paces when a seizure wiggled his legs, and he went crashing down. Elf-shot! He cursed himself for being a simple-minded fool. This was his mother’s doing. He pulled on the weeds to escape. Her cane was sure to come from behind. But to his surprise, a cloud of buzzing wings and a hissing goose were the last things he saw.
He woke with his ears ringing. Sunshine stung his eyes, clouding spangles of gold, and the silky green clothing of the tallest fairy imaginable. He swiveled his head around; his lips pursed as he looked for his mother, but he was no longer in this world. He lay in the greenest of fields, dotted with colorful flowers.
“Are you going to eat me?” he shuddered.
The fairy slopped the pail of stew on top of his head and struck him across the face. “Fool human, this is not a tribute! It is poison.”
The stew stung his eyes. “Please, spare me.”
“If you want to be free you must do a task, and I’ll consider not drowning you in the well of your own soul.”
“Crop the ears of a werewolf and use them in a cheese press with wolves’ bane to make Loup-Gouda. Their good deeds must end.”
“Werewolves bring fish to people in times of need, why would I do that?” The fairy was worse than his mother.
“Do my bidding, or you will never see your vinegar girl again.”
An instant later he found himself up to his knees in muck, with a silver dagger in his hand. The trill of frogs jingled in his ears, and the reflection of the moon in the stagnant pools of brackish water told him where he was, the shore of the Mersey river.
“Oww wooo!” the cry of a werewolf was near, but instead of seeking it out he had another idea, and ran to Merrily.
Down on the shore, a Mermaid sensing the fairy magic and whistled in his ear, turning him around. Now, there’s nothing Mermaids hate more than fairies and their obsession with werewolf ears. Tommy’s heart froze when he saw the scales, “What now?”
Forces beyond his control were tearing him apart when all he wanted was self-determination, and not be judged by others’ expectations.
The mermaid sang as she handed him something. “She has no intentions of freeing you. Have pity on the wolfkind, and take this sea cow cheese aged in kelp. Be convincing, and when the fairy eats it, you’ll be free.”
The seaweed was leathery and reeked to high heaven. Tommy made his way quickly, more determined than ever not to listen to anyone.
The werewolf’s cries came from every direction. He knew there were poor people, but how many did the werewolves bring fish to? The dagger would make a nice present for Merrily, and he would be rewarded with her scouse.
Light poked through the cracks in her curtains, and laughter flowed from under the door, stopping him at the fence. Shadows danced in the window, playing tricks on his mind. Where was her father?
An unfamiliar man opened the door. “Who are you?” he demanded.
The man shoved him to the ground and slammed the door. “Bugger off, boy.”
“Merrily!” Tommy pounded on the door. He was answered with trumpeted giggling.
“How could you? What of our promises?”
The man opened the door again, “Bugger off I said, you’re not wanted!”
Tommy pulled out the dagger and raised it to the man’s throat. “She loves me, not you!”
The man reeled at the sight of the blade. “Silver,” he gasped. “Where did you get that?”
“What do you mean?” Tommy asked, then realized what he was talking about. “Oh, you’re the wolf. The mermaid said I should be kind and respect you. But I see that you are delivering more than just fish to the poor!”
“What’s going on?” asked Merrily.
Tommy pushed his way into the house. “This man’s the werewolf. He’s tricked you.”
“What are you talking about. Do you think that I love you?”
Tommy thrust the dagger at the man. “See how he cowers at the silver of the blade? Only a werewolf is scared of silver.”
“Don’t be absurd, Tommy. You’re holding a knife to his throat!”
“I’ll prove it,” he said, holding out the sea cow cheese to the man. “Go on eat. Only mermaids and werewolves can eat such an abomination of cheese.”
The man pleaded to Merrily. “My love is not some kind of trickery. Tell him to go away.”
The cheese crumbled as Tommy mashed it into the man’s mouth, “See, only a werewolf could eat this.”
The man crumpled to the floor, choking on the cheese.
Merrily pounced upon Tommy, pulling at his hair and scratching at his face. “Get out, get out! Never come back!”
Her weight on his back tipped him like a cow towards the door. “Please, I love you!” he pleaded.
The slatted door shut with a rattle. “You only love my scouse!”
His nose flattened against the door. He did love her scouse. “Only as much as I love you.” But when there was no answer, he knocked lightly on the door, “Merrily?”
“Oww wooo!” A deafening howl came from inside the house.
The door flexed, and splinters stuck into his forehead. “Merrily!” he cried. The door wouldn’t budge. He put his shoulder into it. The man must have turned into a wolf. She was in mortal danger. “Open up!”
“Oww wooo!” Sleeping birds took to flight.
“I’ll save you!” He fought harder to gain entrance. Glass and wood splinters scattered as he dove through the window, and rolled to his feet with the silver blade drawn.
A butcher’s cleaver flashed in the light of the hearth, Merrily turned, holding a freshly severed arm, and tossed it into a large pot.
Tommy dropped the knife. “Merrily?”
“Scouse you want, scouse you’ll get. Oww wooo,” she said softly.
Tommy gagged, realizing what she’d fed him. “You said your secret was a splash of your father’s vinegar.”
“Not exactly.” She turned and sliced at a thigh. “Your move.”
He loved her, but she was the wolf. If he didn’t cut off her ears, the fairy would keep him imprisoned, and there was no telling what the mermaid would do if he did cut them off. Then, no matter what he chose, his mother would disapprove. Standing taller than he had ever before he said, “Well I don’t care anymore, that’s what.”
Merrily held her cleaver at the ready. Not understanding what he was talking about. “Care about what?”
“Any of this; the cheese, the fairy, the mermaid. I only care about you,” he proclaimed.
A thump on the back of his head sent him to the floor. “No, you don’t!” It was his mother, he’d recognize her cackle anywhere. A second thump sent him into unconsciousness.
Tommy woke on a pillow made of feathers, and the softest of blankets embraced him. He reached to rub his eyes; he thought he was dreaming. A sharp sting caused his hand to withdraw uncontrollably.
“Don’t touch. You’re lucky your brains stayed in.”
Merrily appeared above him. “I didn’t think you’d make it.” She held a steaming bowl and lifted a spoon to his mouth. “You need to eat to gain strength.”
“Where’s my mother?”
“Hush now, and eat your scouse.”
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. diced beef
1 lb. diced lamb
3 lb. potatoes, peeled
4 cups beef stock
2 medium onions, diced
4 medium carrots, thickly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine or apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Season the meats with salt and pepper; brown on all sides. Transfer to a large, deep casserole pot. Cut 3/4 of the potatoes into thin slices; set on top of the meat. Pour in the stock. Cover and cook in the oven 90 minutes. Cut the rest of the potatoes into small cubes. After 90 minutes, give the scouse a stir to break up the sliced potatoes (this will help thicken it). Mix in the uncooked potatoes, onions, carrots, and vinegar; cover and cook 60-90 minutes more, or until the meat is very tender. Adjust the seasonings and serve.