The Mountain Moors

Long ago, in Portugal, fairies who were known as moors gathered in the rocky hills above the rivers. There the winds blew hard and the wolves howled, and few could hear the spells the moors chanted. Only the villagers who lived below these hills could hear the words, and they knew that their mountains were haunted. They feared the moors’ power over children, which was especially strong on nights of the full moon.

In a small village beneath these hills, a farmer and his wife lived peacefully. One night, just as the full moon rose and the moors began to chant, the farmer’s wife gave birth to a son. The couples were overjoyed. They named their child John and gave thanks for their blessing. They prayed that nothing would ever harm their child and that he would grow strong and healthy.

The day after John was born; an old woman came to the cottage and asked for a few hours’ shelters from the raging storm outside. Though the farmer and his wife feared she might be a moor, they were kind and generous people and offered her both shelter and a meal. She ate her food, then leaned over the baby’s cradle and whispered a few words. Soon afterward, she said farewell to the family, and the farmer and his wife never thought of her.

When he was old enough, John went to work with his father in the potato fields. Everyone was amazed at the boy’s abilities. John could work better and faster than anyone else. The farmers praised his work, but they also wondered about him. He was unusually quiet and often had a strange, faraway look in his eye. Some said he had been cursed by the moors.

When John’s parents heard their neighbors’ whispers, they remembered the old woman who had visited their cottage the night after their son was born.

“Perhaps she cursed our child,” the wife said. “Perhaps she really was one of the moors come to us in disguise.”

“Nonsense,” her husband answered. “He’s a strong, healthy lad. He only likes to keep to himself, and there is nothing wrong with that. A wise man keeps his thoughts to himself.”

The rumors persisted. “John is a wolf-child,” people whispered. One neighbor told another, and he told yet another, and soon everyone in the village believed this to be true. At last the village doctor came to examine the boy. He discovered the mark of a crescent moon beneath John’s arm, the sure sign that he had been bewitched by the moors.

“This cannot be,” the farmer said. “My son is a fine, healthy boy.”

“Never mind,” said his wife. “There is a way to solve this trouble.” She took John to visit the village wise woman.

“Will you disenchant my son?” she asked the woman.

“Yes,” said the wise woman, “bring him inside.” But when John’s mother turned to call him, he was gone. She and her husband searched everywhere. The villagers joined in the search. Alas, no one could find John anywhere.

Weeks passed. The air grew cold, the weather harsh. The wolves that lived in the hills, desperate with hunger, began to move toward the village, sneaking into barns and troubling the sheep in the fields.

The farmer refused to fire his gun at the wolves, for he feared one of them might be his son. Desperate to find John, he decided to set a trap. Sure enough, the next morning he discovered a large wolf caught in the trap. Bending to look closely, he saw the mark of the crescent moon upon the creature’s wounded leg. Tears fell from his eyes as he lifted the wolf into his arms. Carrying the creature he knew must be his son; he hurried to the wise woman’s cottage.

She looked into the wolf’s eyes and nodded. “Yes,” she said to the farmer, “this is your son, but I will cure him. Bring him to the river’s edge by my cottage this evening.”

When the farmer arrived at the cottage, he laid the wounded wolf beside the wise woman. She stood at the wolf’s head and lighted some pine branches. Smoke rose, drifting into the hills, higher and higher until at last, it reached the spot where the enchanted moors lived.

“Mighty wind,” the woman called, “takes away the moors’ spell and give John back his human form.”

“Stop your current,” she called to the river. “Wash away the curse and carry it to the sea.” The river’s current slowed, and the woman knelt, lifted a cup of water, and sprinkled it over the flaming pine. “Spirits,” she said, “go to the moors’ home. Child, John, open your eyes, and the smoke that carries your curse will drift away.”

As the wolf opened its eyes, the fire burned away, and the river began to run more swiftly. The farmer and his wife and the wise woman walked together to a nearby olive grove. There they knelt, looked up at the full moon and said their silent prayers.

When they returned to the river’s edge, they found in the place where the wolf had lain, the young man, John, fast asleep. No longer did he bear the sign of the crescent moon.

Everyone rejoiced, and John never again ran with the wolves, but he was always kind to them, and to all other creatures. He also taught his people to be kind.

The people were good to the wolves, but they were also careful to protect their children, especially on the nights when a full moon rose, and they could hear the chanting of the moors drifting toward them from the hills.

In Portuguese folklore, the moors are much like fairies of British folklore. Like the fairies, moors live underground, in castles and palaces, and they wander about the earth, unseen or in disguise.