The Piskey who Lost His Laugh

Sharp Tor in shadow with dramatic skies, as seen looking north west

A lively ring of piskies danced around and around upon soft tufted grass at King Arthur's castle at Gelliwig.(Callington). As they fell in a dizzy laughing heap, one piskey called Pasco was silent. Now it was extremely unusual for a piskey to be silent, especially after a whirling dance. The others all sat up to listen in astonishment as Pasco tried to laugh. No happy sound came and he held his belly in embarrassment. 'What is a piskey without his laugh?' cried the piskies in unison and re-linked their arms for another dance, leaving Pasco sitting forlornly on the edge of the ring.

Left out and miserable, Pasco had only one aim: to search for his laugh. With heavy steps he tumbled down a hill and stumbled into a pile of soft earth. In the darkness, Pasco could hear another voice scolding him:

'Who may I ask is there? A piskey! I thought so. Do you know how long it took to build this mound?'

'No, sorry, I fell into it and I can't see my way out. Who are you?'

'I am Mole of course.'

'You sound very posh for a mole.'

'I am the fallen Lady Want.'

'Fallen from what?'

'From Arthur's court, not that it concerns you. Why are you alone and solemn, piskey?'

'Oh Mole, I am so sad, I have lost my laugh.'

'Ah well, then I suggest you travel across Caradon Moors to Sharp Tor where you will find the Little Man in the Lantern. With such a good light he could surely find a laugh.'

Pasco dug his way out from the mole hill and spat soft earth until he was sick of trying, and then rather hoped he could find something to drink on the way across the marshy moor to Sharp Tor. Pasco travelled across the high moors to find his laugh. He came first to the village of Pensilva and after some climbing to Minions and then on higher across the moors. At last the piskey without a laugh came to the edge of a vast marsh; he stood for a moment sniffing the mists and then sniffed in sorrow too, all this for his lost laugh. Dimly at first, then stronger, came a light gliding across the marshes. If it had been moving away, perhaps he would have followed it as many a piskey led traveller had before him, but the Little Lantern Man was gliding toward Pasco.

He was amazed to see a piskey alone and crying on the edge of the marshes.

'Little Lantern Man, with your bright light, have you seen my laugh?' asked the sad piskey hopefully.

'There are no laughs on these marshes, sad fellow. Come, climb into my lantern and travel to Dozmary Pool, where you can ask Tregeagle where he has seen it.'

'Tregeagle, I wouldn't dare.'

'He travels all Cornwall running from the devil, he is sure to have seen your laugh.'

So Pasco climbed into the glimmering lantern and became a little light gliding across the land. At Dozmary Pool the Piskey crept up to Tregeagle as he emptied a shell of water across the already marshy moors.

'Tregeagle, I have lost my laugh,' Pasco whispered.

'Lost your laugh? I have lost my soul,' wailed Tregeagle, blowing out the lantern. 'How dare you come to bemoan a lost laugh, little piskey, when you have no hope of retrieving my soul.' And Tregeagle wailed with a horrifying sadness that made poor, miserable Pasco feel even more solemn than before. Pasco ran away to hide in the rushes.

After what seemed like forever, Pasco heard the rumble of galloping hooves and a herd of wild horses carrying piskey Night-Riders reigned up at the pool to drink. Spying Pasco moping in the rushes, the Night-Riders hauled him onto one of their horses and galloped off into the night.

'Where are we going?' Pasco asked, when he dared.

'We are going on a nocturnal adventure to see all of Caradon,' said the piskey onto whose stiff red jacket Pasco clung.

And so they did. In no time it seemed, the Night-Riders were off the moor and galloping through Warleggan and West Taphouse, then on through Lerryn and Lansallos, where they paused for a moment to look out to sea and explore the pretty cove. Then in a flash they were racing along the coast- path. The line of stolen horses seemed to know the route and the Night-Riders whooped in delight as they careered along the edge of the cliffs. They flew past Polperro and Looe, turning inland at Seaton.

'Where are we going now?' Pasco whimpered.

'On a quest up the Hessenford Valley,' sang the Night-Riders.

'And now?' Pasco asked as they leapt over hedges into fields.

'On a quest to Quethiock,' they sang, laughing all the way. To which Pasco could only bite his lip in shameful silence. Quethiock seemed no distance from the sea to these racing Night-Riders. No wonder the farmers found their horses piskey ridden and foaming all over.

As they travelled, they interrogated Pasco and Pasco sniffed a confession that he had lost his laugh.

'The last piskey we knew who lost his laugh was strung up in a sack and hung upside down like a mouse so no-one could hear his misery,' the Night-Riders told Pasco gruffly.'

Pasco felt more and more frightened at the thought of being strung in a sack. As they approached the castle at Gelliwig he slid off his mount and into a mound of fresh dug earth. Lady Want seemed to be prepared for him this time, and she even had a better suggestion as to where to find his laugh.

'Pasco, may I suggest King Arthur advise you,' she said magnanimously.

And looking up from the dirt, Pasco saw a huge chough perched on a stunted tree beside them.

'Piskey,' said the chough, 'It is always a good idea to first look in the place you last had the item lost, and that I believe was the fairy ring on my lawn.'

'The King speaks wisely,' agreed the mole.

And Pasco went gingerly over to the ring of soft tufted grass on the edge of Gelliwig. Sure enough, rolling about in a jumble of laughter was what could only have been the lost piskey laugh. Pasco threw himself at his laugh in delight and began to dance while laughing and laughing. The other piskies soon joined him and they formed a ring with Pasco in it and danced and danced until the sun left the day.


retold by Anna Chorlton

Ref. A book of the West - Cornwall by S.Baring-Gould /Enys Tregerthen

  • Caradon