Kids, yer tea’s ready! Part Three

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Drawing by Rosa

Sarah came rushing over, clasping her hand over her mouth in shock when she saw Amina lying curdled up in agony, half-on, half-off the mattress and burning with fever. The vomiting paused. A figure appeared in the doorway, Amina’s dad. All the children crowded in after him. All except one. ‘David? Where’s David?’ They looked around. There was no sign of him. Hadn’t he ran off to tell someone? Where was he now?

Deep in the forest, David opened his eyes. His head hurt. He had taken a risk in leaving the path but he figured he could spring through the thickets of bushes, saving time with the short cut. He bounded easily over several of the bushes but the next one caught his trailing leg in a bramble, wrapping itself around. Twisting, he fell heavily, walloping his head.

He caught the eye of the moon and shivered. Something crawled over his face. He tried to brush it off but his arms were tied in bramble knots. He shifted and grimaced. Something, he’d done something to his leg. It seared and another ant traced its path across his forehead until he passed out again.

The whole village was out looking for him. It wasn’t far from where the pond to the village and yet off the path, the thickets of dense brambles could conceal a body for days, for months, forever. They called his name until it became too dark and were forced to give up for the night.

Early the next day, everyone resumed their search. In the pale morning light, one of them detected a print in the path, which might be David’s. They panned the bush with brushes and switches in its direction. Fifty paces on, one of the villagers cried out, ’Over here. He’s here!’ They rushed to the spot where David, covered in crimson spots, head limp in a pool of vomit, lay lifeless. One of the villagers checked his pulse. He’s breathing. ‘Come quickly, help me lift him, then.’ And a group of them cut the binds and raised the groaning boy, his leg dangling in two. They carried him as best they could back to the village.

Sarah had set about organising the sick. Amina had to go into a tent all by herself to keep her away from the other villagers. She put another mattress in for David. He revived slightly after sipping a few drops of water, mixed with lemon and vanilla essence. But, overnight, all the other children in the group came out in the same blotches and they were all moved in together. The families feared for their future, for their children. Of all the group, only Ella remained apparently healthy. No-one knew why.

Time passed and all they could do was keep them clean and feed them water and nourishing soups. None of them could keep down solids. Sarah and Nighat worked tirelessly applying compresses and poultices, all they knew, but the children seemed to be drifting away from them. Nighat was at her wit’s end. She walked out into the fields and screamed,

‘I want to smell the flowers.

I want to see the trees.

To kneel down on the earth

and breathe, mother, breathe.’

But her child’s health showed no sign of getting better. If anything, it was worse. She could only wait.

The next day, a young woman came to he village, a doctor. She said she’d heard about the case of the sick children and wanted to help. ‘My name’s Rehana. Just passing through on my way home. Maybe, I can do something.’

Sarah had been up all night and was sleeping. Nighat and Fatima pointed out the tent holding the children. ‘First rate care but they need medicine. It looks like an allergic reaction. We can save them, if we can act in time.’ It had been three days, since Amina had fallen ill. Biswas, Nathan, David , Julie as well as Amina had all succumbed to the mysterious sickness. All bar Ella.

‘I must speak to her, ‘said the doctor. Ella described everything she remembered doing on that day in the forest. The food they’d eaten. She’d not had any of the sweetcorn and had stayed on the bank watching the others. ‘You sure about that, Ella?’ ‘Yes, I was too full of berries. ‘sides, mum had warned us not to eat anything from that field.’ ‘And you didn’t.’

The doctor had rang someone and later a van drove into the village, a colleague of hers, Ben. They carried boxes into the tent and quickly set about setting up drips. ‘Will this help them?’ ‘We can only try. If I’m right, then this will at least hold the spread of the illness.’ On David, who was doubly affected by the illness and the ant bites on his eye lids, she applied a healing salve and quietly said a prayer.

‘Thank you, Rehana, thank you for coming.’ Nighat looked at the doctor. ‘We feel so afraid, so isolated here. This isn’t the first case of young people falling ill. No, not at all. We’re sick of it but who can we complain to. The farmer laughs it off and is protected by the company he sells his crop to. We know this. They’ve been here and nobody likes to talk about it. We think last time they gave one of the families some money not to say anything.’ ‘I see, but your elected councillors..?’ ‘Them? It’s hopeless. They are just one voice, if they care at all. Most of them don’t seem interested.’ ‘I see,’ said the doctor. ‘Well, I’d like to do some tests.’ ‘On the children?’ ‘No, I was thinking about on the sweetcorn and the water, where they were swimming. Do you think we might do that?’ ‘Well, Julie’s the star at getting sweetcorn but she can’t help us at the moment. But yes, if you think it might help, she’s not the only one who can climb under fences. How many do you need?’

So, while Nighat set about getting the half dozen cobs, Sarah’s husband, Sam, took Rehana to the water hole, where the kids had been bathing. She swept up some of the water into a pan and poured it into vials and sealed them.

The next day, Rehana’s friend, Ben, arrived back in the van. ‘I’ll just be away for a few days.’ she told the families waiting. The children in the tent were showing some signs of recovery but Rehana knew they had a long way to do. He had to fetch fresh supplies of medicine and arrange for testing the samples.

Another van appeared in the square. It was the police. They were looking at the gathering. And one of the officers came across. ‘What’s happening here?’ ‘We are saying goodbye to our friend.’

And the officer questioned Rehana. Who was she? What was she doing here? Where was she going? There had been some reported break-ins at the local farm. Did they know anything about that? Rehana spoke up, ‘I was just passing through and saw that children here were in need and I could help. I’m a doctor, you see.’ ‘You, a doctor? Doctors are very young these days.’ ‘Well, it’s true. I’ve only just completed my training. I was at a placement at the refugee camp…I saw some terrible sights there…and I’m on my way home on leave…’

The families stared at the officers, who shifted. ‘Well, looking after children is good. But make sure that’s all you do. And the officer went back to his van and drove off. ‘I have a friend, who works for a local paper. He might be interested in what’s going on here. I’ll give him a call’. Ben said, ‘We’d better go before that officer comes back and starts looking inside our van.’

‘Thank you, Rehana and Ben, for all you’re doing for us. We still have hope.’ ‘I’ll be back as quick as I can. Remember, take care to look after those children. You’re doing all the right things. Keep going and don’t lose heart.’

They watched the van disappear up along the dusty road. ‘Bye, Rehana. ‘Bye, Ben. Go well, friends.’ And they sang they traditional song of farewell of the village,

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face.

May the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you

In the hollow of his hand.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you

In the hollow of her hand.

Drawing by Ruth

Part three of four

Jelly Babies

20160916_092934_resized_2‘What you got there? Jelly Babies..?’, Greg asked Ian. ‘Yeah, keep the sugar levels up’. Ian tore open the packet and offered them round. Uh, sugar. Something I’ve come to avoid as far as possible in processed foods but we had gone a good fair few miles. And we were paused, looking across at the Runcorn Bridge. I took one. ‘Have another couple’, Ian said. I had couple more. ‘Don’t bother about the colours!’ As the soft, doughy sweetness spread around my mouth, childhood memories of stopping off at the sweet shop on the way to school came back.

Three of us were cycling from the WEA North West regional office at the Cotton Exchange in Liverpool to our office, newly opened at Bridge 5 Mill in Ancoats in Manchester. We wanted to raise funds to help take a group of adults over to visit Ypres and the European Parliament in November. ‘How far is it?’ ‘50 miles, if we go by the Trans-Pennine Trail (TPT)’. Would I survive? Richard in the office painted dire pictures of limbs and bones, protruding, of wracked, cramped muscles , stretched beyond despairing point. ‘Oh, and you’ll get the endorphins too!’, he mentioned.

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Greg asked me en route, ‘So, how much training have you done for this?’ ‘Well, (I’d taken advice. Whole families who’d never been on a bike before were cycling once a year from Blackpool to Manchester without mishap, apparently…so, that was fine, then…), I’ve been out three times in the past month into town and then back along the river…’ ‘So, about 12 miles then each ride..?’ Should be enough, I thought, and looked at him.

Greg and Ian were in the breakaway group while I held the peloton together. But they kindly slowed down at regular intervals to enable me to catch up. ‘I’m back!’ I cried. By the Warrington Swing Bridge, they’d paused to wait for me again and the jelly babies were out. This time, I reached in and grabbed a handful. Sugar, umm, lovely, lovely sugar!’ , then reached for a few more. ‘We’re half-way there,’ they said ‘and making good time.’

The TPT is great. Mile after mile of trees guide you along the bank of the Mersey and the St Helens canal. You could have been in Devon or Guernsey, as you made your way out of the inverted V gates, used to keep out motor bikes, into small hamlets, greeting smiling, friendly people out for the day or walking their dogs . Ian had perfected the wiggle to pass through with barely a pause. Mind you, he was riding light, while I had enough gear in two full red paniers to keep me for a fortnight in Ibiza. Greg’s approach through the gate was more of a waddle.

‘Sugar!’, I swore, as I accidentally kicked my front mud guard, trying to get through one of the gates. I paused to fix it before hearing male voices behind me. I looked back to see 15 lycra -wearing men, all bonded, out for a day’s hard riding. I looked ahead at the single, muddy track, winding through the woodland, Greg and Ian long gone. So, I decided I would outsprint them and catch up. Several moments later, I glanced back. Nope, the riders were still there, the first now right behind me. This went on for a while till we came to a wider trail where they could pass with dignity. The back rider had a cowbell fitted to this seat. ‘Hey, I’ve got one of them too,’ and rang my ice cream bell in farewell..

Beyond the dark side of Altrincham, passing grimy, oily engineering workshops, Ian called back, ‘This is it, Bern. Bridgewater Canal, taking us right into the centre of Manchester.’ And we flew!

‘Blimey, there’s a football ground there on the right. Anyone notice?’ And then we were spluttered out onto the lively Canal Street Basin in the heart of the city. Ian weaved and bobbed up front, looking for a way onto the canal. It felt like a scene from the French Connection. Quickly, he darted back and by the time I’d turned, he’d vanished, seemingly into plain brick. Greg disappeared too! Barely noticeable between two edges was a snicket some two and a half feet wide, leading down to the towpath. And almost immediately we rode upon a film crew and paused to wait while they filmed a scene from Canal Side Love. Soon, we’d flashed past Piccadilly and Bridge 3, Bridge 4 and, here we are, at our destination, Bridge 5 Mill. Our welcoming committee of Rehana, Ian and his wife, Helen, and Margot of Bridge 5 Mill greeted us with smiles, handshakes, hugs and a great tea.

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Would we do it again? Maybe, we could make this an annual occasion to raise funds for a good cause? There was hushed talk of different groups, joining up the dots between WEA offices around the country. Who knows..? But for now, we still need money for our cause, whether we’re in or out of Europe and you can still contribute, if you are able to, at Study Visit to Brussels.

Sitting in the Canal side room, nibbling cake and sipping hot coffee, I checked myself out. Relieved, I was breathing, a good sign. Actually, I felt alright. ‘I’ve just ridden from Liverpool along the TPT,’, I told a young woman, who was setting up an exhibition about bees at the Mill. ‘Oh, yes, I’ve done that with friends. We’ve cycled to Formby, then gone swimming in the sea. It was lovely…oh, and sometimes, we cycled back as well.’ ‘Really, you cycled back too? Wow!’ And I happened to mention it to the train guard, as we pulled into Liverpool Lime Street, ‘I’ve cycled to Manchester today, you know!’ ‘Didn’t cycle back, then..?’ ‘Next time!’, I said. Maybe next time, I thought. And I don’t think I ever will. It’s probably a bit far for me in one day. But I might do Liverpool to Manchester again on another lovely warm and sunny, mid-September day for a good cause. Do you want to come with us?

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The troll with no heart

20160730_142948.jpgA long time ago, not in my time and not in your time but in someone’s time, there lived a father

Which father?

The father is ploughing

The father is sowing

The father is rearing

The father is growing

and his wife. They had not one, not two, not three, not four, five, six, not seven, not eight, not nine, ten, not eleven, they had twelve sons. And when they were little, there was no problem with everyone sitting around the warm fireside. But now that they are grown up, there are just too many tangles of legs for the comfort of the farmer and his wife.

So, one day, he suggested to eleven of his sons that it was time they set off in search of adventure and fortune. But not the twelfth, the youngest, whose name was Ashlad, neither of them wanted him to leave home.

The day came when the eleven sons were due to leave. The father gave each of his sons the best eleven horses he had and then father, mother and Ashlad watched them all ride off into the forest.

Not far along the road, the sons met the King, who was so impressed by the eleven handsome, young men and their fine horses that he invited them to the palace…where lived eleven beautiful princesses. Amazingly, each of the sons fell in love with one of the princesses, who fell in love with them. They were so well matched. The first couple loved laughter. The second were so beautiful. The third loved sweet scented flowers. The fourth enjoyed walks in the forest, the fifth, games, the sixth painting, the seventh racket skills and so on that the King arranged for a great marriage for all of them. Perfect matches all!

Soon after, the couples set off on horseback together on their honeymoon. Each couple was wearing matching colours. The first wore blue, like their horses. The second wore red, like their horses. The third couple green, like their horses. The fourth orange. The fifth couple yellow. The sixth cyan. The seventh and eighth wore magenta and blue. The ninth purple. The tenth wore silver and the eleventh couple were dressed in the purest gold, like their horses.

The sun beamed down along the trail, showing them the way. And they passed under the lattices of overhanging branches and leaves, waving, as if in greeting and celebration. They were riding deeper into the forest in the mountains and a troll

Which Troll?

The troll that has a good nose.

The troll that is very hungry.

The troll that smells a human being.

The troll that wants to have power over all.

smelled them coming, ‘By the tickle of my nose, this way man or woman goes. I smell the smell of human blood.’

Trolls hate humans. He took a deep breath and blew slowly over the train of riders and horses. What had been a merry, joyful scene of young people in love, one-by-one, became drained of all colour. Each of the couples and their horses turned to grey stone, locked in their last pose, their cold eyes staring fixedly forever at each other. An icy wind blew through the tall tops of the pine trees. And Troll, satisfied with his day’s work, returned home to his cave.

20160726_173530.jpgBack on the farm, Ashlad begged his father and mother to let him go after his brothers. But Ashlad was the only son they had left at home now. He and his wife dearly wanted Ashlad to stay with them. But Ashlad was determined to follow his brothers. The farmer relented and gave him the oldest and boniest of his horses

Which Horse?

The old, stiff-legged horse.

The old horse that his father was gonna part with anyway.

The old horse which was nothing but skin and bones.

The old horse which was moving so slowly,

that it would have been quicker for Ashlad to crawl.

left to ride on. Even under skinny Ashlad, it sagged, almost breaking in two. And it was so slow. Ashlad could have crawled there quicker on his hands and knees. Still, he was grateful for the horse’s company in the silent forest.

They’d not gone far when Ashlad saw a crow,

Which Crow?

The crow that could fly so high and dive very fast.

The crow that was so black that in this colour,

he had all the colours of the world.

The crow that in his cry was crying the cry of all the poor

and all the beggars of the world.

lying on the ground in front of them, exhausted, in great distress. Its eyes were glazed and its beak was wan and colourless. ‘Help me!’, cried the crow. ‘Why should I help such an ugly, wretched bird with only this slice of bread to keep me going?’ But Ashlad took pity on the bird and offered half of his bread plus a few peas and corn. After a few sips of weak, sugary water, hey, the bird revived, its coat now sheening and its beak yellow and lustrous. ‘Thank you, Ashlad’, the crow said. ‘If you should ever need my help, cry out ‘Crow!’ and, as far away as I am, I will be with you in an moment.’ Then, the crow hopped into the air and flew away, rising like a dart towards the treeline and into the darkening sky till it was only a speck, piff, paff, puff…gone!

Ashlad on his knackered horse plodded on, deeper into the forest. He’d eaten his last half a slice of bread and was very hungry. He dreamed of a beautiful fish, cooked over a fire. Then, no sooner had he licked his lips, tasting the fish, then, opening his eyes again, he came to a bend in the river. And there lying on the river bank in front of him was a beautiful, large salmon,

Which salmon?

The strong and brave silvery salmon.

The strong and brave silvery salmon that catches the egg,

The strong and brave silvery salmon who saved the world

too weak to get back in the water. Ashlad licked his lips and started to look round for firewood.

Then, salmon spoke to Ashlad. ‘Ashlad, put me back in the water and if ever you should need my help, cry out ‘Salmon’ and I will be there with you.’ And Ashlad bent down to pick up the heavy salmon in his hands…and threw it back into the water. ‘Thank you, Ashlad. I will not forget your kindness. Now, remember, call me if you need me!’ And with that the salmon wound up like a spring and coiled, as in a dance into the air before plunging down into the white, frothy waters and piff, paff, puff…was gone.

Now all along in the silent forest and hungrier than ever, all his food eaten, all he had left were the leaves and berries of the forest to sustain him. He kept on in search of his brothers. Soon, he rode towards an old, scraggy wolf

Which Wolf?

The wolf, that is as healthy as the amount of years he has lived;

The wolf, that is as beautiful as he is wise;

The wolf, that is as magnificent as he is courageous;

The wolf, that is as strong as he is loyal.

with a mangy coat and soft claws. The wolf begged for something to eat. But I have nothing left to give to you. ‘Give me your horse’, said the wolf ‘and I will help you whenever you call me.’

Ashlad dismounted from the old, labouring horse. The wolf fell on it and ate it all – belly, guts, flesh, muscle and eyes, tail even, till all that was left of the old horse was a pile of sucked bones. Now standing on powerful fore and hind legs in front of Ashlad was the wolf, tall and strong. Its thick, dark hair across its broad chest shone a rich orange-brown. ‘Thank you, Ashlad. I will not forget you kindness today’, it growled. ‘And I will not forget the promise I made. If you need me, call out ‘Wolf’ and I will come and find you.’ With that, the wolf howled up at the dark sky and disappeared into the trees, where no sign remained of it, apart from the shaking branches on the lower limbs of the ancient rowans.

The forest grew quiet again. Ashlad stood there all alone. He was so hungry, not yet desperate but what next? He’d barely taken a few steps forward when he came upon the cold faces of his beloved brothers and their wives, frozen in stone. He fell to his knees and sobbed. When he finally looked up, he saw the most beautiful girl

Which Girl?

The girl with easing and soothing in her hands.

The girl who dares.

The girl of wisdom.

The girl who holds the key to the heart.

he had ever seen in his young life and immediately fell in love. The girl was washing clothes in the fast moving waters, flowing down from the mountain of ice

Which Mountain of Ice?

The mountain of ice whose embrace has no release

The mountain of ice that glistens and glitters

The mountain of ice that is the prison of light

The mountain of ice that is the prism of light.

and when she’d finished, she started up the mountain. Ashlad followed her up to a large cave, cut deep into the mountain rock. ‘Agh, who are you? What are you doing here? Get out! You must go! Get out! This is Troll’s cave

Which Troll?

The troll is in power

The troll thinks to control it all

The troll enjoyed the girl’s presence

The troll loves without risking his heart.

and if he finds you here, he will turn you into stone too.’

20160726_173530.jpg‘I have to risk it. I have to help my brothers and their new wives,’ said Ashlad. ‘I can’t just leave them.’ Coming up the slope, they heard the rumbling of stones as Troll was returning. ‘Quick, hide under the bed.’ Ashlad barely had time to slip under Troll’s bed before he stood at the entrance, sniffing.

‘Who’s here, girl? Are you alone? By the tickle of my nose, this way man or woman goes. I smell the smell of human blood.’

‘Oh, don’t be silly, Troll. A bird flew in with a human bone, that’s all. I swept it up and threw it in the fire. There’s no human here. You must be tired after working all day and your tea is ready. Come and sit down. Look, I’ve made you your favourite soup, made with freshly caught rat with a garnish of giant croutons and wild herbs.’

And he did. After tea, troll rested his head on the girl’s lap. She did some gentle, relaxing tapping on his skull and forehead. As she swept her fingers from the bridge of his nose out to his cheeks, she asked, ‘Troll, where do you keep your heart?’ ‘Why do you ask, girl? Is there something you want?’ ‘No, I’m just curious, that’s all. A troll with no heart. You must keep it somewhere. I don’t want to throw it out by mistake.’ ‘Well, see the cupboard there. It’s in there.’

Soon, night fell and Troll lay on his bed to sleep. His weight nearly crushed the base of the bed to a hair’s width of Ashlad’s forehead, who dare not breathe. Troll’s breath stank of fetid rat’s soup. Troll dreamed the peaceful sleep of a well-fed troll and woke early the next morning and set off.

Ashlad was straight out from under the bed. ‘Let’s search the cupboard, quick.’ They had everything out but look though they did in al the boxes and containers, among stacks of old comics, they could not find the Troll’s heart. The girl went out into the forest and collected sweet smelling flowers to decorate the cupboard door.

They heard the Troll approaching and Ashlad slid under the bed again. ‘By the tickle of my nose, this way man or woman goes. I smell the smell of human blood.’ ‘Oh, no, Troll. It is just another bird with a human bone. I picked it up and threw it out with the rubbish.’ Troll saw the flowers on the cupboard and raised an eyebrow. ‘I wanted to decorate the special place where you keep your heart.’ ‘You silly girl, my heart is not in the cupboard.’ ‘It’s not, then, where is it?’ After tea, while tapping across his thick skull and forehead again, massaging his cheeks and eye sockets, Troll relaxed. ‘Troll, where do you keep your heart if it is not in the cupboard,?’ ‘My heart is…see the hearth…there my heart lies under the hearth stone. You will find it there.’ And with a full belly, troll let out an enormous belch, filling the cave with the smell of rotten fish he’d just eaten and lay down to sleep on his bed.

The next morning after Troll had left for the day, the girl and Ashlad stepped into the blackened hearth. It took so long to clear away the mounds of badly charred rubbish which had built up. They shifted mounds of pigs’ heads, cows’ ribs and worse so that they could sweep the hearth stone. The girl had once seen the troll lift the stone and knew there was a feint seam. She fetched great knives from the cutlery drawer and the pair felt with their fingers down on their knees for the join amid all the soot. ‘Found it!’, said the girl. ‘Quickly, jam your knife in here and lever it up. It gave an inch. The stone was so heavy. Ashlad managed to fix his knife further along the seam. The stone started to lift; its front end rising enough for them to get their fingers underneath and lean on its back edge.

The hearth stone was massive, four metres wide and more than a metre and a half deep. While the girl held it, Ashlad scrambled into the hole, desperately reaching for anything that might have been the troll’s heart. But nothing…’Hurry up!’, said the girl. Bones, stones and charcoal filled the hole but nothing that felt warm and beating, like a troll’s heart. ‘I can’t find it. It’s not here.’ ‘Get out now! I can’t hold this up any longer.’ Ashlad just cleared his head from the thrust of the jet black hearth stone as it thudded down with a deathly muffle, which reached far across the valley and sending a dust cloud high up the chimney flute.

When the troll returned later, he noticed the beautiful flowers and fruits of the forest, decorating the hearth of the cave. ‘What is this? By the tickle of my nose, this way man or woman goes. I smell the smell of human blood!’ ‘Oh, just another bird with a human bone, Troll. I chased it off. I think it’s the same one that keeps coming back to annoy me. But tell me about your day. I’ve made one of your favourite pies, pig and broccoli.’ And after tea, he lay picking his teeth with his head on her lap, belping contentedly. She again tapped his forehead and skull and he started to doze off. ‘Do you like my flowers? I thought it such a lovely, special place, where you keep your heart that it deserved to look beautiful.’

Troll sighed, ’My heart is not under that hearth stone. Do you really want me to tell you? What good will it do?’ ‘What harm can it do?’ she said. ‘I would love you to tell me.’ The troll paused. ‘My heart is not here. My heart is on an island in the middle of the sea. And in the middle of the island, there’s a cottage. Inside the cottage is a well

Which Well?

Well you find on an island of sand

Well you find in a house far away

Well how it swims – so quiet!

A duck Well you dream about finding – but the troll has already found it

and at the bottom of the well, there is a duck.

Which Duck?

The duck with a head of gold and feet of silver.

The duck which swam in neverending circles round and round.

The duck whose wings glistened like the threads of a spider`s web.

The duck with the haunting and painful cry of the damned.

Inside the duck, there is an egg. And inside the egg is my heart.’ She smiled at Troll and smoothed his eyes and brow. Troll fell fast sleep.

20160726_173530.jpgThe next morning, after Troll had left for the day, Ashlad came out stiffly from under the bed. He poured out his fears. ‘An island in the sea! So far away! How am I going to get there?’ And then, he thought ‘Wolf’.

Which Wolf?

The wolf, that is as healthy as the amount of years he has lived;

The wolf, that is as beautiful as he is wise;

The wolf, that is as magnificent as he is courageous;

The wolf, that is as strong as he is loyal.

‘Wolf!’, he cried. ‘Wolf, I need you.’ And immediately at the mouth of the cave appeared the wolf. ‘Take me to the sea, then onto the island in the middle of the sea.’ And Ashlad rode on the back of the great wolf through the forest till they came to the sea. Into it, the wolf plunged with Ashlad holding on to its fur in the frothy sea. The wolf swam on and on almost to the point of collapse until they scrambled onto the stony beach of the island in the middle of the sea.

Ashlad thanked the wolf for its help and made his way to the cottage where he quickly found the well. Down he went. It was deep. Gripping hand over hand, pushing his toes into the brick mortar, he climbed down into the darkness. Half way down, his right foot searched for a point, only to dislodge a brick from the wall. Down it fell, down, down, till plop! And straight away, a spluttering of feathers burst past him, the startled duck

Which Duck?

The duck with a head of gold and feet of silver.

The duck which swam in neverending circles round and round.

The duck whose wings glistened like the threads of a spider`s web.

The duck with the haunting and painful cry of the damned.

flew up and out. ‘Oh, help’, thought Ashlad. But who could he call on for help in this situation. ‘Crow!

Which Crow?

The crow that could fly so high and dive very fast.

The crow that was so black that in this colour,

he had all the colours of the world.

The crow that in his cry was crying the cry of all the poor

and all the beggars of the world.

Crow’, he cried. ‘Help!’ And crow appeared. ‘Crow, I need you to find the duck. It has an egg inside it. Bring it to me. I need it.’

‘Just watch me!’ And crow took off. Moments later, it had caught up with the duck over the water and launched a fierce dive. The duck dropped the egg and crow made a brave effort to catch it but it fell into the sea. Seeing all this from the shore, Ashlad wailed, ‘Oh, no, who can help me now?’ Then, he realised he had still one more helper. ‘Salmon,

Which Salmon?

The strong and brave silvery salmon.

The strong and brave silvery salmon that catches the egg,

The strong and brave silvery salmon who saved the world

Salmon! Come to me. I need your help.’ And salmon came. ‘Fetch me the egg that the duck has dropped into the sea.’ Through whorls and curls of waspish waters, salmon dived down and rose again with the egg, its silky back swaying and shimmering in the bubbling stream. Salmon launched out of the waves and tossed the egg with the heart of the troll high into the air. Spinning and tumbling, it fell down into the big palms of the grateful Ashlad.

Ashlad sped back to the cave with the egg. As he approached the entrance, the troll stopped sucking on a large elk leg bone and sniffed. ‘By the tickle of my nose, this way man or woman goes. I smell the smell of human blood.’ And there stood Ashlad at the opening of the cave. The girl stopped breathing. And Troll smiled. He started to suck in his breath till he noticed Ashlad was holding out his hand and, in his open hand, there was an egg and inside the egg, he knew, was Troll’s heart. For the first time in his life, Troll felt fear.

The night sky darkened the cave, backlit by the fire, flickering in the hearth and the night’s stars. ‘Give me that!’, roared the troll. Ashlad ignored him. ‘Pass it over, I tell you!’, though a little less surely the girl noticed.

Ashlad demanded that troll release his brothers and their wives and squeezed the egg containing the troll’s heart. Troll took one more big breath and sent it out across the line of husbands and wives. One by one, they regained their colours and movements and looked at each other with laughter and joy. Troll stepped towards Ashlad. ‘Now, give me my heart, boy!’ Ashlad was squeezing the egg with the heart in his palm and then, with an anguished look on his face, he aimed the egg with the heart straight at the troll’s forehead so hard it smashed into pieces. The ground under Troll started to shake and break up. Troll’s skull fractured into a thousand pieces. And each piece, the many shards and fragments of Troll’s broken skull, his eye sockets and temples, fell up into the night sky. A strange thing happened. The many shapes started to come together, forming a great, circle, creating a bright orange globe in the sky.

And this is how the moon

Which Moon?

The moon is shining with no warmth.

The moon is the face of the Troll.

The moon looks down with sad eyes and a half smile in his face.

The moon is restlessly moving over the sky, searching for the Ash-lad

came to be in the sky. And on clear nights, watch carefully. You can still see the eye of the troll looking down upon the earth.

The girl

Which Girl?

The girl with easing and soothing in her hands.

The girl who dares.

The girl of wisdom.

The girl who holds the key to the heart.

and Ashlad ran to each other and rejoiced and, of course, were so in love. They rushed home, taking all his brothers and their wives with them to his father,

Which father?

The father is ploughing

The father is sowing

The father is rearing

The father is growing

and mother, who greeted them all with tears of happiness. The king heard of their return too and came and they held a great gathering and feasting and merriment to celebrate the marriage of Ashlad, the youngest of the twelve sons and the girl, once slave to the troll, now free.

And so here ends the tale of how Ashlad saved his brothers and their wives and fell in love with the girl and how the moon was put up in the sky.

20160730_142948.jpgWith great thanks to Hugh Lupton for telling us this story at Stories in the Wild event, 24-29 July 2016.

Thank you to all the wonderful course participants for sharing their evocations. There are still a few missing and you can still send them to me and I’ll add them on. We always keep adding.

Thanks to all the volunteers at albanorge for organising such a magical event in beautiful Jondal in Norway.

And thanks to Angela Bogo-Halvorsen for taking me swimming in Oslo one day and telling me a story, so that a seed was planted and I decided to go.

And thanks to Asbjornsen and Moe for collecting these great Norwegian folk tales.

20160726_173530.jpgWe are our stories, friends.