Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Refuge


“Guided by the red fox, the girl arrived back at the cottage ahead of and unaware of the impending storm. She had carried out January’s instructions to the letter. When she left her basket with the Guardian Cat she tore a strip of cloth from her petticoat and gave it to him. Now she set to shuttering all the windows and setting the bar across the door. But before barring the door she took the extra precaution of getting in a plentiful supply of logs for the fire. She had realised by now that a storm was impending. The forest had gone unusually quiet.
Night seemed to come early and the storm suddenly descended . Never before had she known a storm quite like it. But she knew she was safe. She settled to sleep in front of a glowing fire that burnt brighter because of the wind.
She was awakened just before dawn by a crash of thunder and the ground shaking with the force of it. Then she sensed the storm starting to abate. She dozed.
When she awoke the storm had gone and shafts of bright sunlight slanted through the shutters. She arose and opened the shutters to let in more light. It was flat calm outside. She undid the bar and opened the door. There she saw midway between the cottage and the forest edge two gate stooks which had not been there before. Traces of smoke rose from the bases of these two standing stones. She stepped outside into the cold morning air. Behind the cottage the single pine had been cloven down the middle by the lightning strike. The forest itself remained as it always had been, dense and forbidding.
But where were the two sisters? The girl took a closer look at the two gate stooks. They had something of the sisters’ countenance about them. They had indeed been turned to stone and could hurt her no more.
Later, in the early spring she left the cottage and it eventually fell into a ruin.”

His tale now told, the old man said he reckoned the mist was starting to lift which indeed it was. I could make out the forest edge looming out of the dispersing wisps. A westering sun burned away the last remaining shreds. The old man hand back the flask top, “Nice coffee, thanks.”
I asked him, “What happened to the girl in the end?” He looked down at the ground in front of him for a minute.
“You know the forest, - and it knows you,” he said by way of answer.
Then I saw it, a doe. It nonchalantly grazed at the edge of the clearing close by a gap in the curtain of trees. She stopped and looked straight at me before wandering into the tree cover.
“You’ll find your way back if you keep the sun on your right,” the old man told me. I turned to thank him, but he was gone.
I started to screw the cap back on my flask when I realised it was half full. Hadn’t I given that old man the last of my lukewarm coffee? I opened it to check and saw it was half full of hot steaming coffee. I put the flask in my rucksack and shouldered it to set off.

“Karrkk!”
I caught a glimpse of a raven rising into the clear blue sky of a late summer's afternoon.

End of story.

Monday, March 22, 2010

January’s Anger

“The two sisters watched the raven fly away along the avenue. They viewed this bird with rather mixed feelings. If it was the girl’s familiar, that she had turned herself into a raven to play tricks on them, then whether she came back to the cottage with an autumn harvest or not, they were going beat her to death anyway. They would have their revenge. But their thoughts of retribution suddenly turned to fear. At their feet they heard the sound and felt the very ground shake with the ferocity of it.
“Mmrrowwwlll!!”
There, barring their way was a very angry looking wildcat. With its ears pressed even flatter against its head, its yellow eyes fixed them with a malevolent stare. Their blood ran cold.
A wildcat appears about twice the size of a common domestic cat. Its fur is much thicker and its tail is bushier though shorter. The paws are about the size of a large dog’s and have claws to match. Normally wildcats are very shy of human contact. Shy or not, they are not creatures to confront lightly.
“She is a witch,” said one sister, “Witches always have cat familiars.” It was the other sister who noticed the fresh bloodied carcass beside the cat and the shredded remains of a basket.
“Mmrrowwwlll!!”
That drew their attention to the fragment of bloodstained clothing hanging from the feline’s jaws. “This cat is not her,” she almost sounded relieved, “look, I think it has killed her.”
“Then good riddance I say!”
The cat backed away a little but only just enough to let the two sisters edge past. They were terrified and once past they moved much more quickly along the avenue and with many a backward glance.
The two sisters emerged into the clearing at a near run. Then stopped, bewildered. The clearing, like the one where their cottage stood was surrounded with a seeming impenetrable wall of dense forest. The avenue by which they had arrived was the only visible opening. In the centre was a fire that was all but extinguished. Around it sat twelve cowled and robed figures. All were asleep except one who sat holding a staff with a jewel mounted on one end. Summoning up her courage one of the sisters asked who these people were. The one holding the staff replied.
“We are the Watchers of the Months of the Year. Each of us takes turns to keep watch according to out time. As it is mid-winter I, January, am keeper of the watch. It is the time when the world sleeps awaiting the coming of spring brought by Brother March.” January gestured to the second figure on his left. “If you go around the circle you will find each as the month of the year each in their proper order. Now, good ladies, what is it that brings you here?”
They told January of the girl who was their servant at the cottage and how, to gain their favour she used her wicked wiles to bring flowers and fruit out of their proper season. “She told us she could find more and has come even today to try and curry our favour. But on our way here we have seen that a wild cat has killed her. So perish all who try to upset the natural order of things.”
January replied, “All things are freely given in their due season. The flowers of summer, the fruit of harvest time, all are gifts. Sister April brings the rain, Sister June the healing sun and Brother December the dark sleep of winter. But now it is the thirty-first day of my month. Tomorrow I pass the staff the Brother February. Now I shall I bring forth the final harvest of my season”
January’s visage went hard and cold like the deep green ice of a frozen lake. He rose to his feet and waved the staff three times around his head. Above him the clouds gathered, darkened and thickened. The already dying fire cooled until only the merest spark remained. It began to snow. It became very, very cold. The snow fell ever thicker and settled ever deeper. January turned his back to the centre of the circle and reaching out a claw-like hand summoned the wind from the north. Its icy breath blew the fallen snow into flurries and ever deepening drifts. The other brethren pulled their cowls ever closer, even in their sleep, as the wind’s howling voice rose to an ear-splitting crescendo. It clawed at January’s hood and snatched it back, his silver hair streamed out behind him. January turned to face the two sisters. His countenance was terrible to behold. He stuck the ground with the staff and released an enormous peel of thunder. Lightning split the sky and the brightness of cast January into sharp silhouette.
The sisters fled in terror from this wrathful apparition and rushed headlong into the avenue and blindly onwards. Flashes of lightning frequently but briefly illuminated their way. They were spared the blinding snow but the gale brought showers of broken branches and other debris crashing to the forest floor. They ran through this malestrom not know where they went. Their flight lasted on throughout the night. The storm never relented. In the pale light of February’s first dawn they had a lucky break.
They discerned the gap leading into their own clearing. They went through it and entered into a total whiteout. February had awakened and was playing with the elements, blowing the snows hither and thither. Not for nothing is he also known as “Filldyke”. The sisters were exhausted by the energy sapping winds and life stilling cold. In the whiteout could not see where the cottage was for all it may only be a few yards away. A final savage bolt of lightning struck the clearing.
to be continued...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Guardian at the Gate

“She awoke with a start. Dawn was just breaking. She had slept all night by the hearth. The two sisters stood over her. She sat up. One sister put the now empty basket down beside the girl. “We want you to bring back some autumn things,” they told her, “it would be nice to have nuts, - I like hazelnuts especially, - and some blackberries.”
“And mushrooms.” put in the other, “some bilberries would be nice as well.” The girl did not bother to argue. It would only earn her another beating. Thus resigned she rose to her feet, wrapped the threadbare cloak around herself, picket up the basket and left without a word. She was only too aware of how unreasonable the request (if it could be called that) was but she left anyway.
After closing the door behind her she did not go directly to the gap in the dense wall of trees. Instead, she walked to the back of the cottage to a solitary pine and from there struck into the forest. There was fresh snow and her footprints were plainly obvious, hence the detour. She stepped deep enough into the trees to be beyond any snow on the ground and walked through the trees to the point where the gap lay. When she found a recognisable area she set off deeper into the forest proper. Several of the features were by now familiar to her so she could reasonably pick her route, even though it was very overgrown and there remained little trace of her previous passage. The tree cover was so dense she soon found herself unable to tell which way she should be or was travelling. She was always advised to keep the sun on her right and this had always worked for her journeys back to the cottage. But for outwards? She reasoned that as her return trips were in the latter part of the day then this particular journey in the opposite direction during the early morning required she still keep the sun on her right. However, deep tree cover lets through little sunlight let alone a sighting of the sun. But shafts of light do slant through between the stems and sometimes the side of the occasional tree trunk is a glorious golden red when caught by the sun. Thus the sun’s position can be determined.
There was no raven fluttering overhead with its harsh yet comforting call to guide her this time. Perhaps this time she would fail and return empty handed? She was sure in her own mind that the two sisters would happily beat her to death were this to happen. It would be all the excuse they needed. Just as these thoughts began to trouble her she saw a brief flash of russet-red in the undergrowth. She stopped. A few yards further away a fox revealed itself and silently trotted along its way. After a few yards it stopped and looked back over its shoulder and straight at the girl. “Does it want me to follow?” she wondered. She walked on, the fox a few yards ahead and stopping to check the girl was still with him from time to time. The route soon became plainly obvious with her red-coated guide showing the way. It seemed no time at all, though in fact it took up most of the morning, to arrive at the final avenue leading to the clearing where the month-watchers sat. The fox left her here to go about its own business elsewhere. She was greeted with the now familiar growling mew of the wildcat. As usual it backed from her to allow her to pass. But this time she noticed bloodstains around the cat and to one side the carcass of a recent kill. But that is what wildcats do. She stepped into the avenue and made her way to the clearing.

“Unbeknown to her, the girl had been followed. The sisters traced her footprints in the snow and also realised it was a cunning ploy and eventually found the gap in the tree wall. But they had not gone far before they realised there was no obvious path and now no realistic way to decide which way to go. The pair stood in what is to all intents and purposes total virgin forest. They blundered around searching for some obvious path and created so much disturbance just about the entire forest knew where they were. Flocks of alarmed birds flew into the air above the tree canopy. Below, small mammals scurried here and there screeching their alarms. They were hopelessly lost. They found footprints. At last a path. But it wasn’t the footprints of their servant girl. She went barefoot and these prints were of shoed feet. They were their own. They had gone round in a circle.
“The forest is enchanted,” said one.
“Of course it is,” reasoned the other, “I told you she is witch. She has lured us to our deaths, wicked slattern that she is.”
“Karrkk! Karrkk – KARRKK!!”
Terrified, the two sisters clutched each other. “She has turned into an avenging angel,” whimpered one.
The other looked up to the source of the harsh call, “Pull yourself together,” she spat scornfully, not so much to belittle her sister but to re-assure herself, “Its only a bird, look!” She pointed to a branch high up in the cathedral-like vault of tall tree trunks. The raven lifted off soundlessly and glided to another tree. “Karrkk!!”
“I think it wants us to follow it.” They couldn’t come up with any better idea so they decided to do just that.
And guide them it did, all the way to the tree avenue. But not without giving them a tour of the forest first. They had to negotiate huge fallen tree-trunks, thick brambles with some unbelievable large and sharp thorns and to add insult to injury led them through a foul stinking mire. The raven flew on along the avenue to the clearing leaving to walk the avenue themselves.

* * *

“The girl stepped into the clearing. January sat before the damped down fire. The raven was perched on his shoulder. As she made her way towards January the raven rose lazily into the air and nonchalantly flew over the high treetops and was gone. She sat beside January on the frozen ground and placed her basket in front of her. She was about to speak. January cut her short. “I know why you are here. They sent you,”, he gestured to some point in the distance. “I also know you have been followed. But you have nothing to fear. They have become hopelessly lost and I have sent the raven to guide them. They will get here, - eventually.” The girl saw January’s eyes give an icy glint from deep within his hood. January went on to say, “ You must do exactly as I say.” The girl nodded but didn’t quite understand though she trusted January and would do whatever he said without question. As far as she was concerned she owed him her life. She nodded assent.
“You must set off back to the cottage. Leave this basket with the Guardian at the Gate, - the wildcat who guards the sacred avenue. You must also leave a piece of your clothing. Tear it from you and give it to him. Then the red fox will show you the way. When you have returned, you must shutter all the windows and bar the door. You must wait for the sisters who will return the next morning. Now go.”
She could not understand these strange instructions but the implicit trust she placed in him meant that these things would be done. She made her farewell, picked up the basket and headed into the avenue.

to be continued.....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is she a witch?

The girl slept through to mid afternoon and awoke refreshed. Her wounds had miraculously healed though there was little this community of the month-watchers could do about her torn and bloodstained clothes. But she was healed and was grateful for that. She also knew she must return to the cottage where the two sisters lived, she could not stay here, much as she might like to. January saw her to the arcade at the edge of the clearing.
"The way back is simple," January advised, "just keep the sun to your right." She was about thank him when she felt January's icy fingers touch her lips, "Sister June left you these to take back. I have no doubt it was those two who beat you made you come here for this." He handed her a basket full of summer blossom. "Like the spring flowers, these too shall smooth your path. Live well!"
"Thank you kind sir, thank you!" Her heart was so full of gratitude she felt it was going to burst. She turned and walked into the forest. True to January's word the effect of the basket of flowers not only made summer appear where she walked, (and winter reclaim its own ere she had passed), but she felt summers warmth was with her too. She walked in her own private cocoon of summer.
It was turning dusk by the time she emerged from the forest into the clearing where the cottage is and the instant she stepped into that clearing the warmth of summer vanished. She still had the basket of summer blossoms but the chill of winter was ever present. Not only that but her reception was even icier. The two sisters watched as she came out through the almost invisible gap in the curtain of trees.
These two sisters were so eaten up with hate that they felt sure the girl had bought the flowers to mock them. How had she managed to find summer flowers in the depth of winter? They reasoned that it was possible by a flook to get spring flowers but to manage perfect summer blooms? And where did she get that basket? Of course they asked her, demanded it of her, threatened to beat her, then carried out the threat. It was then that they realised her scars from the last beating had healed completely. It was barely twenty-four hours since they had laid about her with so much vigour they were sure she had run away to die. Nobody could survive such treatment, surely? They could only come to one conclusion. They stood towering over her. She cringed and knelt on the ground and placed the basket of flowers in front of her. Already they were beginning to wilt in the intense cold and frost. One sister hissed the words with as much venom as her anger-blinded heart could muster, "You're a.... WITCH!"
The other sister repeated the phrase and kicked the girl hard in the ribs. They paced round and around her, kicking, pushing and shouting "Witch! witch!" Their hatred was mixed with fear. What if she was a witch?
The girl's own fear gave way to anger. She sprang to her feet and ran to the cottage and turned to face them. The light streaming out of the open door-way framed her form perfectly as she shouted back, "I am no witch! Were I one, you would both have been turned into standing stones by now!" The outburst spent her and she turned and went into the cottage. She went to her usual place in the scullery and curled up in the corner by the fire and buried her head in her arms.
The girl's temerity had taken the two sisters by surprise and they just stood there momentarily dumbfounded. When they realised they had not been turned to stone they wondered about what to do next.
If she isn't a witch, then how come she manages to bring forth these flowers at a time when nothing is growing? She must have found someone with a secret garden. "No," reasoned the other, "its more than that, how did those marks on her back heal so quickly? When we had finished with her she was almost dead. I think, if she isn't a witch, - and she can't be, otherwise she would have done us instead, - if she isn't one then she knows one in the forest. That's why she won't tell us."
"Yes, that's probably it," said the other. "And I've just got an idea. If we play this right, we could get this witch to help us too. We'll follow her next time and then when we find the witch we will tell her what a wicked scheming thing this little girl is and when we have persuaded her she'll banish the little vixen and gladly give us whatever we ask." They debated this between themselves for some little time beforethey realised it really was too cold to be standing outside. They went in but decided to leave the girl alone. Yes they could beat her into submission again but now a little fear began to gnaw at them. They would hatch their plan in the morning. It could not fail.
Later that evening; a vertical plume of smoke rose lazily from the cottage chimney. Lights glowed orange in the windows. The two sisters enjoyed a warm repast cooked by the girl who in turn shared her meal with a red squirrel by the scullery fire. Outside a raven circled the clearing before heading out over the treetops.
"Karrkk!"
to be continued....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Healing



"Karrkk!" the raven called again from overhead in the dark recesses of the tree cover. She looked up but could not make out the shape of her black guardian angel, for gaurdian angel is what this bird had become. She somehow sensed which way it had flown and she followed. Every few yards the bird settled and waited for her. On she went guided by the the harsh yet friendly voice, "Karrkk - karrkk!" Come on, this way! it seemed to say. It wasn't absolutely pitch black. Some starlight filtered through the overhead canopy and the forest interior had a faint phosphorescent glow which gave a vision of sorts. But she still had to pick her way through undergrowth. Tangled bramble thorns are a bit less forgiving to bare feet than soft moss. But on she went in blind faith. "Karrkk - karrkk, KARRKK!!" her guide insisted. Weakened, beaten and bloodied she had nothing left to lose. Only death remained and right now that wasn't an unattractive option. She began to believe this was to be her fate. Being led by a raven, traditionally the harbinger of death itself but is also a guardian of the wildnerness. She could only go on, following the insisted call, "Karrkk - karrkk!"

Then she found herself at the avenue of trees, the far end of which could be seen the faint glow of the fire where January sat. The raven's call this time was answered by a low, "Mmrrowwwlll!" she look down. The wildcat she saw last time she passed this way. It backed into the undergrowth and let her pass. She walked, or rather, staggered, exhausted along the avenue. A grey light filtered through, the precursor of dawn. She could now see the raven flying ahead of her. Its very flapping of its wings seemed to beckon her forward. She emerged into the clearing as a bright copper dawn coloured the sky to her right.
She stumbled into the circle of sleeping forms and collapsed at January's feet and sobbed fitfully as she rested her head in his lap. There was little need for him to ask what had happened. Her blood-stained clothing said it all. She was frozen and near to death. Indeed he could sense she was on the verge of giving up.

"She must not die," he said aloud to himself. The raven flew off with a loud flapping of wings, "Karrkk!"
"Thank you", January faintly whispered but his voice sounded more like the echo of the raven. He stood up gathering the frozen bundle in his arms and laid her beside the fire. Then taking his staff poked a small hole in the ashes on the edge near the girl. At once a gentle heat radiated into her frozen form. The girl moved and curled up as if going to sleep. January stood over her, she needs help, he thought to himself then called across the fire to the crouched figure on the opposite side of the circle, "Sister June, I need your help."
June stirred herself and looked around a little bemused. Why had she been summoned? It is full winter. It is not yet her time. January would not have called if the need was not urgent. She rose and gathered her cloak tightly about her. She may be the queen of warm summer but now it was frosty winter. She walked round to where January stood. She saw the girl.
"She needs help," June agreed.
"Take the staff," January offered, "you know what to do."
Without a word, she took the staff and walked over to the edge of the clearing and there stroked the grass with the staff. She knelt down and breathed on the grass. Instantly the frost melted under her breath and a variety of herbs sprang up. She lowered her cowl and let her golden hair fall down her back as she gathered the herbs. Bright summer radiated from her very being. She returned to the sleeping girl.
The ground where the herbs had grown was once again frozen like a stone.
But now June knelt down and started to gently peel back the girls clothing. Her touch melted the snow and was thus was she able to bathe the girl's wounds and wash away the caked and dried blood. She applied the herbs as only the queen of summer knew. She could feel the girl relax into a gentle sleep. June's work was done. She handed the staff back to January and returned to her place, there to sleep out the rest of winter and spring.
January wept. His tears made the grip of winter relent a little and the snow gave way to a gentle rain. He held his cloak over the girl to protect her.

She slept and dreamt of warmer days to come.


to be continued....

Monday, March 15, 2010

A little "kindness"

"You'd have thought that would be the end of the story," the old man said casting me a sidelong knowing look, "but surprised as these two sisters were that the girl had managed to not only bring back some flowers but so many, they were so eaten up with hate and jealousy they took them from her without a word and banished her to her corner of the kitchen with more than a warning of more ill treatment to come.
"But things bought out of season never last long. Within a few days these flowers all wilted and died. All they were good for was the little heat they afforded on the fire. The two sisters told each other how nice it was to have a house made cheerful with so many flowers during these dark winter days. "We should have more," said one. The other agreed. Would the girl manage to do it again? "I doubt it."
"Let's see if she can bring summer flowers this time."
"That would be nice, roses, May blossom, lupins, perhaps a few bluebells..."
"That's settled then. We'll send her out but I bet she doesn't manage it this time," the sister said with a wicked grin on her face. "Even if there is a place in this forest where she got the spring flowers there's no way summer flowers can grow in January."
"And if she fails," added the other one," and returns empty -handed, then we can keep ourselves warm by giving her a thorough beating."
"And if she dies in the attempt," the first sister shrugged, "it'll be one less mouth to feed."
At that the two sisters, canes in hand walked into the scullery where the girl sat curled up in front of the fire and stood over her. "We want some more flowers." They smiled malevolently at the whimpering bundle on the floor. It was clear to the girl she was in for another beating, probably because they blamed her for the flowers wilting. But they spared her that.
One sister crouched down beside her. "Why are you cowering like that?" she asked, her voice almost tender, " no-one is going to hurt you. We just want you to go into the forest and pick us some lovely flowers. Roses, bluebells, lupins... all the blooms of a fine summers day. It will brighten our home on this dreary winter's day."
"B-but its night time now and freezing hard outside. Nothing will be growing." The two sisters at once flew into a fury, "You will do as we say! Now get out and don't come back without anything or you will get more of this." They set to beating her with their canes until blood oozed her thin dress. Blindly the hapless girl grabbed her threadbare blanket and fled into the night.

"At the edge of the clearing she paused and looked up into the night sky studded with a myriad stars like diamonds set in a sheet of dark velvet. There was no wind but it was bitterly cold. A raven called a harsh "karkk-karkk!" from somewhere overhead. She shivered and gathered her makeshift cloak about her. She could feel her blood soaked dress clinging to her skin. Then she saw the raven alight from its perch and fly through a small gap in the curtain of trees.
She followed.

to be continued.......

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost. Then a finding of sorts

The old man sitting by me had paused in the telling of his tale. He absently swilled the last of the now cold coffee around the bottom of the thermos cup. I thought it best not to interrupt his reverie.
The man himself was a fit looking elderly gentleman but nothing remarkable in that. He had the radiance of one whom spends his entire time in the wild places and exuded a wisdom that mere city-dwellers can not even begin to comprehend. He was clad in an ancient Barbour jacket whose colour had long since become rather nonedescript. Come to think of it, my Barbour is stating to look a bit like that. But it is much better that way. Natural camouflage. He had his hood up partially hiding his face, not for that purpose but more likely as protection from the thickening damp mist that had descended.
I looked across the clearing. The two gate stooks were all but totally enveloped in the grey shrouding made more palpable by the darkness of the surrounding trees. He raised his head and looked at me. I could see the twinkle of those ageless eyes deep in the recesses of his hood. "It was very kind of you to share the last of your sandwiches, " he said by way of breaking his reverie. He reached into his pocket and handed me an apple, "Here, have this. There's plenty more where that one came from." I accepted it without question. I know this forest district pretty well and am certain there is no orchard within several miles of here. I took a bite. It was really fresh as if just plucked from the tree. "Now, to continue the story.

"That poor lass ran out of the cottage to begin her impossible errand. If she failed or simply didn't do as the two sisters had told her she would probably be beaten until there was no life left in her . She knew only too well the storm would eventually kill her anyway. She ran blindly into the trees picking her way. The forest became denser the further she went. There was one compensation; the trees are so closely packed and the canopy is almost complete. The wind and snow hardly reaches the forest floor. But it was still intensely cold. She walked and stumbled on, not knowing where she was. Then, as she peered along a defile of tall tree-trunks she could just about discern a faint glow. "It might be I've gone full circle," she mused, "but whatever, I'll have to get warm somewhere. But if I return empty handed..." She shivered, and not simply because of the cold. Gingerly she made her way towards the distant light. She was not alone. There were other creatures watching. At one point a flash of red briefly betrayed a fox's presence. At another, a wildcat crouched. Its ears permanently flattened against its head as it watched the young girl go by. Somewhere an owl hooted. She saw these things. They were passers by in this world.
"The distant glimmer became more or a glade as she neared it and eventually she found herself in a clearing. Overhead the sky was a leaden grey carrying the promise of more snow to come. Strangely the was no wind. What was more startling was the smouldering fire in the centre of the clearing surrounded by twelve robed men who sat curled up asleep except one. The one who sat awake held a staff with what appeared to be some jewel at its top end. He saw her enter the clearing and asked, "What are you doing here so far from home? And why so thinly dressed here in the depths of icy winter?" The girl looked at him. His ice-cold eyes flashed from within his cowl. Yet his his was not an unkind countenance. "I live in the cottage about a day's walk from here. Indeed it has taken me that long to get this place. I live with two sisters who keep me as a servant and they have sent me out into the storm to gather the flowers of Spring."
"But it is the deepest depth of Winter and not the time for Spring flowers," the man chided.
"This I know Sir," she replied, "but if I return empty handed they will beat me so hard I may not live. Better I died of the cold here in the forest." The man's ice look melted as they filled with tears. "You must know," he began to explain, "that you are in the oldest part of this great forest and we here are the Guardians of the Seasons. My name is January. It is my turn to keep watch and see that all is well. In winter all life sleeps until Spring's awakening. It is the Law. The Natural Order. You must wait until then." The girl knew she could not change things. She sank to her knees, resigned. "Then I will surely die." Her words were barely audible. She listed her tear soaked face to January, "May I at least warm myself by your fire? Then I shall go to meet my end in the forest where the trees themselves can gain sustenance from me wherever I lay."
This touched January to his very heart. "There are times in winter when Spring is allowed to waken for a little while but only enough to let the world see the promise of things to come. I will speak to Brother March.
January walked over to the second sleeping monk-like figure on his left and touched him with his staff. March awoke. January explained the dilemma. "Then I must help her," said March as he rose to his feet. January handed him the staff.

March poked the fire with the staff then withdrew it. He whirled the staff about him and all around the snow melted and the green grass revealed itself. Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, narcissi, all grew in abundance. The birds sang even a red squirrel broke its hibernation to scamper along a tree branch. The stood in open-mouthed wonder. March called out, "Now child you must hurry. Gather what you may for it is Spring, but soon I must return to sleep for it is not yet my time."

She wasted no time filling her apron with all the flowers she could gather. By the time she had finished, March had already returned to his place and sank into slumber. January alone stood there with his staff. "Go back to the cottage with this. Lets hope those two sisters are grateful. The way back is easy to find keep the sun to your right side and you will get back. These flowers of Spring will clear you path before you." He touched the flowers with the staff. "Now go, and go quickly!"
"Oh thank you, thank you!" she cried hardly containing her joy. She turned and left.
True to his word, January's touch of the flowers did indeed light her way. The forest was no less dense and the steely grey clouds persisted. But there was a magic in those out of season flowers. As she stepped through the forest a path of green grass opened up before her and it was with a light heart that she re-entered the cottage to present the two sisters with her wondrous bouquet.
The door closed behind her as she entered and outside the Winter once more reasserted its iron grip.


to be continued......

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Old Cottage

I had wandered into the forest far deeper than I intended. The familiar track had long gone from under my feet. A mist had descended cloaking each individual tree in its ghostly shroud. Usually I can pick out the individual characteristics of separate trees and form a mental map of where I am but these reference points were much obscured. One tree began to look much the same as another. A large forest is not a good place to get lost.
I wandered on. Surely I would find a track, then follow it and it would lead somewhere? I tripped over fallen trees hidden in the undergrowth. I made detours around bogs and mires, groped though dense patches of ground mist and arrived in a small clearing. In the centre stood two forlorn looking stone gate stooks and beyond them the remains of a long since abandoned cottage. The roof had caved in decades if not centuries ago and the walls were clad in a thick covering of lichen and green moss. Curious, I made my way over to the ruined building and passed between the gate stooks.
Strange, isn't it, when just as you're looking for a comfy place to sit down, - in this case a convenient large stone, - you find there are two. I sat on one then fished around in my bag for my last remaining sandwiches and flask which now being half empty at least afforded some lukewarm coffee. I needed to get my bearings.
A jam and peanut butter sandwich in the middle of a forest miles away from anywhere. A moment of bliss. Just me and nature. I was in the forest on its own terms. I wasn't all that surprised to find this old guy sitting on the other improvised stone seat beside me. I offered him a sandwich and a swig of rapidly cooling coffee which he gratefully accepted.
"D'you know this area?" I asked.
"Should do," he replied, "I live here". I looked at the cottage and dismissed the idea he meant exactly here. But he went on to say, "I have always been here. There was a time when this old house had people in it but it wasn't always a such happy place.

"There were two sisters who lived here once, quite some time ago. In a way, they're still here." He nodded over towards the gate stooks. I shivered. The man kept his silence for a few minutes then when he reckoned I was ready to hear his story, he related the rest of the tale.

"These two sisters lived together reasonably happy for a number of years. Then one summer's afternoon a young girl strayed into this clearing. She was obviously lost and nobody really knew how she found herself so deep in this forest in the first place. But she needed somewhere to stay and was grateful for the hospitality of the two sisters. Her overnight stay became two nights then a week and soon she was watching the leaves turn to gold. She was only too happy to help with the household chores. However, as time passed the two sisters got a little too used to having a willing servant and took her a little bit too much for granted. They made demands on her and before long she was doing all the work in and around the cottage. She had to ask permission to do anything of her own. She was often beaten if things were not done either well or quickly enough. She was not quite so well fed as the two sisters and soon got weaker which is not a good way to be at the onset of winter. But these two sisters seemed not to care. This young girl had become little more than a slave.
"Autumn gave way to winter and by December the entire forest lay frozen in winter's icy grip. Christmas and Yuletide came and went. But there was no seasonal cheer for our young friend. The two sisters had a good time of it though. They ate and drank and laughed and played. But if the young girl asked for only a little food and warmth it was grudgingly given and she was given a beating for being so presumptuous. Even when tired and exhausted from overwork and lack of food and sleep she had to serve every their whim. The beatings got worse. She could barely remember the coming of the new year. She had been beaten to near unconsciousness. It was all of two weeks before her bruises subsided.
"By now it was mid January. The whole forest lay under a muffling blanket of snow Blizzards continued to rage. It was no time to venture out. Even to reach an outbuilding became something of an expedition. The two sisters sat each side of the window watching the snowflakes make their frenzied dance in the howling storm. All three of them had been confined to the cottage for several days now. "I'll be glad when it's spring," said one sister.
"It'll be nice to have some flowers in the house," mused the other. "I know," she said," she can go and gather some for us." The sister tuned in her chair and pointed her finger at the shivering bundle by the fireplace, "YOU! Go and get us some spring flowers, now!" she demanded.
"But its deepest winter." the girl bleated. The sisters jumped to their feet in unison and raised their sticks ready to strike. "Go!"
The girl knew by now better than to refuse no matter how unreasonable the demand was. She grabbed a threadbare blanket and fled out of the cottage and into the howling blizzard.

To be continued......

Let's see now...

The first story that comes to mind is one I remember from my childhood. There was a certain Miss Baker, a schoolteacher who, when I was around nine or ten, on the Friday afternoons at school, used to read us stories from a large book. Was it Grimm's fairy tales? I don't know. But many of them have stayed in my memory all my life and I have enjoyed relaying these stories in my own way to my children and subsequently my grand-children.
I would usually take them to our local park which would become the forest setting for these stories. Sometimes we would be in the Lakes or back in my native Northumberland where there is real forest.
But now for this first story. The names of the characters have become lost with time so I shall tell it in the first person so the forest may not be quite so, "in a land far, far away". (Cue spine chilling laugh.)
Now. Are you all sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin.....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I'm Back!! - for now.

Is it reallyfour months since the last time? I think It its this blogging has settled into the mundane, today I did this and yesterday that, blah, blah blah. In short it was getting a bit repetitive and boring. For me at any rate.
But lately, my art has been exploring the woirld of myth and legend, not only the Greek Myths but some of the more home grown Northern European ones. So I've decide to populate these pages with some of the findings. Some will be versions of well-known stories and others dreamed up as pure entertainment.
I have over the years done some writing. All the "writings" are really fragments of stories and intended books that got so far and then run out of steam.

One thing I have noticed is how many of our best loved fairy stories share common themes, Snow White, Cinderella two name but two. What I have also discovered is that many of these stories which usually end up in pantomime have been "sanitised" by the Victorians to fit in with the political correctness of their day. So there you have it, PC is nothing new.

So over these next few pages, lets hope I can entertain those of you who take the trouble to read these pages. Please feel free to comment. At least I'll know there's somebody out there.