Three sharp prows turn toward the sun
Dancing in the waves, the dolphin play
Wild clouds run before the wind
Rigging whines with joy
Foam boils from a triple wake
Land is fading into grey.
Blind to the hearth-fires burning bright
In the eyes of wives or lovers
Deaf to their cries and tears in the night
The sea is calling fierce and true
Day is breaking without care.
Years are gone, smoothed like stones
Ground beneath the ice
When heroes come, home to ash
Cold as a winter moon
Their eyes are dead
Hands and faces dark with distance
Keels have kissed the beach at last.
Where have the wives and lovers passed
With rounded limbs and joyful laughter
No echoes ring through the ancient house
Blackened beams and crippled walls
Mice nest where once the people danced
No more, a fiddle’s wild enchanted singing
Crows toss in a fretful wind or
Strut upon the broken tiles.
Three sharp prows turn toward the sun
Where dancing dolphin play and wild clouds run
Rigging whines with joy, foam boils up once more
The sea is calling fierce and true
Day is breaking without care.
CHILD OF ICTIS
Book 3 in the ‘After the Fall’ trilogy
Leaves on the silver birch have turned to gold. On the Rowan they are missing, blown away by the last gale, leaving behind the bright red berries.
Fallen trees, tangled like some infernal game, are silver and grey. Wind tickles the bleached gold grass and burnt sienna gorse, exciting movement. The dead branches, rigid, locked together, are undisturbed. The fastidious breeze ignores them.
On the forest floor the air is still. High above, the canopy thrashes in a south-west gale. Shoals of leaves, freed by the Autumn Equinox and wild weather, make visible rivers in the air. Eventually they fall, building glorious drifts of red-gold and hushing the ground.
PIG BABY OR BABY PIG?
Once there was a little pig that was very greedy.
This little pig, who’s name was Fred, lived with his mother and six brothers and sisters in at a nice farm not far from town.
Now, when it came time for his mother to lie down on the fresh clean straw that the Farmer provided and feed her family, Fred was always first to suck at her teats.
When all seven little piglets were sucking at the lovely nourishing milk and their mother was singing away with pleasure that they were growing so well, it was a charming sight to see.
The Farmer liked to lean on the gate and watch them, a picture of contentment, but unfortunately it didn’t last long.
The trouble was Fred.
No sooner did he finish his drink than he pushed a sister or a brother who was next to him off their teat to drink from it himself!
Of course this spread trouble all along the line of little pigs until the one at the end was displaces and started squealing with rage.
Sometimes Fred was so greedy that he would push off all six of his brothers and sisters and then the noise was terrible.
This could not go on and the Farmer debated with himself if he should sell Fred to some other Farmer in order to keep the peace at home?
One day when the Farmer was leaning on the gate, watching Fred disrupt the mealtime and upset all the family of piglets, a nice lady Witch came by.
“What is that dreadful squealing,” said the Witch.
“Its Fred,” said the Farmer “he is so greedy and pushes the others off, I shall have to sell him.”
“Don’t do that,” said the Witch “I have just the spell to cure him.”
Well at first the Farmer was worried, as he didn’t want Fred turned into a Toad or a Bat or something like that. You know how these Witches like to do that kind of thing?
” No nothing like that”, said the Witch, when the Farmer told her what was on his mind, “I shall turn him into a human child,” she said.
After a long talk with the Witch the Farmer was at last convinced that Fred would come to no harm, for despite Fred being greedy the Farmer still loved him and had some doubts about the effect of spells and such.
The next day the Witch came for Fred, wrapped him up in a shawl like a real baby and carried him off to her Penthouse overlooking the river.
Fred stayed with the Witch for a week while she turned him into a human baby.
You may think this is a long time to take over such a simple thing? After all a lot of small human babies make a pig-like squealing noises and to be honest, they look a bit like piglets!
However I can assure you a week is quite the normal time to turn a piglet into a baby and the Witch wasn’t slacking one bit.
Now the next thing to do was to place him with a human mother and after some thought the Witch had a good idea. She would sneak into ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and give Fred to the Duchess.
If you read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ you will remember that Alice finds the Duchess singing to the baby (which we know is Fred) in a kitchen full of pepper that is making everyone sneeze, except for the Cook. The Duchess sings.
‘Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.’
Well, when Alice rescued Fred from all that sneeze-making pepper it was already too late.
The pepper and the sneezing had quite driven off the Witches spell and soon Fred became a piglet again.
“Thank goodness” thought Fred as he trotted off through the bushes, “having all the attention is all very well but I would rather be a piglet with six brothers and sisters to play with and not have to put up with singing about pepper.”
You know, the Witch was right. Fred was a reformed character after his experience as a human baby and henceforth only took his fair share and never again pushed his sisters and brothers off their food.
Being just a little pig, he did sometimes think about grabbing more than he should, but then he would have an attack of the sneezes just to remind himself to be good!
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WHY THE HEDGEHOGS PLAY CROQUET?
Out in the country, just as night is falling and the birds are going to bed, the Hedgehogs line up at the top of a long steep hill, rush over the top, roll into a ball and race each other to the bottom.
My what a sight they look! Their spikes pick up all sorts of stuff on the way down, like leaves and things and they look very silly! Of course when several races have been completed most of the things that can get stuck on the spikes have been picked up. This is when the Hedgehogs get most excited and achieve the highest speeds.
The rolling speed of a clean Hedgehog is much less than a leaf covered one, by the way. So collecting leaves before a race is banned as unfair tactics.
There are rules you know!
What not many people know that Hedgehogs are speed mad! They are just crazy for fast sports!
They like ice hockey, stock-car racing, free-fall parachuting and many more. (you can probably think of lots of sports they would like)
One of the fastest sports is down hill tobogganing at the famous ‘Cresta Run’ where you can get up to 90 miles an hour on ice! All Hedgehogs have a lifetime ambition to take part in this event if at all possible.
As you all know Hedgehogs are those small animals covered in fine spikes that are mostly famous for liking milk and curling up into a ball if they are scared.
If you look carefully at a Hedgehog you will see he has only short legs.
And to be honest he is a bit short sighted.
Not perfect for fast sports you may think?
But you would be wrong. You see it is the Hedgehogs ability to curl up into a ball that is a really useful aid to speed.
Well as you can guess, the top speed of a rolling Hedgehog on grass isn’t very high and they crave for more dangerous and faster places to race.
Skateboard ramps are good, if you are a Hedgehog living in town next to the Park but these ramps are not long enough to make a satisfactory race track.
Those big tubes, that you can reach by ladder or steps, are perfect but for a small creature like a Hedgehog, very difficult to climb.
I expect you can think of some exciting places they could try for yourself?
Well now you have probably guessed why they play Croquet with Alice and the Flamingos?
That is right.
Its their greed for speed!
Curling up into a ball ready for the Flamingo to bat them at tremendous pace through the Croquet hoops, is very exciting for the Hedgehogs.
Of course the Hedgehogs are an important element in the game. They can even decide who will win!
(You will discover when you read the story that the hoops sometimes move to let the Red Queen get her Hedgehog through them.)
What most people don’t know is that the Hedgehogs can swerve as they are rolling along, and direct themselves through the hoops!
But if the person playing isn’t very nice, then they sometimes swerve to miss!
This causes lots of trouble but no one blames the Hedgehogs as their ability isn’t well known.
The Hedgehogs sometimes uncurl and run off if the person playing them is too slow. They run off to find a fast player. One who can hit them really fast and satisfy their greed for speed!
Now you now why they play Croquet, Hedgehogs are speed mad!
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THE GIRAFFE AND THE HIPPO ARE SISTERS
The tall elegant Giraffe bent at the knee and lowered her long neck to drink at the mirror-still pool in the cool of the African twilight. Her reflection broke up in the ripples that spread across the water. It was not the sinister shape of a crocodile lurking under the surface that made these ripples, but a blunt friendly face with eyes on short stalks that belonged to her sister the Hippo. In the background, Lions and Hyena coughed and giggled into the dusk. The sisters talked together, remembering how their world had been when they were young.
Long ago in the before-time when all creatures were young, the Giraffe and the Hippo looked very alike, with only the small differences that you might expect in twin sisters.
The African sun was hot, hotter than it is now and the plants struggled in the heat pushing their roots deep into the soil to find water. Together the sisters wondered the desiccated land in search of shade and good eating, till at last they came to a cave at the base of some rocks where the last trickle of a once spectacular waterfall now dripped.
Inside the cave, hidden from the direct sunlight, there grew a large succulent mushroom. On the mushroom sat a caterpillar smoking a pipe. After some time the caterpillar took the pipe from his mouth and addressing the sisters he said,
“who are you?”
“We are sisters” they said in unison, for in those times it was their habit to both speak at once, and say exactly the same thing.
“Don’t both speak at the same time” said the caterpillar, in an annoyed voice,
“You must learn to say different things” he said. The sisters were puzzled
“How can we do that?” the sisters said together, wondering if there was anything good to eat in the deep dark cave, and if the bossy caterpillar would let them go inside.
For a long time the caterpillar was silent and the sisters were beginning to get impatient when he spoke again.
“The problem,” said the caterpillar removing the pipe from his mouth, “is that you are both the same size and see the same things and so speak at the same time. You must stop being the same. Too much of the same thing isn’t good you know?”
This sounded very difficult to the sisters and they thought about being not the same, but really could not imagine what it would be like.
“How do we do that?” they said together at last.
But the caterpillar had grown tired of waiting and had crawled out of the cave and into the dried grass.
“One side will make you grow taller, the other will make you grow shorter” he called as he disappeared from view.
The two sisters did not know what to make of that remark but they were hungry and the mushroom looked very good to eat.
Sitting on opposite sides so as to share the food fairly between them, they began to eat the best meal they had tasted for a long time. After the first pangs of hunger were gone the sisters began to notice that something strange was happening.
“This mushroom is getting bigger” said the Hippo sister.
“No, I am sure it is growing smaller” said the Giraffe sister.
Then they stopped eating and looked at each other in amazement, for this was the first time they had an individual idea and spoken it on their own.
The sisters started eating again, for they were very hungry and they continued to grow in their different ways, for of course it was they who were changing not the mushroom!
The next day the sisters were altered out of all recognition and only they would know that they were still sisters. The change was for the best however as now the Giraffe sister with her long legs and neck, could reach the leaves on the tallest trees with ease. The Hippo sister could graze on underwater grasses and wallow in the cool mud without fear of crocodiles, for she had grown big and round and strong.
That was how it came to pass in the before-time when creatures were young, that the Giraffe and the Hippo changed their shape to look like we know them today.
But they always remember that they are sisters and talk of the old times in the cool of the evening when the African sun goes down and everyone comes to the water-hole to gossip about the day.
With a sideways look at the ‘Just So’ stories and a pinch of’Alice’
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All around them the vastness of the marsh buzzed and purred with life greeting the morning. The vivid colour of the flowers reflected in sky-blue pools, shouted at the eye. Gloriously painted butterflies dithered from bloom to boom. A deliciously cool breeze came from the distant blue hills in the north, sweeping away the fetid smells liberated by their passage.
Behind them the water stilled again, showing no sign of their encounter.
Around midday the terrain gradually altered with deeper and wider stretches of water interspersed with smaller clumps of land, held from total dissolution by the desperate clutch of tree roots.
The horses swam these wider passages with ease, splashing and stumbling ashore, stepping fastidiously through the tangle of mud and roots. Without a horse, Hal reflected wryly to himself, a man would never see his friends again.
The day grew hot and the noon sun burnt the mud of the low-lying islands powder dry so it clung to the wet legs of the horses.
Huish and Hal trekked across the last of the transitory mud and gravel banks towards their goal, a grassy tree-lined island towering above the salt-marsh. Hal breathed a small sigh of relief when at last they stood on the island, never had trees and grass seemed so welcoming.
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