Here comes the first proper story!
|Halwyn, or A Pinch of Salt, June 2014|
Halwyn, or A Pinch of Salt
There was once a far-away sea that held no salt. It was cut off from the other oceans of the world, surrounded by vast lands that stretched as far as could be seen. To the north loomed huge mountains of grey and white, to the east an endless expanse of green, speckled with little red and white houses in the distance. The south border of the sea met with desert sands, whilst the west was mostly mud and swamp. It is in the west of this sea that this story takes place.
The people lived well there, with a good supply of food and handsome dwellings built into the very bed of the sea. Occasionally the legged ones from the mudlands went onto the sea in boats and sent down their hooks, but on days like that the people kept away from the surface. They were used to the strange ways of the legged ones, and knew the dangers of the hooks and nets.
But it was an unexpected danger that came upon them, not from above, but from below.
He came up at night, through the mud at the edge of the city, his giant, undulating, ugly brown body causing the ground to tremble: a monstrous slug. He slithered along the ground to the city centre, head turning this way and that, his roving eyes on stalks that protruded from its head, the wiggling tentacles upon his face appearing to search and seek.
As people swam from their homes to find out what was happening, the creature spoke, voice booming ferociously.
“Give me your sons, give me your daughters! Or I’ll tear down your homes and your town I will slaughter!”
Children hid behind their parents, and the people grouped together in fear of the hideous creature. A baby began to cry and his mother tried to shush him and hide him beneath her cape.
“Who are you to ask us such things?!” called out one of the elders.
The slug laughed, and the people were able to see the gaping, serrated hole of his mouth. Everything was teeth: teeth on his gums, teeth on his cheeks, even teeth on his tongue. “Why, I am your new master!” The slug dived down suddenly and ate the elder in two bites. Then he spat out the bones. “Old people are too gristly and lean. I want children! Give me your sons, give me your daughters! Or I’ll tear down your homes and your town I will slaughter!”
The crowd became even more fearful. “Please…Master,” said a man. “Allow us time to ready our sons and daughters for you. They are not yet tasty enough. Let us make them delicious for you.”
The slug lowered his head and stared at the man with his giant eyes. “You have until tomorrow night. Bring two children to the hole from whence I came, or I shall come for them myself!” Flicking his fat tail, the slug turned and slithered away.
Panic filled the city. The king was sent for and the mayor called a meeting. They debated through the night and into the next day, as mothers and fathers tried to console their terrified children.
“Is there nothing we can do?” asked a sad-faced mother. She had seven children at home, each one of them greatly dear to her. “Can we not fight it? Can we not kill it?”
“The only way to kill a slug is with salt,” spoke an elder. “In my youth, I battled a great slug near the eastern shore, and destroyed it with salt left behind by the legged ones.”
“But we have no salt,” said the mayor. “This sea has not had salt in five hundred years.”
“There must be a way of getting some!” cried out a distraught father. “I shall swim all the way to the east to find some, if I must!”
“The salt is long gone,” replied the elder. “We must do as the slug says.”
There was much arguing, and eventually the king swam forward, eyes serious. “It is sad, but we must make sacrifices to save others. The children we send shall be drawn by a lot, and my own children will be included in this.”
One of the king’s daughters was listening to this in secret, for she had snuck in amongst a group of young mothers. She was shocked that her father would bow to the pressure of a disgusting invader. Were they not a proud people, with a history of strength and success? Would they not fight? The king’s daughter was terrified, for as she had heard, she too was threatened with being eaten by the slug. The rules were fair, and being royalty would not protect her.
Before the meeting ended, the king’s daughter slipped out of the town hall and swam away. She swam towards the shore, where she used a magic charm to give herself legs in place of her tail, and hid her cloak behind a rock. As the sun traced a path through the sky and her skin dried and became sore, she trudged unsteadily through the mud, hunting in vain for salts like those in the tale of the elder. Night drew closer, but she found no salt. Heavy hearted, she used the charm to regain her tail, donned her cloak and swam back home. The slug would not be stopped: he would eat two of the city’s children.
That night, two children were taken from their homes, wrapped tightly in their cloaks. They were the unfortunate pair to become the slug’s meal. They had cried and begged and tried to escape, and their parents had cried harder and clung to them when the guards came to take them away.
But the king was not heartless and his soul wept for the children. Before they were taken to the slug’s hole, he had royal kitchens feed each child with sweet delicacies and delicious wine laced with sleeping draught. By the time the children were borne to the slug’s hole, they were in a sleep so deep that they would not wake, nor feel pain when the slug’s teeth chewed them up.
The slug slithered from his hole when he smelt the children, and he eyed them with suspicion. “Why do they close their eyes?” he demanded.
“They are praying that you find them tasty, Master,” answered a guard.
A laugh erupted from the slug’s foul mouth. “You should pray too, for I will eat you all if they do not please me.”
The slug was so greedy that he ate the slumbering children whole. He smacked his lips and tossed his head, and loomed over the guards. “Bring me your daughters, bring me your sons, for my feasting here has but begun,” he proclaimed. “You have until tomorrow night.”
Terrified, the guards rushed away to deliver the message to their king.
Once again, it was decided to choose the slug’s next victims from a lot, and once again the king’s daughter swam to the surface to search for salt. Many days and nights continued in the same way, as more of the city’s children were devoured by the insatiable, disgusting slug. Gradually the people came to accept that they would have to sacrifice their children in order to save others. Families grew steadily larger as couples bore a greater number of children, but being eaten was a terror that hung over the head of each child until he or she came of age. The king’s daughter, almost of age herself, continued searching for salt. Her magic-begotten legs worked easily now and her feet squelched through the mud without hesitation. Others laughed at her folly, claiming that no salt would be found on the shore if it was not to be found within the sea, for the sea was the key to all life and all things in it. But the king’s daughter would not give up her search.
One morning, as she waded to the shore, she was caught by a fisherman. He took her cloak and made her go with him to his hut.
“I see you rise from the sea every day, pretty thing,” he told her. “I know what you are, and I know you will bring me luck, so I shall keep you here as my wife.”
The king’s daughter began to cry.
“Do not cry so, for I will treat you kindly,” said the fisherman. “My catch has been poor as of late, and I need some luck to bring a great yield of fish back to my town.”
“Please let me go,” said the king’s daughter. “I was only searching for salt.”
The fisherman laughed. “Why would you search for salt upon the mud, eh?”
“That is where it should be,” said the king’s daughter, who was starting to think she knew very little of the world. “Out on the shore, everything of life can be found. I only wanted a little salt...”
She looked so mournful that the fisherman felt sorry for her. “When you are my wife, you may have all the salt you need. But you may never return to the sea,” he told her.
“Oh but I must!”
“You cannot, for I do not know that you would return to me,” said the fisherman. “Now, we shall go home. I shall call you Gwyneth, and we shall be wed on the morrow.”
“Please,” begged the king’s daughter. “Allow me to return home one more time. Let me have a little salt, which I shall take to my father as a dowry.”
The fisherman was suspicious. “How do I know that you will return?”
“You have my promise,” said the king’s daughter honestly. If marrying the fisherman saved her people, she would have to do it, even though he was not handsome and would force her to live as a legged one.
The fisherman shook his head. “I will keep your cloak until you return.” He gazed upon her and saw the magic charm, which shone like gold on her bracelet. “You must also give me your bracelet. You may have it when you come back.”
“Will you give me salt? Lots of it?” the king’s daughter asked hopefully.
“Aye, as much as you can carry.”
With that, the fisherman took her cloak and her bracelet, and left the hut. He locked the door behind himself so that she could not escape, and strode back to his town.
Night fell, and the king’s daughter thought she had been left to die there. She wondered if it was a better death than being eaten, and decided that being eaten was, at least, quick. Gradually the king’s daughter fell asleep.
She awoke the next morning to a key turning in the lock of the door, and the fisherman’s heavy footsteps. He brought not her cloak or her bracelet, but carried instead a wooden box, which he set before her.
“You wished for salt,” he told her. Opening the box, he revealed that it was filled with salt. “I sold many of my belongings to buy this salt, so you must return to me,” he said. He did not tell the girl that he had sold her bracelet and used the money to obtain not only salt, but a new horse and boots for himself, and fine food for his pantry. Salt was common in his country, but he would have his future wife believe it was a rarity.
The king’s daughter felt a rush of hope. “Thank you!” she exclaimed. “May I have my bracelet back, please? I promise that I shall return, for you have my cloak.” She needed the bracelet so that she might swim easily to her city.
“No, I shall keep it until you are here with me again. Now take the dowry to your father, and come back here before dark,” ordered the fisherman.
Wanting to cry again, the king’s daughter gathered the box in her arms. The fisherman walked to the shore with her and as she waded back into the waters, he reminded her of her promise to return.
It was difficult to swim without a tail, but the water was soothing and calmed her dry skin. She lamented the loss of her charm and especially her cloak, for it was unseemly to go among people without it, and when she returned to the palace she was severely chastised for losing them. The king’s daughter did not want to go back to the shore, but the king told her that she must. He thought it better that she live than face possible death by the slug.
However, the great goddess Undine had her own plan, and it happened that the king’s daughter was chosen that very day to go to the slug’s hole.
Together with her sisters, she plotted to defeat the slug.
As she had no tail, they made one from thick seaweed cloth and wrapped her in it. Then they made a cape from the same cloth, and into which they sewed much of the salt. When they were done, there was still salt left over, so the king’s daughter ate it. The salt was delicious but so much of it made her feel ill.
She allowed the guards to carry her to the slug’s hole, and patted the head of the small boy who had been chosen to be eaten with her. Though she spoke comforting words to him, he was too sleepy with wine to hear what she said.
When the slug came from his hole, the king’s daughter was struck with a deeper terror than ever she’d felt before. Up close, the slug was larger and more disgusting than she’d ever imagined. He had become fatter from eating so many children, so his stomach wobbled and spilled out across the ground. His mouth salivated, his body oozed sick slime and when he lowered his head, his bulging eyes seemed to read her every thought.
“You are quite old,” the slug complained.
“I am almost of age, Master,” replied the king’s daughter. She had not partaken of wine or sweets, and was sound of mind as she spoke to the slug.
“Barely a child anymore,” grumbled the slug. “I shall eat the small one first.”
“Oh no!” exclaimed the king’s daughter. “Have him for your dessert. He will be sweeter than I.”
“Very well. In your age you have gained sense.” The slug lowered his head, ready to eat her, but stopped just short of her head. “…why do you not pray? And why are you wrapped in so much cloth?” he demanded.
The king’s daughter had to think quickly. She had expected the slug to simply swallow her straight away. She did not think he would ask questions of her.
“I wrapped myself in this cloth so that you might find me tastier,” she lied. “And as I did so, I prayed that you would think me the tastiest morsel yet.”“That we shall see,” boomed the slug. He opened his mouth and ate the king’s daughter in two mighty bites, leaving but a scrap of seaweed cloth behind. The slug chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. “From now on, all children must be prepared like this! Why, I may start eating fat, juicy adults, too.”
The guards stepped back fearfully. Had their princess’ plan not worked?
Slowly, the slug moved towards the slumbering boy, rubbing his lips together in delight.
Then a great gurgling erupted from the slug’s stomach and he stopped in his tracks. The slug screamed in pain and his stomach burst open. All the little children who had been eaten before swam out, for the slug had always been so greedy that he ate them whole, and they had survived on the scraps of fish the slug had snacked upon between meals. Then the rest of the slug exploded, his remains scattered far and wide across the entire kingdom.
The children were reunited with their parents and all were happy, except for the king, whose daughter had died bitten in two by the slug.
From that day forth, the sea was never again plagued by giant slugs, for all the salt within the king’s daughter’s clothing was spread through the water and the sea once again became salty. The king proclaimed that their land would be renamed Halwyn, after his lost, beloved, and very clever daughter.
What did you think? I tried to write this with Grimm's style of A Not Quite Happy Ending !