Thursday, 14 August 2014

How Helle Found the Monster

I wasn't going to post another story from Folk Tales of the Sea People for a few days, but my sister asked nicely. (Kind of. Okay, she demanded.) She's feeling rubbish at the moment so I decided to comply!
Feel better, sister!

How Helle Found the Monster, July 2014

How Helle Found the Monster

There was once a girl of the Selkie-folk, who lived in a deep northern sea where the waters never turned cold. Her parents named her Helle, and she was a good and thoughtful child. Ever since she learnt to talk, Helle had asked her parents, “Why is the sea always warm?”
They would answer, “The sea is always warm because beneath it there slumbers a monster with fire in his belly.”
That was answer enough for Helle, until she became a little older and did not believe in monsters anymore. She learnt the ways of the sea, and she learnt of sunlight and magic and other ways in which a person might warm the water, but she could find no answer that satisfied her. An old grandfather had once told Helle that the sea had not always been so warm, and if she should chance to swim far enough east or west, she would find the water became delightfully cold, sometimes cold enough that she would have no choice but to keep her cloak on all day and all night.

Helle liked to think of cold water, for she found the water of her home was sometimes too warm, and she longed for the day that she was old enough to travel far alone, she would seek out the cold waters of the eastern and western north.
Since her parents remained certain that the water was heated by a sleeping monster, Helle sought out the opinions of the grandfathers and grandmothers of her people.
“Why is the sea always warm?” she asked each one.
“There is a monster sleeping beneath the sea. He warms the water with his fiery belly,” said a grandmother.
“Yes,” said another. “He has eyes as bright as the sun and scales so big you could make a roof of one. He is fearsome.”
“It is good for us that he sleeps,” said a grandfather. “For if he did not, we would be in sorry trouble.”
“Why?” Helle could not help but be curious.
“Because if he awakes, he might huff and puff that fire all over us,” said another grandfather.
A third nodded and said, “And then the sea would boil, and we would be no more, for the water is already too warm.”
Helle stared at them. She thought her parents had lied to her, but was certain the grandmothers and grandfathers would not. “Why not find the monster, and ask him to move on?” she asked.
“Nobody knows where he sleeps,” said a grandfather.
Another elderly Selkie joined the group, a lady so old that she was not a great-, but a great-great-great grandmother. “It was said he slept in a cave in the very centre of the sea,” she said. “But it is so hot there that nobody dares venture so far.”

It was true that the centre of the warm sea was hot. That part of the sea had always been barren and empty, and Helle had been taught that it was a dangerous place to go.
Helle decided it was the most obvious place for the monster to be, if what everybody said was true. Nobody seemed to know the truth firsthand; it was all rumour, handed down through generations. Helle wanted to be the person to discover the truth.

Helle began to plan. She was not yet considered old enough to swim too far on her own, but when she was, she knew exactly where she would go: the centre of the sea.
She began by teaching herself to swim long-distance, which was difficult when she could not go far alone. Then she learned to swim in warmer waters, by begging her parents to accompany her closer to the centre and borrowing old cloaks to wrap around herself beneath her own. Helle studied maps and the diaries of old explorers, hoping for clues and direction.
By the time she reached her next birthday, old enough to travel alone across the entire warm sea if she so wished, Helle was ready.

Several people came out to watch Helle leave. They watched her, young and old, with their dark eyes, murmuring about the dreamer who was leaving to do something impossible.
“She’ll never reach the centre of the sea,” she heard a grandfather say.  “It is far too hot.”
A small child called out, “Don’t boil at the middle!”
Helle kissed her parents goodbye and set off, alone.

Three days later, Helle was still swimming. When she needed rest, she found herself a little cave or a sheltered space in which to sleep. When she needed to sleep, she tried to make her stop as brief as possible. Otherwise, she swam and swam. She was determined to reach the centre of the sea and find the truth behind why the waters were never cool.
The sea became warmer.

Six days after Helle left home, she still had yet to reach the centre of the sea. But she was certainly nearing it. The seascape had become sparser and less comfortable to swim in. Still Helle swam, her resolution to find the truth all the stronger.
The sea became hotter.

Nine days in, and Helle felt ill. The waters were almost too hot to bear. She cast aside her cloak and pressed on, trying to ignore the searing heat against her skin and the way it seemed harder to breathe. Helle felt desperate now: she could not return home having failed. She had put so much time into planning her journey, through learning and preparation and practise. Were she to return unsuccessful, she would be laughed at. All the grandmothers and grandfathers would say, ‘I knew it,’ and Helle would not be able to show her face again.
But on the tenth day, Helle could swim no more. She ached all over; the water was too hot and she felt as though she would die if she were to press on. The grandfather had been right: she would never reach the centre of the sea.
Helle turned back, but the thought of returning home unsuccessful was too sad. She sank to the bottom, sobbing.
“Hmm, what is that noise…?” a deep voice called out.
Helle lifted her head and looked around, but saw nothing in the barren landscape. “Is somebody here?” she asked, afraid she might be heat-sick and imagining things.
“I am,” said the voice. “What is wrong, young one?”
Helle was certain now that she was dreaming. “I wanted to go to the centre of the sea, but it is too hot and I feel so ill, and now I am imagining I’m talking to someone who isn’t there.”
“I am here,” said the voice. “But you will fear me should you see my face, young one. Now, why ever would you go to the centre of this sea? Are you unhappy in your home?”
“I love my home,” Helle said honestly, deciding to go along with her hallucination. “Only the waters are always so warm. Sometimes they become too hot, and people become heat-sick, and some even die.” She sighed and wiped her eyes. “They say a monster lives in the centre of the sea, and that he has a fire in his belly that keeps the sea warm. But I thought it must be a lie! There are many reasons the sea would be warm all the year through.”
“A lie, hm? You know, you are not far now from the centre. But the water boils there and you would not survive.”
“Then it is hopeless. I shall never discover the truth.”
“Ah, but you may. Turn around, young one, but do not be afraid.”
A rumbling arose from behind her. Helle turned in time to see the ground crack open, from a cavern she had ignored earlier. The rocks broke and a giant, red-scaled head poked through. Its eyes were yellow and blazed brightly, its ears were pointed and its mouth was a big, long line that curved around its face.
Helle stared, afraid. “T-there is a monster...” she uttered her voice rising to a squeak.
“Monster, monster, monster,” the red-scaled creature sighed. “I am a Dragon, one of very few of my kind.”
“A Dragon...?” Helle had not heard of such a creature before. “What is a Dragon?”
I am a Dragon,” the Dragon replied patiently. “Long ago, I lived upon the land, but the humans chased me into the sea, thinking that it would extinguish my fire.”
Helle peered at the Dragon in wonder. “So the grandfathers and grandmothers of my people have told the truth. You really do warm the sea...”
“Yes,” said the Dragon. “No water harms me, for it was from water I was born. My fire remains, and in shame at being defeated by tiny humans, I hid here.”
“Humans…I have never met humans, for I live far from the land,” said Helle.
“Far from the land is an ideal place to be,” stated the Dragon. “Tell me again why you chose to come here.”
“To find out if there really is a monster that warms the sea,” Helle reminded him. She smiled awkwardly. “When I was young, I thought someone should ask you to move on. But this sea is your home too.”
“You are still young,” the Dragon chuckled. “Ah, but nobody wants a Dragon around. We are too big and too fiery. People fear Dragons.”
Helle swam a little closer. The Dragon’s breath was like a furnace. “You are not scary,” she decided. “But you do make the water so uncomfortably warm.”
“Sorry.” The Dragon looked sad. Helle patted his nose, but quickly withdrew her hand. The Dragon’s scales burnt! “Sorry,” said the Dragon again. “I’ll move on, if I can find a place big enough for a Dragon like me.”
“Oh…” Helle sighed. “Do not worry. We Selkie have survived many generations in the warm waters. Besides, I came to find an answer, and an answer I have found. It is one I did not expect.”
“Nobody expects a Dragon.”
“I suppose they don’t.” Helle nodded. “Well. I am happy to have met you, Mister Dragon. Now I know the answer.”
“You awoke me from a long slumber, young one. I bid you good day, and pray you live a long and fruitful life.”
“Thank you, Mister Dragon. You too.”
“Oh, but I already have...”
Helle bid goodbye to the Dragon and swam homewards, collecting her cloak on the way. The further she swam, the cooler the water became.
She arrived home ten days later, the water still warm as ever, but comfortable. When Helle told of her findings, the grandmothers and grandfathers all said, ‘I told you so.’ Helle could but nod meekly and agree that they had been right (even though they’d been wrong about the monster part).

It so happened one day that Helle noticed the water growing cold. Colder and colder it went, until it was positively chilly. Helle wrapped herself tightly in her cloak, and enjoyed the cold. She wondered if the Dragon had decided to move after all. But she would never return to the centre of the sea, for her curiosity was sated.
And that is why sometimes, even if their stories seem very tall, you should listen to your elders.

Hope you enjoyed this one! It was a simpler story this time, wasn't it? Remember you can catch up on all the stories posted so far, by looking at the tag for Folk Tales of the Sea People.

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