Stout of Heart… 

Not many people know… when the world was but young, it was inhabited, by all manner of mythical creatures...
Not many people know… when the world was but young,
it was inhabited by all manner of mythical creatures!

N ot many people know… when the world was but young, it was inhabited, by all manner of mythical creatures.

S pirits dwelt everywhere  and in everything from the valleys to the mountains, from the woodlands, to the rolling forests… to even the rivers, and the babbling brooks.

         Nevertheless, the fairies – unlike the mischievous spirits, did not live within  things but on a mystical plain, just beyond the sight of man. When, on the briefest of occasions the material world of men collided… with that of the fairy folk, for good or ill, this was perchance how fairy tales came into being.

            Here unfolds one such story…

O n a dark and stormy night, a devoted father was returning home from his distant travels, with a present for his son: a parcel – securely tucked under his arm, a toy soldier in a small juniper-wood box, loosely sealed with an elaborately tied… crimson red ribbon.

           The wind blew driving rain – hard against his face, cloak flapping wildly in the gale, sweeping behind him in a darksome black curtain, as lightening cracked… sending jagged edges, across a dark boiling foreboding sky.

            After a time… he came across an ancient, gnarled and rickety wooden bridge.

            However, as his horse nervously began its passage upon this… the bridge started to rock unnaturallyincreasingly alarming the devoted hard pressed – father. He struggled with his stead, as it reared… ferociously clawing at the air, very nearly flinging him from the narrow span of the bridge; wrestling vainly with the stricken mount, he attempted to steady the horse, but as he did so, their windswept, and besodden father – let loose of his precious cargo, and the parcel fell… tumbling from his hands.

             Over the bridge the box toppled… falling,  and spinning  wildly in the air; down and down it tumbled, falling further  and further,  for what had seemed like an age beyond eternity! Before finally landing – open, on the bare sandy bank of the river… far below the ramshackle bridge.

T he little toy soldier was not aware of how long he lad lain there: perhaps days, weeks… perhaps even months! Time seemed to hold no meaning for him in that tiny wooden box.

             Then one such day he heard a voice, however… barely more than a whisper, arising from the gently flowing river, “Little soldier, are you lost?” it appeared to taunt.

              He glanced around alarmed,Whom-so-ever goes there?”  he demanded, trying as hard as he might, to hide his astonishment.

             “Look here, deep into my waters… within!”  replied the mysterious voice.

             The soldier peered cautiously into the clear running blue brook, only to see to his amazement a mocking face hovering there, reflected, peering back at him. Its features were fluid, as ephemeral as the water; nevertheless – through this… beneathhe could not fail to see the countless pebbles, which lay shifting relentlessly… restlessly, on the river bed.

              “Who are you?” he enquired alarmed.

               “Who else?  But the spirit of the gully,” gurgled the unearthly voice -mockingly, “and rest assured… I mean to bring this bridge crashing down – along with all those who are foolhardy enough to trespass upon it!” he threatened in dark foreboding tones. “It was not by mere accident… the bridge trembled and shook that day, and you ended here… marooned on my river bank!

                 “Watch my work… little soldier!” insisted the clear crystal blue face… ominously.

                 It was at that precise moment… the soldier heard the slow heavy clopping of hooves on the bridge above him. A farmer and his family, were gradually pulling an old cart over the rickety wooden bridge, drawn by a rather scrawny looking horse; the mare’s ribs – poking through its brown dowdy coat.

                 The spirit roared, “I shall smash this bridge to splinters,  and doom those who dare  to cross… to plunge to their watery graves!”

                 True to the spirit’s word… the waters began to rise rapidly against the ancient timber supports, lashing and crashing with force against the unstable beams. The bridge began to shudder and shake violently under the weight of the impending surge.

                 The farmer grimly tried to rein in his horse, as it screamed… scrambling for footing on the wooden planks, while his wife and children could do very little… panicking in their fear.

                “I shall not permit this to happen!” retorted the little toy soldier. Purposefully he strode forward – boldly standing under the bridge, and defiantly propping up the bending shafts, with all the might he could muster.

                “Little soldier, you cannot stay there forever.”

 “I shall stay here forever and a day, until the end of all eternity… if needs be!”
he stated determinedly.

                  This angered the gully spirit greatly, as he pushed his raging waters – yet riding still  higher against the little toy soldier! The waters splashed over his head in flowing raging torrents, sweeping around his broad, but tiny shoulders. However, no matter how much it tried… the spirit could not budge him. And all the whilst… the farmer and his family – struggled valiantly across the creaking bridge, before finally – with relief, reaching the safety of the far side!

D ays passed, and on every occasion a traveller tried to traverse the rickety wooden bridge – the gully spirit roared its anger, and once more its ferocious treacherous waters rose… tearing  against the ancient bridge’s creaking beams. But each  and every  time, the soldier held absolutely steadfast… unfaltering in his resolve.

S easons turned… hot scorching summers, were followed by … bitingly cold – bleak snow driven winters. The little soldier’s paint work, became chipped and faded, but still he held firm against the spirit’s wrath, remaining strong and true to his word.

                  In fraught desperation the spirit trawled its depths to find curiosities to tempt the soldier: it brought forth pearls from fresh water oysters, which rolled upon its sandy and pebbled bed; lost rusted sabres – shattered and discarded from battles… long since forgotten – their opulent hilts encrusted with blood red rubies; even… bulging treasure chests, from sunken pirate ships, which had sat for centuries… decaying on the bed of the expansive creek.

                  But the brave little soldier held true,I shall stay here forever and a day, until the end of all eternity… if needs be!”

W ord spread amongst the creatures, which inhabited the woods of the riverbank, of the little toy soldier’s act of valour. The little toy soldier – who actually dared to stand against the wicked, spirit of the gully! Until, a time came when the talk actually finally reached the mystical…
Realm of the Fairies.

I t  was but one chill night, just after dusk had fallen, the little soldier yet again heard the slow grating of the old wooden joists. Above him, he was astonished to witness: a Princess passing over in a glorious golden coach, with a splendid procession of guards escorting her. The guards all wore splendid armour of finely burnished brass and glistening silver, which strikingly caught the glow of the pale moonlight.

                  In stark contrast however, the Princess’s mood was solemn in her coach. Soon her father, the King wished her to marry, but none of her numerous suitors had the bravery and strength of spirit, she dearly desired of her… one true love.  It weighed heavy on the Princess’s mind – as the royal party passed over, the creaking rickety wooden bridge.

                    Nevertheless, far below, the spirit of the gully… saw his opportunity and swept against the posts, as wave after wave lapped over the toy soldier… the bridge shook and shuddered in its wake. The gallant knights struggled in their saddles, and many a number were thrown from their horses, but still the little soldier stood firm, tensing himself – against all the wrath and fury the spirit might muster!

                     Then alas the fairies… having taken pity on the toy soldier, cast a spell and by an enchantment carried on the breeze – the Princess heard for the first time the taunts of the evil gully spirit and the battle beneath the bridge,  which had been waged over, and over again…
for what seemingly passed as an age beyond measure.

                     “Little toy soldier, you shall be washed away!” threatened the spirit, darkly.

                      But the soldier only replied, “You cannot move me. I shall stay here forever and a day, until the end of all eternity… if needs be!”

                       The Princess’s heart was moved by these words… and she commanded her troop of knights to stop! Peering over the bridge, she beheld the little toy soldier standing at the base of the bridge – stoically holding the beams… fast and resolute; even as the fiendish gully spirit, taunted and relentlessly tugged at him… with its shimmering watery arms.

                       “Little soldier,” she harked, “why do you brace this bridge so?”

                        “For the gully spirit, seeks to wash this bridge away and all who pass over her… my lady,” replied the stout little soldier earnestly.

                         Then on the wind, the fairies in a soft whisper called to him and spoke thus, “Step away – let go of thy burden, your task is complete! Fear not, the bridge shall not fall – ye who is… without  doubt the ‘stoutest in heart’ amongst all warriors!”

                          With a great effort, and a sense of apprehension – the little toy soldier unclenched his dank wet moss covered hands from the wooden beams, which he had held for what had seemed… so terribly long.

                        As he stepped forward, the very air swam and filled with what appeared to be the lights of a thousand dancing fireflies. In a flash, the beams of the bridge magically lifted knitting together, repairing themselves – in midair. He was astounded to find himself – suddenly, no longer standing on the banks of the river, but up upon the now… sparkling polished rafters of the wooden bridge, itself.

                       Neither was he, any more – just a little toy soldier, but a man a real  Man, wearing his gleaming soldier’s red uniform, with shiny brass buttons and proud standing hat.

                       The Princess looked upon the tall dashing soldier, only to discover her heart… instantly stolen.

S oon they were wed… and the people of the kingdom rejoiced; finally their Princess… had found the true love of her dreams. And through the little soldier’s gallant feat… the Princess when she became Queen, sat with her King at her side – ruling their fair land with courage and wisdom.

                        Her Kingwho was once had been: nothing more – than a little toy soldier, in a box tied loosely with a ribbon of the deepest crimson; who had lain… all but lost and forgotten, on the sandy banks of a river!

Y ou may as to wonder… what happened to the spiteful spirit of the gully? It is held in truth… the fairies in their eminent displeasure – punished him for his misdeeds, by cracking the earth and banishing him to the netherworld, from where he whence.

                        And it is told…

                      Where, he is still remarked to be… even to this very day!

                             

                                                                                      THE END

 

                                                                                                                              Sebastian White

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