Storytime: Scal’s House.

April 10th, 2013

New things happen, like it or not. And you’d better like it, because everything being the same forever gets boring, no matter how nice it was to begin with.
But if you don’t like it, the complaining is fun anyways. And that’s what Scal the sorry was doing as she wandered the hills and the trees by the sea, shivering under her oldest, tatteredest clothes. “I need a home,” she grumbled, “I need a good fine house with walls and a roof and maybe even a floor to be fancy on, and there I can keep myself comfortable. Not out here, in all this… weather. I’m sorry to say it, but this weather irks me sore. Where will I put my house?” And she carried on griping this way for three days as she wandered, driving all the creatures she passed sore irked with her.
Then Scal the sorry found a tree. And that’s what caused all this nonsense.
It was a good tree. Tall, firm-limbed, with a trunk both stout and tall. Its leaves were finest green, its bark truly brown, its hue lustrous and ruddy.
“That is the finest tree in all this forest,” said Scal the sorry, “and I’m sorry to say so of all you other trees, but that’s the truth. Why, if I were a bird and had feathers and beaks and all those things, I’d be happy as a clam to take up a perch in that particular tree and roost all I pleased, with twigs and with feathers.”
Then Scal the sorry stopped and thought for a bit, and laughed too much.
After she was finished with that, she took off her left glove and whispered to her palm and picked away at one of the fingernails she kept her magic in with her teeth, then spat out a bit of a word and a bit of a cough, wound tight together, and she set to making herself a house.
Scal the sorry’s house was round and squat and the walls were sticks. Its roof was a thousand feathers from old birds she’d eaten all year, and for a floor she used their down. It was cozy and smelly and on the whole she considered it pretty fine.
“No wonder the birds like this so,” she said, as she laid herself down for sleep. “A fine view, a good view, even if I must remember not to roll over in the night.” So she tucked herself in and snored.
No more than halfway through the night Scal the sorry was awoken loud and clear by swaying and moaning, a roar and a ruckus. Her home was bobbing in the high branches of the tree like a cork in a sea, and the wind was whining through all the cracks in her walls.
“Shush!” she yelled at the wind and the world. “Shush! I’m sleeping up here! I’m sorry that I’ve put myself and my home up in your place, but it’s MY place now and it’s going NOWHERE!”
The wind laughed and roiled at her and didn’t die down ‘till well past dawn, leaving Scal the sorry red-eyed with sleepless ire.
“Bothersome blight and dreadful vex,” she snarled as she drank the strongest teas she could mix (bear-paw and old vinegary apple). “It was one night. I will sleep twice as long tonight, and make back the difference.”
But the winds came back that night, and the night after, and so on and on and on all week, every week, endlessly. It was driving Scal the sorry ‘round the bend and straight off through the mountains, it was, and she was so grumpy that she could boil water with a glare.
“A fine home,” she muttered to herself as she sat, awake, and listened to the midnight gusts yet again. “I am sorry to say so, but I believe I just might have to do something about it.” And so she gathered those bits of her brains that hadn’t been shaken and spooked to pieces by the wind, and she thought all day.
That evening, Scal the sorry put on an old, old tattered rag she had, hunched herself up small and crooked, quivering and shaking, and she sat out in the doorway of her house, legs dangling over the edge and her face hidden away by the hood of her battered clothing. She waited past sunset, and just as she heard the wind come howling down from the west she began to sob and sniffle.
“Oh! Oh! Oh no! Why have you come again, wind, why have you come to hurt your mother so, why have you done this? Did I do a harm to you when you were small, poor wind? I am sorry for this; a mother’s sins are thoughtless ones, oh poor little wind! Take pity!”
The west wind was very confused by this. “Father in the sea never told me about my mother,” it said. “But you look very small to be MY mother. I am big enough to stretch all the way from here to far away over the sea, where there’s nothing but water for forever and ever and further. I can pick up more water than a thousand buckets with one hand, and I can shove the clouds away with my littlest fingers and toes. I don’t think I could do those things if such a little thing as you were my mother.”
“Maybe you’re big and strong now,” said Scal the sorry, with infinite patience and love, “but you’re still my little son, my little boy. And I’m sorry to say that if you do not believe me, I shall prove that I am stronger than you ever will be. A test then, son! Why don’t we see which of us can throw this stone the farthest?” And she pointed to a stone on the ground, far below.
“So small a thing?” asked the west wind. “Mother-maybe, you are a madwoman. I can knock over tall trees and send waves that eat shores. This is nothing, you watch!”
Well the west wind heaved and the west wind hauled, the west wind blew up such a flurry that it nearly pulled down the trees, but the west wind couldn’t shove that stubborn little stone. Finally it gave up, spent and exhausted, and Scal the sorry tsk-tsked in her most motherly voice.
“Well,” she said, “you’ve done your best, my boy, my little boy, but I’m sorry that I must see that you’ve lost.”
“Lost, but you’ve not won, mother-maybe,” retorted the west wind. “That stone cannot be moved at all!”
“I am your mother, little wind,” she said, “and I am stronger than you. Now you just watch.” And Scal the sorry plucked up the little rock that she’d sunk into the dirt that morning, where half its bulk lay buried beneath the surface. And she did it with one hand.
“Now listen to your mother, who is stronger than you,” she told the wind, “and leave my house alone! Never come back here, and tell all your brothers and sisters that I said so!”
The west wind left in shame, and Scal the sorry slept the sleep of the exhausted for a week and five days. She slept through breakfasts, suppers, and lunches, and finally woke when she felt a tip-tip-drip-drop on the back of her neck. Water was leaking through the feathered roof of her home, trickling down the walls, making a mess in her bedding and ruining her food stores.
“A million mice mangled in a meadow!” she swore. “Ah well, rain must come, rain must go. A day indoors patching leaks hurts nobody, though I’m sorry to admit it.” So she cooped herself up and mended the roof and walls, and brewed her latest, strongest yet tea (spiky thorns and the angriest stones she could find) to keep off the chill. She went to bed with the strum-drum-drum of raindrops in her ears, lulled to sleep.
The next day her neck was cold and wet again, splish-splash-splosh. More leaks had sprung up, and still the rain fell and fell and fell.
“Two in a row?” she nagged to herself. “Bothersome!” And she brewed more tea and patched more leaks and did this for all the week before she shook her fist at the sky and saw that the clouds weren’t moving as they should be. They were stuck fast, fat and soggy, held in place by a breezeless air.
“I find myself sorry that I have no wind,” said Scal the sorry, “but there must be another way around this! Eh, having a house is such a trouble – I will find a way, yes I will.”
So she tried covering her home in resin from the tree. The rain pounded and poured and in three days it washed it all away.
“Rabbit legs snipped by snares!” she swore, and tried covering her home with dozens of interwoven branches. Pound pound pour, in two days the rain had soaked all the leaves through and filled her home with their washed-out little scraps.
“Bear-carrion in a nest of eagles!” she shrieked, and chewed on her left hand’s fingernails, spitting and hissing. She put her magic hand’s power into her house, so strong and fierce that it chased all the water away, right down to the spit out of her mouth and the tea she was drinking. It took one day for her to stop coughing and wheezing long enough to undo her mistake.
“Dirty riptides,” she sulked, washing out her parched throat with (damned) rainwater. “Those clouds need scorching. Maybe I can ask for help.” So Scal the sorry put on her least-damp clothing and set off into the rain, looking and searching for help outside the endless rainfall that surrounded her cloud-clotted home.
“I’m sorry,” she asked of a passing deer, “but do you know any animals that might help with getting rid of all my rain?”
“No,” said the deer, twitching its nose. “Water on the ground we drink. Water in the sky is not for us.” And it bounded away.
Scal the sorry said harsh words, and tried again.
“I’m sorry,” she asked a spry young sapling, “but do you know any plants that might help with getting rid of all my rain, which is ruining my home?”
“No,” said the sapling, rustling cheerily. “But isn’t it most fine? A good drink puts green in your stem and bite in your bark! I’ll be in the canopy in no time at all, barely a century, just you wait!”
Scal the sorry said cruel words, kicked the tree’s trunk, and, limping, tried again.
“I’m sorry,” she asked the nearest mountain, “but do you know any other powerful big stones that might help with getting rid of all my rain, which is ruining my home and driving me to distraction and difficulties?”
“No,” said the mountain. “But I know who can. It’s the sun. Go and ask the sun to help. She can dry things right up, but she’s proud and prickly.”
Scal the sorry said thankful, kind words, praised the mountain, and went back home to her (leaking) house to think.
“I’d best get on asking him,” she said, and clambered to the top of the tree, right where the branches were so small that she had to turn herself into a little squirrel to stay aloft. “Hey sun!” she called. “Hey sun! Hey sun! I am sorry to speak to you so, but it’s your job to keep this sort of place warm and unsoggy, and you are not doing it!”
The sun slid around in her seat and stared down at Scal the sorry. She was indeed proud; the way she looked down her nose at her left no doubt. “What is all this racket,” she yawned. “I am busy, as I always am, with important things. Why is there a little mouse in a tree shouting at me? Go hide in a burrow or something like animals do, little tree-mouse. You are boring.”
“Boring?” squawked Scal the sorry. “I am Scal the sorry, and you are lazy and ugly and fat and downright unpleasant in every which way, all of which I know because your husband told me so! You couldn’t dry my home if it was the only place in all the world, you good-for-nothing soggy-ended weasel-faced bark-skinned moosenose!”
The sun flared up like grease on a campfire at that, and some of the words she and Scal said to each other next didn’t bear speaking once, let alone repeating. When all they had to say and do was said and done, the sun was shining bright as midsummer – in October, no less – the clouds were wisps of errant water frying in a searing sky, and Scal the sorry’s home was as dry and warm as the back of a buzzard’s wings in a thermal.
“This is fine and good,” she sighed to herself as she lay down for the night in a bed that didn’t smell one bit of wet leaves. “This is how a house should be, I guess, eh? This is better.” And she slept in for one week in a row.
When she woke up, her mouth was parched, her hair felt like brittle twigs, and the leaves of her tree had been crisped to a bitter brown. The sun still glared at her, bright and early in the morning, fixed at high noon.
“What a grudge-holding stick-in-the-mud,” grumped Scal the sorry, rehydrating herself on a tea made from burnt ashes and hurt feelings. “I am sorry that I said those things to her, but that was ages ago, and they needed to be said before she would do her job properly. Now she is just as bad, but the other way around! I’ll show her!”
So Scal the sorry walked outdoors – where she winced as her skin burned in the sunshine – and chewed her left-hand fingernails again. And as she chewed, so she changed – into a little beetle, a little burrowing beetle with a dainty black coat and a pair of digging legs and jaws. And that little beetle went straight to work on the ground, digging down deep and far. Topsoil, dirt, more dirt, stone, more stone, and then through and down into the dark places under the world, where the shadows had their roots and lived out their shadowy other lives. Her own shadow waved happily to her, stretched-out and huge in its proper home.
Scal the sorry waved back. It was polite.
Finding what she was looking for took time, a long time – there was so much dark and dim, so many shades without light – but finally she spotted it: the shadow of the sun, hiding away in a corner of the always-midnight sky, where nobody needed or spotted it.
“Hello there,” said Scal the sorry. “Feeling lonely?”
“Nobody needs a sun where the shadows live,” said the shadow of the sun, miserably. “And she never casts me – everyone else gets to go up and see the world above, but I’m down here forever.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” said Scal the sorry. “I am sorry, but you are talking nonsense. I’ve got a way out right here, you look at this. A tunnel all the way up top! Come on in! Stay at my house!”
The shadow of the sun was a little worried by all this, but in the end it allowed itself to be persuaded to be crammed up the beetle-tunnel face-first, squish squish squash. They got to near the surface when it halted fast.
“I am sorry to ask,” said Scal the sorry, who was lying, “but what is the problem?”
“I’m stuck,” whimpered the shadow of the sun. “It’s too small!”
Scal the sorry sighed rudely and loudly. “Shadow,” she said, “I could use your hand now I could. Because I don’t have any this moment.”
And Scal the sorry’s shadow, who was waiting down at the far-end of the beetle-burrow and listening, reached up, up, up to the world above, and then down, down, down into the tunnel with its thin fingers. It grasped Scal the sorry and the shadow of the sun both, and it yanked them free – pop! – into the bright-burning daylight, where it took refuge once again under Scal the sorry’s foot.
“Shadow,” she said, “I owe you a powerful debt. And speaking of such, look up there little shadow of the sun! Look up at my house! Set yourself above that tree and breathe deep and happy, under the sun!”
The shadow of the sun ran all the way up the tree and sprung into the sky with the eagerness of a fledgling eagle, and glorious, peaceful, cool darkness spread itself across Scal the sorry’s home, swallowing all those scorching sunrays whole before the last words had died from her lips.
“Sweet, cool, refreshing night-time,” she hummed happily as she turned in for bed that evening – although maybe it was morning, it was hard to tell with the shadow of the sun above her. “This is more like what a house should be.” And she drifted off, with only the creeeeak-eeeek of her parched tree to whine her to sleep.
She woke up some time later with her teeth chattering. She bundled on every bit of clothing she had, she put on her winter mittens, she tore down half her roof for use as bedding – nothing worked, she remained frozen, numbed, chilled to the bone-and-marrow in the pitch-black dark.
“Blast this endless shadeshine into blisters and splinters!” she spat. “Hey up there, old sun’s-shadow – can you take a break, give me a moment to warm up? You can take turns with the sun, eh?”
But the sun’s shadow was too happy to hear her, too busy looking at all the world around and below it to pay attention. Scal the sorry yelled at it for three days before she gave up and nursed her voice back to herself with some tea made from frozen leaves and desultory fumes.
“A warm I’ll need, but not a sunwarm,” she grumbled. “Best to go asking. I’ve got friends, I do, and I’ll see them right.” So she pulled out her left hand – just for a moment, for it was perishing-cold – and chewed the right nails for just the right amount of time in the right way. Scal the sorry was a crow then, and she flew around for hours and minutes and days asking and talking.
“Grow more fur,” said the animals.
“Or thicker bark,” recommended the trees.
“What is ‘cold’?” asked the mountains.
“Splosh-swissh,” said the ocean.
Scal the sorry grumbled herself nearly hoarse. “I am sorry to bother you with my anger,” she complained to a passing raven, “but I have asked every birch-battered thing and creature that floats, hops, jumps, skips, and stands in this little part of the world that is mine and not one little thing knows where one little me could find something to keep herself warm. Are neighbours always this troublesome when your house is out of sorts?”
“If it’s warm you need,” the raven advanced, clicking his beak, “then you should ask a favour of my great grandfather. He found something powerful warm a little time ago, and brought it back in his beak from a faraway man.”
“Then I’ll pay him a visit,” said Scal the sorry, and she did, and she found that the great raven had warmth to spare, warmth from this thing he’d found.
“It’s fire,” he said. “It’s so hot it burns, burns things right up. Now be right careful with it, eh? Be cautious.”
“I am sorry,” said Scal the sorry, picking up a bit of fire in her foot, “but I can only be so careful when my house is so cold.”
“Ow,” she added on the way home. “Ouch. Ow ouch ow ouch ow ow ouch ouch ouch.”
The fire was indeed hot, as her tender feet told her, but it looked sure fine right in the middle of her floor. And as Scal found out so quick, hot tea tasted so much better than cold.
“Warm,” she said, “is nice. And this is nice, and this is a proper home now. It was a lot of trouble, but I’m not sorry at all now, not one bit.” And she closed her eyes, and sighed, and slipped away to sleepland.
And as Scal the sorry lay napping, she slept so safe and so happy that she didn’t hear her tree complaining at her, poor thing. It had been scorched to thirst, and then it had been darkened to starvation, and now it was too warm, too warm. Dry as a torch and dead all inside, poor thing, it would have asked for an apology if Scal the sorry had been awake to give it. But she wasn’t, so it couldn’t, and the best it could do was bear its death with dignity, poor thing. Trees are used to such things, and used to silent suffering.
Because of this, the moment Scal woke up was when her house hit the ground, and a good thing too – the embers were sliding up her legs and trying to make nests in her armpits.
“Ow!” she repeated, yelping. “Ow!” She stamped and spun and rolled and ran and tumbled down hills and it took three whole days for her to put herself out, by jumping into the sea.
By then her house was just a big firepit, and long-burned-out when she made her way back to it.
“A pity,” she sighed. “And I am very sorry that this didn’t work. But on the whole, I think that maybe houses are too much trouble for me.”
So she spent her days down by the seashore once more, and forgot about most of her problems.
Though she did remember the trick with the tea. That was a good one.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.