I’ve been posting a lot about my “Tales of Twinkle Dingle” stories, but I am also writing another series. It’s a collection of loose fairy-tale retellings set in a highly fictionalized version of viking-era Iceland. Today I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from my work-in-progress, “Out of the Ashes”, which is inspired by an old variant of Cinderella called “The Wonderful Birch.” The story Ásta tells below was inspired by Katla and Odd in Eyrbyggja saga. Hope you enjoy it!
Ásta began, “Once there lived a man and his mother. But they were not ordinary people, no, they were trolls!”
“I thought the mother was a witch!” Eyfura said.
“She is both, you know that from the last time she told the story,” said Eyvǫr. “Now be quiet so Ásta can tell the rest.”
Ásta said, “Eyfura is right, the mother was a troll – and a witch!”
The girls screamed, then they all laughed. Except for Brynja, who twirled the end of her hair as she scrunched her eyes shut. It was difficult enough that her mother was a witch; listening to a tale told so casually about one was almost more than she could bear.
“One day, the witch’s son returned home,” Ásta continued. “He brought with him a dead man, for that is what trolls like to eat.”
“How did the man die, Ásta?” Eyja, the youngest, asked.
“What does it matter?” said Eyvǫr. “The man isn’t important, the witch is!”
“It always matters how a man dies,” said Eydís. “Did he die honorably, fighting the troll?”
“Yes, he did – but the troll got him anyway!” Ásta roared, her hands held in the air as if they were claws. The younger girls shrieked, but Brynja clasped her hands over her mouth, choking back her fright as she willed her racing heart to calm itself.
“What happened next?” asked Eyfura. “Did they eat him?”
“Of course they did,” said Eydís. “That’s what trolls do.”
“Who is telling this story?” asked Ásta, drumming her fingers on the wooden floor.
“You are!” said Eyja.
“Then you all must be quiet so I can finish.”
Eydís opened her mouth to speak but before she could, Eyvǫr put her hand over it. “Go ahead, Ásta.”
Ásta glared at Eydís, and then grinned. “The next day, the man’s kin went looking for the troll. The man had vanished when he went out of their house to feed the horses, and his kinsmen saw the troll’s footprints. The men found where the troll lived with his mother, and also found the bones of their kinsman.”
“Did he die honorably?” Eyja asked.
“You already asked that,” huffed Eydís.
“Are you going to let me finish or not?” Ásta asked.
“We want you to finish,” Eyfura said. “The next person that says anything, except for Ásta, will be fed to a witch!”
Eyja’s eyes grew huge, but she covered her mouth with her blanket. Eydís crossed her arms and stuck her tongue out at her sister. Brynja shivered, then pulled her blanket tightly around herself.
“Ready now?” Ásta asked. When the girls all nodded, she continued, “Knowing he was being hunted, the troll crouched beside his mother, and she covered him in an old goatskin, and suddenly, he changed into a goat!”
Before she could stop herself, Brynja interrupted. “That’s not what witches do.”
Ásta turned around to stare at her, her eyes narrowed. “How do you know, Brynja? Have you ever seen a witch?”
Brynja twirled her hair faster, her heart pounding. Had Ásta discovered her mother’s secret? What would happen to her if they were revealed? Her mind raced as she searched for an answer, while Ásta stared at her silently. Finally Brynja said simply, “My mother told me stories about witches. She never mentioned changing things like that.”
“Your mother tells you a lot of things, Brynja,” said Ásta, “That doesn’t mean all of them are true.”
Brynja just nodded and looked away, hoping the others would forget she was even in the barn.
Ásta snorted, and Eyja said, “Do we have to feed Brynja to a witch now?”
Her sisters laughed; when they were quiet again, Eyvǫr said “Of course not, she is our guest.”
Ásta said, “Are you ready to hear the rest now? Or should I find a witch to eat you all?
Eyja wailed, “I don’t want a witch to eat me!”
Eyvǫr sighed; she opened her arms to her small sister. Eyja climbed into her lap, covering her head with her blanket.
Ásta said, “No one will eat you, but you must stay quiet, I want to go to sleep.”
When none of the girls protested, Ásta continued her story. “The man’s kin could not find the troll, because now he was a goat. But they knew the troll would eventually return to eat the goat as well, so they hid and waited. The mother fell asleep, and the men stole the goat and pulled it out of the troll’s cave. To their surprise, the goat skin fell off, and it became the troll once again!”
Eyja stirred from inside her blanket, but she said nothing. Ásta grinned. “The troll roared with anger, and his mother woke, and chased after him! But it was now daylight and what do you think happened?”
“They turned to stone!” Eyfura cried.
“Yes, they turned to stone, and that was the end of them.” Ásta said. “And now you may speak, Eyja.”
“I am glad the ugly old witch turned to stone,” said Eyja.
Eyfura added, “I am too. I hate cruel witches and their ugly children.”
“Sleep now, girls. You promised.” said Ásta.
“But Ásta, don’t you hate witches too?” Eydís asked.
“I have never met one, and so I cannot say if I hate them or not. If they do cruel things, then I hate what they do, anyway. But I am going to sleep now,” Ásta said. “No more talking.”
But they were not so easily placated. “What about you, Brynja?” Eydís asked. “Don’t you hate witches and their horrible children?”
Brynja squeezed her eyes shut, saying nothing; finally, she nodded.
© 2017 C.C. Naughton.