This is the prequel to Tales from the Irish garden and shares the stories of statues we inherited when we bought the house, and for the magic kingdom beneath the Magnolia Tree. The book is also available in Spanish translated by
Olga Nunez Miret
Chapter Eight – The Goose and the Lost Boy by Sally Cronin
A short walk from the magic garden was a lake filled with fish and home to waterfowl of every description. The ducks had lived in peace for many years and had grown old and fat on the luscious green shoots that flourished close to the water’s edge.
Occasionally a goose or two would fly in and rest their weary wings during one of their long migrations between the northern lands and Africa. One bright afternoon a pair of young feathered lovers arrived and settled in for the night amongst the bushes. The female was weak and sick and her mate stood over her as she lay exhausted in the grass.
When the morning sun sent a blush of gold across the blue of the lake, a sorrowful song was heard by the inhabitants of this water world as they awoke from their slumber.
Instead of leaving and continuing his migration, the male goose prowled the lake, honking at any fowl that crossed his path. He was wild with grief and could not leave his mate behind. This carried on for several days until he too became weak with hunger. He lifted himself out of the water to die beside his beloved.
As he laid his weary head upon the ground he heard a goose cry from the other side of the lake. A call from one of his own kind. In desperate need of comfort, he rose unsteadily and slipped back into the mountain cold water. He headed towards the sound and searched from side to side to find the one who was calling him.
Instead of a goose he saw many of the large ducks who had previously annoyed him, clustered around a large animal. He had not come across any humans before, but if he had, he would have recognised the figure as an old woman, in a tatty grey coat, sitting on some rocks just out of the water. She was making honking noises and clucking with her tongue as her entourage of ducks clustered excitedly around her.
Intrigued the goose paddled closer until he could clamber out of the water and hide amongst the crowd of waterfowl. A hand reached out and he stepped back in fear. But hunger got the better of him. The smell of fresh popped corn enticed him closer and he began to eat ravenously and without caution.
The goose was not the only lost soul that was hiding out beside the water. A young teenage boy, who had run from a harsh father, was camped under trees at the far end of the lake. He had been scavenging from the waste bins of the houses in the neighbourhood and also by catching the occasional crawfish. He had seen the old woman coming to this same spot each day with her bag of corn. He had also noted that each time she left there was one less large plump duck amongst the dwindling group.
The boy had heard the heartbroken goose as he had paddled aimlessly through the water, and his own heart had gone out to the large bird. Now he watched from behind an old tree trunk as the old woman cackled and clucked as the corn disappeared into the goose’s beak. The young lad was horrified as he could see that this was not going to end well. At risk to his own safety he dashed from behind the tree and pushed the wrinkled crone sideways. She toppled over and slipped off her perch into the water screaming abuse at her assailant.
He scooped up the goose and turned away from the startled ducks that flapped off in panic. He dare not turn around in case the witch put a curse on him and his heavy companion. He skittered out into the narrow road and raced as fast as his legs could carry him. Up ahead he saw a large black gate with a small gap to the side of it. It was very narrow, but he was half-starved, and if he turned sideways he could just squeeze himself and his now struggling burden through.
The goose was indignant and getting into a right strop. He was totally unaware of the danger he had been in. Or the fact, that if he not been hauled unceremoniously from the feast he had been enjoying, he would now be in a witch’s kitchen with a roasting hot future ahead of him.
Heaving a massive sigh of relief the boy loosened his grip on the goose slightly and the bird turned its head towards a new sound. The lad lifted his face up to find himself staring into the eyes of an enormous lion. The great beast was bedecked with two butterflies, fluttering their wings in the heat of the midday sun.
‘I am a guardian of the secret garden and you have trespassed. What have you to say for yourself boy before I turn you to stone?’
The boy was petrified. He had come from a home where strength had been measured in how many slaps you could administer to a child before they ran away. He closed his eyes and felt sick with fright. He also felt guilty that he had indeed run away, and left his two younger brothers behind to face a similar fate.
The goose wriggled in his arms and the lad looked down at the long graceful neck of this spirited bird. He took a long breath and began hesitantly to tell their story. As the words flowed so did his passion and his determination not to desert another vulnerable creature.
He risked looking deep into the lion’s eyes and as he finished his tale, he imagined he saw a softening in the stern gaze, and even the butterflies appeared to stop fluttering their wings in anticipation.
After a moment the lion nodded his great maned head and told the boy to sit on a stone bench before him.
‘I know of the witch of whom you speak,’ he rumbled. ‘She was blown here across the seas from a place called Scotland many moons ago. I believe she had purchased a new broom and the test flight was not as uneventful as expected.’
The big cat paused as his recollections came back to him. ‘She could not speak the lingo of course and was like a fish out of water over here in Spain. She tried to steal food but the locals around here are handy with their hunting rifles and soon saw her off.’
A long rumbling laugh came from his huge belly. ‘She had a craving for something deep-fried that was a delicacy back in her native city and she decided that crispy fried fairies might make up for its lack in her diet.’ He paused for affect.
‘She came over the hedge one dark night in a stealth attack on the occupants under the magnolia tree when they come out to dance. However one of my eagles who was on patrol spotted the old besom… pardon the pun!’
‘He dived down and plucked the evil crone out of the night sky and flew her fifty miles away to the forest… Unfortunately looks like she has found her way back again.’
The boy and the now quietened goose listened enraptured by the story but were shaken out of their reverie as the lion cleared his throat loudly.
‘Hmmm… well this does not solve the problem… there are only two choices available to trespassers. Go back the way you came or be turned to stone.’ He looked down, not unkindly, at the now quaking pair.
‘Perhaps there might be a compromise but I will need to confer with the other guardians and the Fairy Queen first. I will send out my personal assistants to enquire of the others what your fate should be. They have your story and will relate it on their journey.’
He realised that the two must be hot and thirsty having sat for hours in the baking sun. ‘Off you go now to the fountain of life and drink. Then sit in the shade until I call for you.’ With that he dismissed the pair to a leafy part of the garden.
The boy cupped his hand and filled it with sweet water, offering it to the grateful goose first before drinking his fill. As they quenched their thirst they saw the two butterflies take flight on the journey that would decide their fate. The goose showed no inclination to run from the boy and settled down on his lap as they waited in the shade of the tree.
The butterflies had been given strict instructions about who they needed to contact in the secret garden, but first they stopped off at the eagles station to ensure that air cover would be available in case of a witch attack.
Having established a safe airspace the messengers continued to a private part of the garden where the resident therapist, Dr. Filibuster Buck (who moonlighted in the Stoned Band as the back-up singer) was in a session with Pearly Girl. Anyone who knew the sweet child understood that therapy was necessary due to her constant frustration levels with her stoned band. The seven dwarves, who comprised the garden’s orchestra, were an emotional bunch.
Wiffy never seemed to be happy, Sniffy was still using the sneezeweed and then there was Ditsy, who was as daft as a brush.
Anyway, the butterflies appeared at an opportune moment in the session, and both Doc Buck and Pearly Girl listened with interest and cast their vote.
After leaving Dr. Buck and his patient, the butterflies did a circuit of the garden collecting votes from the various residents, before ending up at the magic magnolia tree. They needed to collect the final votes from the fairy queen, her new toy boy husband and her hundreds of subjects who lived in the roots and undergrowth. It was dusk so they hovered in the leaves until the moon lit the branches and the first fireflies glowed above the pathways and homes beneath them. Before long a court page ushered them into the palace. A place where we humans cannot follow….
In their leafy part of the garden both boy and goose lay asleep in the soft grass… The bird had eaten the tender green shoots and drunk more water and now lay cuddled against the beating heart of the boy. It was the first time since he had lost his beloved mate that he felt safe and he was content.
The boy too had eaten some of the fruit that had hung from the branches above his head, and as he clasped the warm feathered chest against his own, he prayed that they would be allowed to stay together in this sanctuary.
As the moon rose in the sky he heard the flutter of wings above his head and he knew their fate had been decided. He gently cradled the sleepy goose and followed the colourful messengers back to the lion and stood before him quietly.
‘The decision has been made,’ the lion said gravely. ‘The inhabitants of this secret place do not wish to put you at harm from that old witch so have offered you a choice.’
The boy held his breath and the waking goose seemed to understand how important the next words might be for their future.
The lion continued. ‘You can leave of your own free will if you wish. However, if you would like to remain here in safety you will be turned to stone and become apprentice guardians under my tutelage. You will help protect the smaller citizens of this world from evil like the witch and the goose will make an excellent and very loud sentry.’
The boy let out a long sigh and looked down at the goose in his arms. The bird was alone too, and as he had mated for life, he would continue to wander the migration route in solitude. The decision was an easy one. He smiled at the lion who nodded in pleasure.
The two butterflies flew to each side of the pair and the boy felt himself lifted up high in the air.
Gently the two large flying beasts carried the boy and the goose to a ledge overlooking the mountains, under the shelter of a jutting roof with strong stone to the back and sides of them. As the butterflies released their precious cargo the boy felt a wave of peace begin at his feet and spread up through his body.
The goose turned to stone in his arms and the last human thought that he felt was happiness… they were safe and together they would become the best guardians ever of this magical sanctuary.
©Sally Cronin Tales from the Garden 2015
About Tales from the Garden
Tales from the Garden reveals the secrets that are hidden beneath hedges and trees. You will discover what really happens at night as you sleep unaware in your bed. Stone statues and those hidden worlds within the earth are about to share their stories. The guardians who have kept the sanctuary safe for over fifty years will allow you to peek behind the scenes of this magical place. They will take you on a journey through time and expand your horizons as they transport you to the land of fairies, butterflies and lost souls who have found a home here. Fairy Stories for children of all ages from five to ninety-five that will change the way you look at your garden forever.
One of the reviews for the collection.