Wednesday 11 July 2012

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Tuesday 10 July 2012

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Bennie Blackcurrant and the The Quest for Fear

     Once upon a time in the Springdom of Water, there lived an old couple that loved their son Bennie dearly. The little cottage in which they lived was built in the shadow of mighty Ben Bulben, in the village of Drumcliffe. They had few neighbors, and the couple was very attached to Bennie because their older son Robert had long ago left for America to seek his fortune. So they kept young Bennie home for company. 
          They were sitting together on a winter’s evening, when a fierce storm blew in from the Sea to the North, and the wind blew the door open. Bennie’s mother shook and shivered, glancing over her shoulder as if she expected to see some horrible thing behind her. ‘Go and shut that door Bennie!’ she growled.  “I am frightened.”
          ‘Frightened?’ repeated Bennie. ‘What does it feel like to be frightened?’ 
          ‘Well, just frightened,’ answered his mother. ‘ A fear of something, you hardly know what, hits your heart and mind like a thunderbolt.’ 
          ‘It must be very strange to feel like that,’ replied Bennie. ‘I know what I have to do. I will go throughout the land and seek fear until I find it.’ And so late that evening, after his parents were asleep, Bennie slipped out the door and set off to find fear.
Mighty Ben Bulben
          After walking then climbing awhile he reached the top of Ben Bulben, which seemed like as good a place as any to begin his adventure. At the top of the tabletop mountain, he came upon a band of fierce robbers, sitting round a fire and planning their next attack.  Bennie was cold, so he was delighted to see the bright flames.  He went up to the robbers and said, ‘Hi guys!,’ and wriggled himself in between the men until his feet almost dangled into the burning logs. All at once, the robbers stopped drinking, and looked at him with amazement and disbelief, until finally the captain spoke.  ‘The hardest men in all of Ireland would never dare to come here, even the very birds stay away from our camp, so who are you to waltz in so boldly?”
          ‘Oh, right,’ said the boy casually.   ‘I’m Bennie.  I have left my parents’ house in search of fear.  Maybe you can show it to me?’
          ‘Well for a start, fear is wherever WE are,’ answered the captain.
          ‘Really?  Where?’ asked Bennie.  ‘I see nothing.’
          ‘Tell you what, boy.  Take this pot and some beef and potatoes and whatever you like over to that old churchyard across the lake, and cook us something for supper tonight,” replied the robber.  So Bennie jumped up and cheerfully chose some choice ingredients, and slinging the pot over his arm, ran down the mountain and up the other side of Glencar Lough.
When he reached the churchyard he collected some sticks and made a fire; then he filled the pot with water from the lake, and chopped up and mixed together the ingredients for a lovely Irish stew.  When his stew was ready and perfect, he lifted the pot by the handle and placed it on a stone so he could put out the fire.  Just then a hand stretched out from the grave, and a loud voice boomed:  “IS THAT SUPPER FOR ME?”

          ‘Horse Feathers!  ‘Do you think I would waste food for the living on the dead?” replied Bennie with a laugh.  And giving the hand a pop with his ladle, and picking up the pot of stew, he started back around the lake, past Glencar waterfall, and back up Ben Bulben, whistling all the way.
          ‘Well, have you found fear?’ asked the robbers upon Bennie’s return.

          ‘No, not really’ replied Bennie flatly.  ‘All I saw was a hand that stretched out from the grave, belonging to some dead woman who wanted a free supper.  So I just rapped her fingers with my ladle and said it wasn’t for her, and then the hand disappeared.  Wow, what a nice fire!’  And with that he flopped down onto his knees before it, and so didn’t even notice the befuddled looks on the muggers’ mugs.

          ‘There is another chance for you,’ said one of the poxey pickpockets.  ‘On the other side of Ben Bulben lay a very deep pool.  Go there and maybe if you’re lucky you’ll meet fear on the path.’

‘I sure hope so,’ answered Bennie.  And he hopped up and set off straight away for the deep pool the other side of the mountain.

          Bennie soon came to the deep pool, gleaming in the moonlight, and as he got closer he saw a tall swing standing just over it, and in the swing a little boy was seated, crying his eyes out.
          ‘That’s a funny place for a swing’, thought Bennie; ‘but I wonder what he is crying about.’ And as he hurried over to the the boy a beautiful girl ran up to speak to him.
          ‘I want to lift my baby brother Terry from that swing,’ she cried, ‘but it’s so high above me I can’t reach.  If you would get closer to the edge of the pool, and let me climb onto your shoulders, I think I could reach him.’
          ‘No worries’ said Bennie, and with that the girl climbed onto his shoulders.  But instead of lifting poor blubbering Terry from the swing, as she could easily have done, she pressed her feet so firmly onto either side of Bennie’s neck that he felt in one more minute he would be choked, or else fall into the deep pool beneath them.  So gathering all his strength, he gave a mighty heave and threw the girl backwards.  As she touched the ground a bracelet fell from her arm, and so Bennie picked it up.

          And so turning back to look for wee Terry, he saw that both he and the swing had disappeared, and that the first streaks of dawn were breaking through the clouds and rising over the mountain.

          ‘I’m having this for all my troubles and to remind me of all the adventures I’ve had since I left home,’ he said to himself.  

With the bracelet on his arm, Bold Bennie Blackcurrant began towards the village of Grange, which was on the same side of the mountain, to find something to eat.  As he came to the town centre, an old jeweler stopped him.  ‘Where did you get that bracelet?’ asked the jeweler.  ‘It’s mine!’

          ‘Hogwash!  It’s mine.’ answered Bennie.

          ‘It is not.  Give it to me now or I’ll make you suffer for it!’ cried the crusty old crust.

          ‘OK then mister greedy pants, let’s go before the Judge Gerald in Sligo and tell him our stories.  If he decides in your favour, then fair enough you can have it.  But if he says it’s mine, then I’ll keep it and you can go suck a duck egg.’

          To this the greedy jeweler agreed, and the two went together to the court in Sligo, where the judge was measuring out justice.  He listened carefully to both sides, and then pronounced his verdict.  Neither of them had proved their right to the bracelet, therefore it must remain in the possession of the judge until its rightful owner steps forward to claim it.

          When they heard this, both the jeweler and Bennie looked at each other with the same question on their minds.  ‘Where are we going to find the match to this bracelet?’  But since they knew there was no use disputing the decision, they bowed to Judge Gerald and went their separate ways.

Rosses Point

         Bennie wandered around until he came to Sligo Bay on the northern edge of the Springdom of Water, and then out to Rosses Point.  Way off in the distance was a ship which had hit some rocks and appeared to be sinking while the crew stood on deck with faces as white as death, screaming and waving their arms in panic. 
          ‘Have you met with fear?’ shouted Bennie across the waters.  And they answered all at once, saying “We hit a rock!  Help us we’re drowning!  Help!  Help!”  And so Bennie flung off his clothes and swam way out to the ship where the crewmen lifted him on deck.
          “This ship is rocking so hard we’ll soon be sucked down!  We’ll all die for sure, and we’re terrified!”
          ‘Hand us that rope then.’ said Bennie calmly, and he took it and tied it around his waist at one end and to the mast at the other, then he sprang into the Sea.  Down he went, down, down, down, till at last his feet touched bottom, then he stood up and looked around.  Standing there was Crabby Gabby the Glencar Witch with a face like a frog swamp down in the ditch, and her flabby body all crawling with white crabs.  She was yanking hard on a chain, which she had fastened to the ship with a grappling hook, and was dragging it bit by bit under the water. 
          Grabbing her arms with both hands, he forced her to drop the chain, and the ship above went steady, allowing the sailors to gently float her off the rocks.  Then taking a rusty knife from a heap of seaweed at his feet, he cut the rope from his waist and fastened Crabby Gabby to a stone, so that she could do no more mischief, and bidding her goodbye he swam back to the beach where his clothes were still waiting.

Glencar Waterfall
          Bennie quickly got dressed and walked back toward Glencar Lough until he came to the most beautiful waterfall in Ireland.  The day was hot and he was tired so he walked up the path toward the waterfall and sat down beneath a tree and fell asleep.
          As the sun started down, Bennie heard a rush of wings and a cold breeze woke him up, and raising his head cautiously he saw three black crows dive into the stream in front of him.  They splashed around, shook themselves, and dove to the bottom of a deep pool in the stream.  
          When they came up they were not crows at all, but rather three ugly sisters.  They drifted and swam down the stream and out into Glencar Lough, where they seemed to float on invisible chairs with a table between them made of stone from Ben Bulben.  On the table they put drinking cups made from shells they found on the beaches of Strandhill.  

Glencar Lough
          One of the three sisters filled the cups from a crystal goblet, and was raising it to her wrinkly mouth when her sister stopped her. ‘To whose health do you drink?’ squawked the eldest sister.
          “To the boy who made the stew and rapped my hand with the ladle when I stretched it from the grave,” answered the sister, “and was never afraid as other men were!  But to whose health do you drink?’  
          “To the boy on whose shoulders I climbed at the edge of the pool to rescue Baby Terry, who threw me off with such a jerk that I lay unconscious on the ground for hours,’ replied the middle sister.  ‘But you, my dear sister Gabby, to whom do you drink?’
          ‘Well first of all I just love to drink.  But down in the sea I took hold of a ship and shook it and pulled it until it would have soon sunk,’ said the sister.  And as she spoke she looked quite different to what she did with the chain in her hands and with crabs crawling all over her.  ‘But a boy came along and tied me to a rock.  To his health!’ and they all three lifted their cups and drunk silently in amazement.  As they lowered their cups, Bennie appeared in front of them.
          ‘Here I am you brazen b’witches, the boy to whose health you have drunk; and now give me the bracelet that matches a jeweled band which fell from the arm of one of you.  A jeweler tried to taking it from me but I would not let him, so he dragged me before the judge, who kept my bracelet until I could show him its matching twin.’
Celtic Trinity Knot

The Secret Hall
‘Come with us, then,’ the three sisters cackled, and they led him to a mound at the base of Ben Bulben with a Celtic Trinity Knot made of Japanese Spruce trees upon it.  Then down into a passage and into a secret hall, out of which opened many chambers, each one more beautiful than the last.  From a shelf heaped up with gold and jewels the eldest sister took a bracelet, which was exactly like the one that was in the judge’s keeping, and she fastened it to Bennie’s arm.
          ‘Now go back to Judge Gerald’, she said, ‘and he will give you its matching twin.  
          ‘You three are unforgettable,’ said Bennie, ‘but I’m off like a dirty shirt.  I’m going to fly, sail, run, climb and do whatever it takes until I have found fear on my adventures.’  Then he went on his way, recovered the bracelet from the judge, and resumed his quest for fear.
          On and on he walked, through woods and over streams, all the way to Manorhamilton, then on to Enniskillen where all the streets were so full of people he could hardly pass between them.

          ‘What’s happening?’ he asked a man in the town square.

‘The ruler of this Springdom, King Seamus, has died.  And since he had no children, it is important to choose his successor.  So each morning one of the sacred doves is let loose from the tower over there, and on whomever he lands, that man is our new king.  In just a minute the dove will fly, so watch and see for yourself.”
          “Oh give me a break!” replied Bennie.  “Do people actually believe this stuff?”

          Every eye in Enniskillen was fixed on the tower in the town centre, and the moment that the sun was seen straight over it, a door was opened and a beautiful gleaming white dove came rushing out into the air.  On and on it flew, round and round, until at last it rested on the head of Bold Bennie Blackcurrant.  

          Then everyone in the village cheered, “The King!  The King!” but as Bennie listened to their cheering, a vision, like a thunderbolt, struck his heart and brain.  He saw himself seated on a throne, spending the rest of his life trying but never succeeding to make poor people rich; miserable people happy; bad people good; never doing anything that he wanted to do, not even marrying the strawberry blonde-headed girl that he loved back home.

          “NO!  NO!” he shrieked, hiding his face in his hands.  But the crowds thought he was overcome by the grandeur of the moment and by the throne that awaited him. 

          “Well, to make double sure, let fly more doves,” said the villagers, but each and every dove followed the first, and the cheering became louder than ever:

          “THE KING!  THE KING!”  And as Bold Bennie Blackcurrant bent under the weight of their cheers, a cold shiver like he had never felt before ran down his spine.

          “This is the fear you have searched for so long to find,” whispered a voice, which seemed to find his ears only.  Bennie bowed his head low as the terrible vision once again flashed before his eyes.  And with that he accepted his dismal doom so soon in his young life, and got ready to live the rest of his days with fear right beside him.

The Pin