By BARRY VAN-ASTEN
It was a cold and frosty morning as Pegamina left the grove and the poor lifeless body of the man who loved the sea, as she went in search of Doom Hall. ‘It’s true’ she thought ‘we are so much paper in the wind!’
As she walked along a narrow track that wound through the woods, shaded by overhanging boughs, she could see, beyond the trees, a hillside covered in stone figures. And by a low stone wall she stood and gazed at the desolate and forlorn sight, for she knew that they were memorials to those that had once lived. Now, ancient and broken, they stood like a petrified city of the dead, nestling among the trees. And so she turned and hurried on, for she did not want to see those great white reminders of life’s short passage!
After walking a little distance she came to a great gateway. It was the biggest gate she had ever seen! Two large stone pillars rose into the air, and two very tall and imposing iron gates hung from them, depicting various forms of mythological beasts. And above the gates Pegamina read these simple words in almost hushed tones: ‘Doom Hall’. Just then, she heard a noise from beside one of the pillars. It was a sort of grumbling sound, for her attention had been so fixed on the images on the iron gates that she had failed to notice a great big sleeping bear resting against the stone with its arms folded across its huge belly!
‘What’s this?’ boomed a deep and frightening voice.
Pegamina was so startled that she stepped back, for the bear was so very cross at being woken.
‘I’m sorry if I woke you, really I am!’ Pegamina said to the fearful bear.
‘Sorry! I’ll make you sorry!’ growled the bear before his head fell to his chest and his eyes closed.
Just then, a bee settled on his nose, thinking him some strange and exotic furry flower and the bear woke once more and in his angry, fearful voice he said: ‘Still here?’
But Pegamina was so afraid that she could not answer.
‘Do you know what happens when bears are woken?’ he said, rolling his eyes and yawning at the same time.
‘No, I’m sorry I don’t’ said Pegamina, timidly.
‘Then I shall tell you...’ and the bear began to tell her the story of the boy and the bear:
‘Once, long ago, there was a boy. A very kind and courteous boy, for he was always very polite and he always stood up straight! Every evening, this kind little angel of a boy would go to the woods and lay a fish before the sleeping bear for his supper. And every night, a bowl of warm milk was placed next to the bear, for when he should wake and feel thirsty. The boy did this from spring to spring for seven years, without fail, and the boy and the bear became real friends, as far as boy and bear can be! One day, as the boy was placing the fish beside the bear, he accidently trod on the bear’s paw and the bear woke, terribly annoyed and howled with pain!’
‘And what did the bear do?’ asked Pegamina.
But the bear did not answer; he just rubbed his huge belly and licked his lips! And Pegamina was so afraid that she ran and ran, as fast as she could!
‘What an unusual...’ but before the bear could finish his sentence, he had fallen fast asleep again!
And when Pegamina stopped running and looked back towards the gate, she could see the stretched out bear, deep in sleep with his arms folded across his belly once more.
Further on down the lane, Peg’s curiosity began to grow as to what lay beyond the great stone wall of Doom. It was such a high wall; it seemed to reach into the sky, making it quite impossible to know what was on the other side. Not being able to find another entrance, she sat down for a moments rest and thought about the man who saw the sea in the woods. ‘He must be a very cruel Lord’ she said to herself. Just then, a voice seemed to sing above her: ‘Doom shall fall! Doom shall fall!’ it said, and looking up, Pegamina could see a large raven on top of the wall, looking down at her.
‘Was that you I heard speak just now?’ shouted Pegamina.
‘Doom shall fall! cwarrr!’ repeated the raven.
‘I don’t know about that, but I do know that I should like to be on the other side of this wall! Is there another way to get in?’ But the raven did not answer and flew down to the ground and walked around Peg in a very noble manner. After it circled her several times, it stopped before her and spoke:
‘Pity the raven
On the wings of death,
Where winter’s beak
Can draw no breath!
Soars high to the heavens
And out of the sky –
Pity the raven
For even death may die!’
And after uttering these words, the raven hopped and spread its wings and flew into the air, leaving Pegamina rather confused. But it wasn’t long before the raven returned and with it were a heron and a stork. Before Peg could say a word the heron had gripped her left arm and the stork took hold of her right arm. And the raven took hold of her long hair, and very soon, all were rising into the air! Pegamina looked down and she could see the trees becoming smaller and smaller. She could not imagine such things, not even in her dreams, and so, feeling afraid, she had to close her eyes! Then, all of a sudden, she found herself upon the ground, feeling very cold. And as she opened her eyes, she could see that she was sitting in the snow, on the other side of the wall. She looked up and saw the raven the heron and the stork, all flying in different directions, yet still she heard the strange words returning in the wind: ‘Doom shall fall!’
She stood up and looked around at the white landscape. ‘How peculiar’ she thought ‘that snow should only fall upon this side of the wall’. It was a very beautiful garden indeed, like a magical wilderness with its snow-covered trees. ‘How very enchanting’ she said. Not knowing which way to go, for there were no footpaths, she decided to walk along an avenue and see where it would lead her. She stepped quickly over the snow and eventually came to a picturesque garden grotto, with a circular pool and a stone statue in the centre. And there, beside the pool, sat a very old man with his wrinkled face reflecting in the water.
‘Good day to you sir!’ said Pegamina courteously.
‘By the ways’ replied the old man.
Not understanding, Pegamina began to walk away until the old man said:
‘sit down, come’. And Pegamina sat beside the old man, though she did not know whether to be afraid or not.
‘And what wants you here?’ the old man asked, staring at the statue in the pool.
‘If you mean why am I here, it is because I wish to see the Lord of Doom!’ she replied. And the old man bent his head and scratched his whiskered chin as he laughed to himself.
‘Lord Doom? he won’t see soul nor eyes of anyone!’ he said.
‘But it’s of great importance!’
‘Maybe, but look you, his Lordship sees no one!’ And here the old man shook his head, almost separating it from his neck. And after a pause he looked at Pegamina and said:
‘And what name is it you carry?’
‘My name is Pegamina’ she said.
‘That’s not a name known to me’ he said, scratching his head.
‘Grudge, the gardener, that’s me’ and he pointed to his nose.
‘Pleased to meet you and I must say this is a very beautiful garden; you must work extremely hard!’
‘You should have seen it before!’
‘Before what?’ asked Peg.
‘Before the curse of Doom’ he answered ‘in the radiant days of the garden’s long shadows!’
‘The curse of Doom! Will you tell me about it?’
‘Aye, if your ears be itching?’
Pegamina’s ears were not itching at all; in fact, they could not be further away from itching if they tried, for it was so very cold that her tiny ears were frozen. And so Grudge, seeing that she was shivering, took off his jacket and wrapped it around her as he began to tell her his story:
‘It was a long time ago, when I was a boy’ and he chuckled to himself. ‘I was just beginning my apprenticeship then, and at that time, the present Lord Doom’s father was Lord and a cruel and fearful man he was; no one dared to cross him for he was like a lion, in strength and in looks. Well, to begin, his Lordship had a son named Craven, the present Lord’s youngest brother. Such a strange boy he was. Every minute of the day (when day’s had minutes, of course!) he would spend in the garden, and I would tell him the names of all the flowers, which he so loved. In fact, he didn’t do the usual things that boys do, like climbing trees or playing with little toy soldiers; all the boy seemed to enjoy was sitting here by the pool and gazing at the statue of the stone angel. Well, his Lordship began to worry dreadfully about young Craven, thinking him weak, for it is well known that every seventh son of Doom is born without the wind!’
‘What do you mean, without the wind?’ interrupted Peg.
‘To be born without the wind is to be born a fool!’ And here the gardener began to recite a poem entitled: The Fortunes of the Wind
‘If the wind be blowing from the North
The child will grow up true and strong.
And blessed with honour, shall go forth
To right the wrongs of the wrongs!
If the wind be blowing from the East
Great riches are foretold to follow.
Fine wines and spice make a hearty feast
But gold and silver bring much sorrow!
If the wind be blowing from the South
A child of wisdom here shall grow.
Versed in the arts with a silver mouth
From which sweet songs of love shall flow!
If the wind be blowing from the West
The child shall have clothes and be fed,
For a life of toil is poor at best
When life is waiting to be dead!
But if the wind does not appear
And no boughs bend on the tree;
If no ripples stir and the stream is clear,
Then he or she a fool must be!’
And the gardener continued with his story:
‘It was a beautiful summer’s day; the birds were singing in the trees and all the flowers were at their fullest bloom, making the garden rich in colour and fragrance. His Lordship, deciding not to go riding that day, took a walk in the garden instead and there by the pool he found his son gazing up at the statue. Well, his Lordship was furious with young Craven and thrashed him there and then until he almost died!’
‘Oh what a horrible man to do such a thing for something as harmless as looking at a statue!’ cried Peg.
‘Yes, but no ordinary statue. The legend of the stone angel is an ancient one and goes back many generations of the Doom family. You see, an angel had fallen in love with the Lord of Doom, one of the present Lord’s ancestors long ago. But there was a witch who had also fallen deeply in love with the Lord of Doom, and she was so jealous of the angel, for she was so very beautiful and pure, that she put a spell on her, which turned her instantly to stone. And the witch made her weep for a hundred years, until the pool around her was filled by her tears. Well, young master Craven fell so in love the stone angel that he would make little gifts from the flowers and put them in a paper boat, which he would push out towards the stone angel. Poor Craven, he had quite lost his heart. And his Lordship despaired and grew sadder and sadder, until he would see no one, for little Craven had become his Lordship’s unmentionable son. And so the great wall was erected around the garden of Doom!’
‘And what happened to the boy?’ said Pegamina, anxiously.
‘Poor boy, he lost his mind and his heart to the angel. Then one day, after seeing the stone angel’s reflection in the pool, he leaned over and tried to kiss her reflection and he fell into the water and was drowned! Early next morning, they found him in the pool, as cold as stone with his eyes wide open and fixed upon the statue. And since that day, Doom has been plagued by a terrible curse:
Snow shall cover the land of Doom;
Tears will flow in the pool of gloom.
And within a room, within a room, within a room,
The heart of sorrow has built her tomb!’
And here the gardener stood up, leaving Pegamina gazing at the statue, for in her heart she had not forgotten about her own, sad little ghost and could not help wondering if she would ever see him again.
‘Come’ said the gardener, holding out his large, rough hand. And Pegamina put her tiny hand in his and they both walked over the snow.
The Stone Angel