from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

When Suzanne and Roger left after the last story they were mysterious about the next one, except that they did tell me to bring along a sandwich. The next morning, when we gathered at Three Palms, we each had a bag with sandwiches, cookies, and a container of milk.

'I took you seriously yesterday,' I said, waving my bag.

'Good that you did,' Suzanne answered as she settled down on to the sand. 'Are you ready?'

'Yes,' I said, 'I'm ready. Which of you will tell this one?'

'We're going to have to share this one.' Roger leaned back as he spoke. 'I'll start.'

***

The next morning, bright and early, Suzanne and I have our breakfast and hurry to brush our teeth. We're dressed and anxious to be on our way. When Mother and Dad are ready we head for the trail. We're are on our way to visit the Little Old Man on the other side of the island.

This Little Old Man is not just an ordinary old man. He's special. He lives in an old stone hut near the sea cliffs. The house is tiny; only the Little Old Man can get into it, and he does that only to sleep or for shelter on rainy days. The rest of the time he sits outside and children come from all over to sit near him and listen to his stories. That's why we're excited this morning. We want to hear one of the Little Old Man's world-famous stories.

The trail across the island is wide and not too long. We get there in time to join a crowd of children and parents who are walking around or sitting on the ground in a half-circle, waiting.

In the clearing, leaning on a cane, is the Little Old Man. He waves us in to join the others and points to an empty space nearby. We make our way to where he points and take our places. Mother and Dad sit behind us. I look at the Little Old Man and understand why he is called that.

He is a small man, and, stooping over his cane, he looks small indeed. On his feet he wears leather sandals. His faded blue coveralls have patches on the knees and seat. A wide-brimmed straw hat is tipped back on his head.

He removes his hat to wipe his head with a red handkerchief. His long white hair is tied in a ponytail, and his wrinkled face is tanned to nut brown. Eyes twinkling, he smiles at the audience. I feel good just watching him.

The people who came to hear his story shift about to get comfortable and I do, too. The Little Old Man's voice is deep as he begins.

'When I was young,' he says, 'I was a sailor and traveled to lands in all the far corners of the world. I have been to strange places, and I have seen and talked to strange people. Listen to me about a strange place, and a stranger adventure.'

He stops, stares out to sea, and rubs his chin, deep in thought. His eyes open wide as he looks back at us as his head turns from one side of the seated audience to the other.

'After you've heard my story you'll decide for yourselves what to believe.'

Putting his wide-brimmed hat back on his head, he lowers himself slowly to a large flat rock. He places his cane on the ground beside him and crosses his legs just as I often do when I watch television. Everyone's eyes are on him; it's very quiet.

'Come with me to lon n n g ago and far away,' he begins in his deep voice. 'We're on a gallant, full-rigged sailing ship crossing a wild and stormy sea. After many weeks, we drop anchor in the cove of a mist-shrouded shore where high waves break against gray rocks. The rocks are huge, black, and jagged, and they line the shoreline as far as I can see in either direction. Beyond the beach is a dark forest.

'We leave the ship in the care of my First Mate and swim ashore. Climbing over the rocks, we dash across the beach into the forest. It is not only a dark forest; it is a dense and drippy-wet forest.

'We cut our way through heavy underbrush for many hours and finally come to a high mountain. Fierce winds roar down the mountain slopes, and swirling mists twist and churn in streamers across the mountain's slopes.

'We climb and we climb, until we reach a pass close to the peak. Now we must lower ourselves by ropes along a steep cliff. The base of the cliff is hidden by a blinding snowstorm. Reaching the bottom, we are in a deep gorge. The snow and the winds disappear, but there are other dangers ahead.

'We string a rope bridge across a wide, swift river. On the other side rise dense and wet forests of twisted trees and dripping, slime-covered vines.

'Tree branches and sharp thorns brush against us from both sides as we push our way through. They scratch our faces and arms. Above us the leaves are packed so close together that we cannot see the sky. The mud is soft and squishy under our feet.

'We're tired, but we can't stop to rest. We must reach our destination as fast as we can. There is no time to lose. 'We must rescue our Princess from the Trolls!

'Now you know who we are. You and I are rescuers. We have sailed across stormy seas, climbed steep mountains, crossed deep and swift rivers, and now we are making our way through this strange forest for one reason only: to free our Princess from Trolls.

'Our mission is to return our Princess to our King and Queen who are our Princess's mother and father. They love her and miss her. The Trolls were wrong to take the Princess away from the castle that is her home, and they have no right to keep her.

'So here we are, slithering and stumbling through squishy mud in the deep, thorny, drippy forest searching for the caves of the Trolls.

'From far off in the distance we hear heavy rumbling. We're close.

'Up ahead is an open space filled with huge boulders. We know that the Trolls for whom we're searching make their homes in caves hidden among such boulders.

'We move slowly and silently. We must not be caught. Luckily for us, we arrive while it's still daylight. Had we arrived during darkness, the Trolls would have been up and about. You see, these Trolls are awake at night and sleep all day.

'We tiptoe around a huge boulder. Facing us is the darkened opening of a cave. From inside we hear the sound of a Troll-snoring; that was the rumbling. Did you ever hear a troll snore?

'The snoring of one troll- I mean just one troll- sounds like ten locomotives, all working together, pulling long trains up a steep hill. Ga-a-roar and chlupp, over and over, and then a real heavy phytt-phytt, followed by a high whistling cha-leep.

'We're there, all right. We have reached the caves of the Trolls. Now we must find the Princess.

'Crawling on our hands and knees, looking in all directions, we make our way to the cave from which the snoring comes. Peering in, we see the troll in the half-darkness of the far side, sound asleep. His lips flap as he snores.

'The troll looks almost human, except for two horns that rise from his shaggy head, bristly-wire whiskers, bumpy nose, long pointed ears and no teeth. He looks interesting, but we didn't come all this way to stare at Trolls. We have a job to do.

'We do not see the Princess. We move on. Quietly, not to waken the Trolls, we slip among the boulders, peering into one cave after another. The Trolls are all asleep-that's what we think.

NO SUCH LUCK!

'A pattering noise from behind us. It's different from a troll's snore. Slowly we turn. We see no one. There it is again. Step by step, we move toward the noise. It's coming from the other side of a pile of rocks and boulders.

'Climbing close to the top of the rock pile, we peek through a space into a clearing. There, right there, in the center of the clearing, is the Princess. When we see her, and what she's doing, we know why the Trolls took her away from the castle.

'The Princess is baking bread! That's right, BREAD! Surprised, aren't you? Well, that's what she's doing, and there's no doubt about it. What does that have to do with her being taken by the Trolls? Listen, and I will tell you.

'Our Princess is famous, far and wide, for the delicious bread she bakes. When she's at home and getting ready to bake, people come from throughout the land to sit nearby and enjoy the sight of her at work and the aroma of rising dough. They especially enjoy the smell that spreads throughout the palace and across the fields when her bread and rolls are in the oven. That's not all, there's another reason why people travel to the palace at the Princess's baking time.

'Always, when the bread and rolls are baked, the Princess gives most of them away to the people. The people love the Princess because she loves them, and because she gives them bread and rolls.

'The Trolls must have heard about how well the Princess bakes. They, too, love bread and rolls, but they do not know how to bake. What's more, they're too lazy to even try to learn. The only way they can get bread is to have someone else do the baking for them.

'They also have no teeth and can only eat soft, fresh bread. That's why they took the Princess. They want her to bake soft bread and rolls for them each and every day. That's why they have her and want to keep her.

'And that's why we're here. We've come to this strange and distant land to rescue our Princess from a tribe of bread-and-rolls-loving Trolls who are so lazy they would not even bake the bread they need to feed themselves.

'The Princess doesn't see us. She's working hard, mixing and kneading dough, shaping loaves and braiding rolls, placing loaves and rolls on huge trays, and then sliding the trays into an enormous baking oven. She stops every few minutes to shovel coal into the furnace under the oven to keep it hot, and doing all sorts of other baking jobs. She hasn't time to look around.

'To add to our problem, a troll is watching the princess to make certain that she works every minute and does not try to escape.

'We see the troll guard watching the Princess. He leans against a rock and his back is toward us. The hair on his shaggy head sticks straight up. A big club is beside him. He's our problem.

'Carefully and silently, we climb over one boulder after another until we're above and behind the guard. All-round are sounds of Trolls snoring, and the ga-a-roaring, phytting, chlupping and cha-leeping are so loud that the noise we make climbing down to the ground is not noticed, we hope.

'We're on the ground, sneaking up behind the troll. The Princess sees us. She looks surprised, but knowing who we are and why we're there, she acts as if she doesn't know and keeps working. The troll didn't notice the sudden look of surprise on her face.

'We're only a short distance from the troll. I step on a twig. The twig breaks with a loud 'snap'. The troll whirls around, sees us, and snatches up his club. He screeches, spreading the alarm.

'He sounds like a donkey braying. 'Help! Help!' he screams, and it comes out sounding to us like 'Hee haw! Hee haw!' It really doesn't make any difference how it sounds, we're in trouble.

'There's not a second to lose. We attack; you from one side, I from the other. The troll doesn't know which of us will strike at him first. He turns first one way, then the other. He is confused.

'You dodge in. The troll faces you and lifts his club. I rush up behind him, and as the club swings back over his shoulder I grab it and pull it from his hands.

'Not having anything to hit us with, the troll backs away. We don't want to hurt him, so we let him go.

'You dash to the Princess. She hugs you, then points to a space between two boulders. 'I know a way,' she whispers. 'Follow me.'

'We squeeze between the boulders and see a narrow, twisty trail. 'This is the way,' cries the Princess. 'We must follow the narrow, twisty trail. It will take us past the boulders to the edge of the enchanted, tangled forest. The Trolls are afraid of the enchanted, tangled forest, and we'll be safe from them there.'

'We race along the narrow, twisty trail, around a boulder one way, then around another boulder the other way. We wiggle, wriggle, wind, and even zigzag. The trail is as twisty as a corkscrew. The Trolls know where we're heading, and they try to head us off.

'We're almost out of breath. 'Only a little way to go now,' the Princess gasps. Two more zigs, three zags, a twist and a wriggle and we're at the edge of the enchanted, tangled forest. We look back. The Trolls have stopped. They know they must not approach closer to the enchanted forest.

'The Princess waves good-bye. 'It was wrong for you to take me away from my mother and father,' she calls across to them. 'I want to go back to them and to all my friends and neighbors. Now you must learn to bake bread and rolls for yourselves.'

'The Trolls look very sad as they wave back. We turn and walk into the enchanted, tangled forest.'

***

The Little Old Man picks up his cane, slowly stands, and smiles at us.

'Our perilous crossing of the enchanted, tangled forest is the next part of the story,' he says. 'Everyone rise and stretch. Stamp your feet and swing your arms.' He points to a drinking fountain. 'Have a drink of water if you wish. Then, let's gather again in a little while and I'll tell what happened to us along the narrow, twisty trail that cut through the enchanted, tangled forest.'

(Back) (Index) (Next)

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.