A tale within a tale for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto writing prompt.
“And the stone giant in a fury brought down his axe on the rascally Findbjörn, but he had slipped away and the axe only split the rock in two.”
The guide beamed at the group of school children, expecting to see similar expressions of delight on their faces. Instead they looked at one another and shuffled their feet. Gillie eventually spoke for them all.
“Then what? Stories don’t end like that. What happened to Findbjörn and the stone giant?”
“They went home for their tea,” Jason piped up from the back.
“Nah, they had football.” Ahmed cackled and there was more shuffling and a few guffaws.
Mrs Wilson looked at the guide with amusement, enjoying his confusion. He’d been a pain ever since he’d picked them up from the coach park. Dry as dust and boring as hell.
“G’wan then,” Lisa said. “Finish it.”
“There isn’t any more to the story,” the guide said sharply. “It’s just a legend, not history. It never happened.”
“I know the story.” It was the new boy, Lorcan who spoke. The other kids called him a Gypo, or Tinker if they were being friendly, but gave him grudging admiration because he was good at football and had lovely black curly hair.
“Tell us then,” Jason said, and all eyes fixed on Lorcan.
“Findbjörn stopped running when he got to the forest. Over there.” He pointed. “The giant pulled his axe out of the crack to swing for him again, but he’d split the rock right down to the centre of the earth where it’s molten rock, red and fiery. He’d disturbed the salamanders that live down there and they poured out, roaring like banshees, poured all over the stone giant and wrapped him up in their long tails and long necks until he glowed as red as they were. Then they dragged him down with them to the centre of the earth and the crack closed.”
Lorcan paused and the children looked at him expectantly.
“But it’s open now,” Lisa said. They all looked at the split rock and the shuffling began again. They hung on Lorcan’s words, spellbound.
“Because Findbjörn wouldn’t leave it alone. The salamanders grow jewels. They grow diamonds from raindrops and bits of stars, emeralds from new green leaves, and sapphires from bits of the sky. Where they live at the centre of the earth it’s full of ’em. They eat ’em and spit out the pips. That’s what miners dig out.”
Lorcan nodded. “Jewel pips. But Findbjörn wanted some real gems, the big fat brilliant ones that the salamanders grow in the fire at the centre of the earth. So he got a pickaxe and he tried to open up the crack again.” He paused again. They were all listening, waiting for the dreadful end they could half-imagine. Even the guide. “The salamanders heard and at first they were angry. Then one of the salamanders looked around the fire orchards and noticed that they were low on rubies. So they raced up to the surface of the earth, quick as greyhounds, and they opened up the crack again, and grabbed Findbjörn.”
“To grow rubies?” Ahmed asked uneasily.
“They wrapped their long tails and long necks around Findbjörn and dragged him down back down with them and they didn’t let go until he glowed red as the inside of a fire, and until each drop of his blood had grown into a ruby.”
Gilly asked the question that was bothering all of them now. “So why’s the crack open again?”
Lorcan shrugged and looked at the guide. “It’s just a legend,” he said. “It’s not true. But they say that the crack opens when the salamanders need a bit of sky to grow sapphires, or because they’ve run out of emeralds or diamonds.”
“Or rubies,” Ahmed said and shuffled a few steps backwards.
There was a silence, the wind scattered dead leaves about and they watched as some of them blew over the lip of the cleft and disappeared inside. Mrs Wilson shivered and wrapped her arms about herself. She looked at the sky, then at her watch. “I think it’s time to be getting back to the coach.”
It wasn’t and they all knew, but nobody felt like hanging about any longer. Nobody except the guide. Perhaps because he didn’t believe in fairy stories, or because he had heard, as the children had done, the distant sound of salamanders singing, he went back to the Giant’s Axe-Blow, much later when the centre was closed. Just to have a closer look, he told himself. And if he did, that would explain why he was never seen again.