The Yule Gift
Katla was sitting in front of her shack, waiting for the smoke to clear with her daughter, when she noticed two ravens perched in a tree not far from where they were sitting. At first she thought nothing of it, but after a while it seemed strange to her that they did not fly away. They actually seemed to be watching her ! What she could not decide was whether her perception was correct, or if it was the four horns of ale that she drank that was making her hallucinate.
Suddenly, the ravens cawed three times and flew off startling Katla ! As she followed their flight path across the forest she became aware of a figure off in the distance. It appeared to be a large man wearing a hooded coat. He walked slowly with the aid of a great staff, and he was coming directly towards them.
When the mysterious stranger came closer Katla lifted Hildi up be her arm and guided her just inside the door.
" Stay here and don't make a sound ! " Katla commanded her daughter.
" Do you understand ?! " she added sarcastically.
Hildi hated when her mother spoke to her in such a tone. For she was only blind, not stupid .
" Yes, mother ! " Hildi replied angrily.
Katla stepped forward, away from the hut, and approached the man. She thought it strange that he had not as of yet yelled out a greeting, or made any acknowledgement of her existence. When the stranger was only a few yards away he stopped and pulled back his hood.
" Good day to you ma'am ! I am a weary traveler in need of rest and a meal. " he explained to Katla.
" Will you show an old man some hospitality ? " he added with a nod.
Katla was dumbstruck by the man's features. He had a rugged, but kindly face, long hair that was a greyish white, and a long beard that matched his hair in color. He appeared to be in good shape, and yet he had a bit of a belly on him. If not for the patch that covered his one eye he would have seemed totally harmless.
" But how did he lose his eye ? " Katla asked herself.
" I am afraid that I do not have much to offer my friend, but I will honor you with a meal and a place by the fire for the night. " she told the visitor.
" May I have your name stranger ? " Katla asked.
The stranger smiled as he answered.
" I am called Gangleri . " he replied.
" My name is Katla and I live here with my blind daughter Hildi. Come inside and rest a bit . " she told the stranger as she motioned towards the door.
Gangleri stopped as soon as he reached the door. His senses told him that someone was hiding around the corner. He also could smell the remnants of the smoke that had filled the cabin.
" Did you have a fire in your shack ? " Gangleri asked.
From inside the hut a voice rang out.
" No ! Our chimney is clogged with soot again, and the smoke filled the room. We were waiting outside for the air to clear when you came by. " the voice replied.
Gangleri peered around the corner where he saw a young girl pressed up against the wall of the cabin.
" You must be Hildi ! " the wanderer said with an odd chuckle.
" Yes ! " Hildi replied. " And you best come in so we can close the door against the cold. For without a fire it will become frigid in here shortly. " she added.
Gangleri rubbed the little girls head affectionately, and then turned to Katla.
" I will require a long stick, and a large piece of canvas or burlap. " he told her.
" I expected you to ask for food and drink. Why are you requesting such odd things ? " she asked suspiciously.
Gangleri chuckled again.
" Because I cannot clean your chimney without them ! " he told Katla with a broad smile.
Katla quickly gathered up what the stranger had asked for, before he had a chance to change his mind. She had expected the old man to be another burden for her to bear, but if he was willing to do a little work for his room and board all the better !
Gangleri attached the burlap to the fireplace in such a way that it would catch all the falling soot and not allow it to enter the room. Then the old man climbed up onto the roof, and began to clean the inner walls of the large chimney.
Hildi could hear the man's heavy footsteps on the roof, and the scraping of the rod against the chimney walls. With her acute hearing she could make out each particle as it fell down into the burlap. To most it would have seemed boring to sit and listen to the sounds coming from the fireplace, but to Hildi it was great fun.
Then suddenly, there was a great crash at the top of the chimney, followed by a dull thud in the fireplace ! Katla and Hildi both gasped in horror when they realized that the stranger had fallen down the chimney !
Katla ran over and pulled the burlap away from the front of the fireplace to see if the old man had survived the fall. What she saw through the fog of ash astonished her !
Gangleri looked up at her with his soot covered face and beard, and began to laugh .... an odd infectious laugh !
" Ho, ho, ho ! Ho, ho, ho ! " he bellowed over and over again.
Hildi could not help but laugh along with the old man.
" Are you alright !? " she asked innocently.
" Ho, ho, ho ! I am quite fine little one...... and I believe your chimney is swept clean now ! Ho, ho, ho ! " he chuckled even louder at his own joke.
Katla shook her head and tried not to laugh herself, but the old man looked so comical that she could not help but join him in laughter. It was the first time she had laughed since her husband had passed away.
That night they all slept soundly by a large fire that warmed the entire shack.
- End Chapter 2
- Next : Chapter 3 : The Yule Tree
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2015.