Sunday, 4 September 2011
Let them eat Eclairs
It was in the last days of Paris when the world's nations had overextended themselves and the economies had collapsed. The result was a contraction and a very sudden invasion of the cities and towns of nature who seemed to claim back what had once been her own. That was not a surprise as such. What was a surprise was what came with nature's invasion. Not merely the flora and fauna, but magical things, wild things. People reverted to living in village communities, sharing resources and being extremely careful in woodland.
Electronics became a thing of the past, an almost mythical past as time went on. We had learned again old ways, but transformed them with what we had learned before. Stories became treasured in a way that had not been known before. Villages had their own storytellers, bakers, herbalist-chemists, engineers and artists. Everyone grew their own crops but the results were shared so that no-one went hungry.
And then the faeries came.
That there really were faeries was a shock to the system. Very suddenly, good manners were essential in the woods. The dryads and faeries, the foxes and crows, all had to be addressed properly and with decorum if you were to keep living. Bad manners were not simply mere rudeness, they were a way of getting yourself killed... or worse.
Clayton village on the edge of the Sussex Downs was small and had contracted around the little church that now served as a meeting place for the village council and the people. The baker of the village was a wise woman who had three daughters who helped in the bakery and also made other foods for the village. It was a hard life for all the villagers but they managed well.
It happened one morning that the baker, Clotilda came into the bakery one morning to find an old woman no bigger than a child's chair standing by the oven shivering. Minding her manners, Clotilda asked if the old woman was hungry.
"I am that," came the reply, "And so very cold."
It being summer, Clotilda was surprised by this and yet hoped that feeding the old woman would warm her, for a full stomach is a warm one. She took fresh bread, good butter and fine honey and gave the old woman a good breakfast. The old woman wolfed it all as if she had last eaten when we used money and bought things. Clotilda then gave her tea which the old woman slurped crudely while her beady eyes like little black berries darted about the bakery kitchen. Clotilda had eaten a little to keep the old woman company and seeing the almost wild look in her eyes realised that she had a faery to deal with. She was exceptionally glad that she had minded her manners.
She took the dough from the cold cupboards and began to knead it to make bread. All the time she spoke to the old woman asking her if she had eaten enough or if she would like more to eat or drink. The old woman ate her way through six loaves of bread, four jars of honey and five large pats of butter. She drank four pots full of tea and having burped loudly with satisfaction she shook her head, thanked Clotilda and left.
Clotilda made her bread and her daughters came to help her a litttle later. They were each very beautiful and quite charming. But most of all they were healthy, strong and hard-working and that counted for a lot in a village where everyone worked to survive. Many of the young men of the village had their eyes on the daughters of Clotilda, but the young women had no intention of marrying for they enjoyed living together and with their mother. They had a cat to keep the mice out of the oast house and a dog to keep the rats out of their house and both cat and dog to keep them all company. That was enough for them.
However, it happened that one morning, when the moon had not yet set and the sun not yet risen that an old man came to call upon Clotilda and her daughters. Politely Clotilda asked him if he would like bread, but he declined the offer. Instead he said that he wished his three sons to wed and they had their eye on her daughters.
"Good sir, my daughters must choose who and if they wed. For my part I only wish their happiness and prosperity for I love them all dearly," she answered carefully.
The old man's green shoes were the colour of holly leaves and his red coat the colour of hawthorn haws. Clotilda realised from this, that the old gentleman was one of the Fair Folk. She did not wish to offend him, but she did not wish her daughters to wed the faeries either. It was far too dangerous and she might never see them again. The old man answered that his sons; Cobweb, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed were fine bonny lads who would bring nothing but joy to any woman, mortal or otherwise.
"Of that I have no doubts good sir, but my daughters have never expressed a desire to wed at all. As their mother I must respect their wishes, but if you would talk with them..."
She left the sentence unfinished for the old man seemed to be thinking suddenly. Then he laughed and told her,
"I wish for a great feast on the morrow before the moon sets and the sun rises. My sons will be there. If the food is to their liking and they cannot finish it, your daughter's shall be free to remain as they are and great happiness and prosperity shall be theirs. However, if my sons can finish the food you make, they shall wed your daughters whether they will or no and there's an end to it Mistress Baker," he said with a very decisive air.
Clotilda knew that there was no choice. You did not argue with the Fair Folk, for the Faeries had the power of the earth, a very ancient and strong power. She nodded sadly and the old man vanished into the motes of fine dust within the early morning sunlight that came through the windows. Clotilda thought hard very quickly, then she remembered something. A wedding that had taken place at Pyecombe some months ago, that she had baked for when their baker was unwell. She called her daughters to her and told two of them to fetch plenty of cream for clotting. The third daughter was to help her prepare choux pastry and a large vat of melted chocolate. The chocolate was not a problem, for the people of the village had created great greenhouses to grow Cacao and from that they made chocolate for the villagers and in a good year they traded it for what they needed from the surrounding villages.
Clotilda and her daughters then cleared the cold cupboards and made only eclairs. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands of them until they filled the cold cupboards and the larders - and the crockery cupboards and still they made them. When the rest of the villagers heard the story, they joined in to help until the village had produced millions of eclairs. Through that day they worked and through the night.
Before sunrise the following morning the old man appeared with his sons. The sons were indeed handsome, yet there was something old and wild about them, like the earth itself. Clotilda and her beautiful daughters brought out some eclairs for the sons to taste. They liked them. Who would not?
"We will have all you have for our feast," the old man said.
Clotilda curtseyed and brought out the eclairs. The four women were very tired, they had stayed awake through the night on hot chocolate, but now they were ready to sleep. Still they bought out trays of eclairs and the faerie sons finished them. Still the trays kept coming and still Cobweb, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed ate them greedily, rubbing their stomachs with great pleasure and complimenting the four women on such fine eclairs.
Slowly the darkness of the night began to fade into a sky that was turning white. Still the gentlemen ate and still the trays of eclairs kept coming. Slowly as the faeries ate they became rounder and rounder, fatter and fatter until the compliments ceased to come and they ate in stolid silence. The old man's brow darkened and he frowned. But still the trays of eclairs kept on coming until Mustardseed fell asleep and vanished into the earth. An hour later he was followed by Peaseblossom and the old man positively trembled with rage. With extreme politeness, Clotilda asked him if he would like some tea with bread and honey. He was about to reply when Cobweb yawned widely and his head nodded sleepily onto his chest. The eclair fell from his hand and he slipped into sleep and vanished into the earth.
The old man growled and he was about to say something very impolite when the old woman appeared and asked if Clotilda had any food and if she might sit by the oven to warm herself. Clotilda answered that there were some eclairs left and with a shriek of rage the old man vanished.
The old woman laughed and laughed. She began to change into a tall and beautiful young woman. Her hair was flaming red and her eyes were green as oak leaves. Her dress was crimson as holly berries and her pale feet were bare.
"Your daughters and you shall always be happy and prosper. No harm shall befall them or you so long as you show kindness as you did to me. As for Monsieur Blackthorn and his sons - let them eat eclairs!" she declared and vanished into the morning sunlight.
From that day onwards, Clotilda and her daughters prospered. Everything they made was fine and beautiful, and they were happy until that inevitable day when they were called away into the Silent Land of death.