Monday, 29 July 2013
My grandfather has always loved a cup of tea. Well more a glass of tea than a cup. He rarely if ever drank beer. Even though it seems that my ancestors were once Vikings. My grandmother told me once that Granda drank a glass of tea in honour of a great Viking ancestor of his.
"But the Vikings didn't drink tea, Gramma!" I told her.
She straightened in her chair and looked at me sternly. There was something very strong and formidable about Gramma Lise. These days I say she was like a valkyrie ready to ride out to the battlefield, but she was more like an ancient goddess, maybe Elli the goddess of old age.
"The Vikings travelled beyond their own lands my boy," she said firmly, "Even to the distant south lands. There they discovered spices and tea and all kinds of beautiful things that they traded. So they brought tea back to warm themselves and keep their heads."
"I didn't know that," I had to admit, "So what was special about Granda's ancestor drinking tea?"
I had settled on the floor by the fire, seated at Gramma's feet. I knew she could tell a story, but when she told me about family however old, the story was bound to be a good one. I had been left with Gramma while my parents had gone out and I was happy to stay with her. It was cold and wet from all the snow outside, but indoors it was warm and comfy. I had made tea for Gramma and we sat in her lounge with the cat asleep on the sofa and her old dog Fenrir, a wolfhound sprawled on the floor by the fire next to me. His body was warm and his chest rose and fell with his breathing as he slept.
Gramma sat up in her armchair, she was still a tall stately woman, her hair iron grey and her eyes blue as a summer sky.
"Well, if you promise not to interrupt, I'll tell you. You won't believe it like as not, but I'm your grandmother and I do not lie," she said firmly.
I promised and she finished her tea and put the cup down on the table beside her.
"You see in those days, there were all kinds of things in the snows and the mountains where grandfather's - Per's ancestor lived. Per was your grandfather's name and he was the dearest, kindest man and I miss him very much. Anyway, in the evenings back in those days, the men of the village would gather around the fire in the moot hall. A moot hall is where the village elders held meetings to decided important matters. At other times, the men would meet to tell sagas or long stories.
This one time, they sat and drank and just talked. Arne Lindstrom said that he was sure he'd seen a troll going over the mountain near Sarnholm and Per's ancestor who was called Agni laughed and sipped his drink. That annoyed Arne who teased Agni about his drink. Agni was drinking tea from a glass he had bought in Persia the previous spring. Arne said that tea was a drink for children and old ladies. Ale was a drink of men, he said and the other men laughed and looked to Agni.
"Oh I wasn't laughing at you Arne," Agni answered and smiled.
"This 'tea' is a drink for old women, my mother and grandmother like it as much as I do. But not for children Arne, not after all we went through to get it!" he said.
"Well, I'm sure I saw a troll and it's not because I drank too much ale," Arne grumbled.
"Oh I believe you," Agni answered, "I was remembering that time when I was up in the peaks with my cousins in the summer. I had a large packet of this tea with me and my cousins teased me about it. They had brought three kegs of ale with the supplies. During the day we took the goats out to the high pastures and watched over them. In the evenings we brought them into the great barn up there. The goats slept in one half of the barn and we in the other. There we ate our food and drank and told tales.
One evening we were settling to our supper when the barn door flew open and a troll came in. He was barely able to get into the barn so big was he and he had to duck his head to get under the lintel. Of course, we all drew our swords and reached for our spears. Firstly to protect the goats and then to protect ourselves.
The troll sat in the doorway and grinned,
"I'll make you a bet," he says, "If any of you can make me so drunk I fall over, I won't eat you. If I make you drunk so you fall over, I get to eat you."
At first there was angry grumbling among my cousins but I quietly took my packet of tea and told my cousin Aelfrid to use the small cauldron and make the tea. I had to tell him how, but he looked at me in astonishment so that I had to laugh.
"Trust me, make the tea and serve it in my Persian glass," I told him.
Then I spoke up and said to the troll,
"I will take your bet, but I will drink my ale hot and from my glass cup so you can see that I am drinking it."
The men looked at me in confusion and told me not to be a fool, but I hushed them and told them that I would have my special tea ale and the troll might have their ale. Now they did not know the effects of tea, so they hoped I was sure I knew what I was doing. But they agreed and fetched the biggest of the three kegs of ale. The troll was given a tankard and I took my tea. A tally stick was brought up and the number of drinks would be marked on the stick. All this the troll agreed to. So we sat opposite each other, my cousins behind me and Aelfrid poured my first glass cup of tea. The troll took a tankard of ale and drank. I drank my tea and began to sing the longest song I knew, which was about the wisdom of Odin and his ravens, Huginn and Munnin. The troll found this rather jolly and hummed along as he did not know the words.
After the fifth cup I began to sing louder and to laugh a lot so that the troll would think me a little drunk. After the tenth cup the troll was singing a very grave song about a she-troll who overwhelmed the army of Sigmund Flame-hair and ate the soldiers. My cousins were much afraid by this, but I sang a bright song then about the blacksmith who made the armour of the great Beowulf who it was slew Grendel of the dark waters.
After the twentieth cup, the troll was leaning on the table with one huge hand. I however was forced to pee in a pot. I ate a loaf of fruit bread and had another cup of tea. After the thirtieth cup, the troll went outside briefly and made a torrent that flowed like a river in full flood down the mountain. It hissed as it went and trees burst into flame as the flood touched them. Then he too sat down, and took another cup of ale. Now my cousins were quietly preparing their bows and setting their arrows down in front of them, but beneath their cloaks.
The fortieth cup had the troll groaning and breathing heavily, but still upright. Now I felt full and I believe both the troll and I could have done with a snooze, but still we drank on. At the fiftieth cup, the troll was swaying like a half-chopped tree. I got up to pee in another pot. I ate another fruit loaf and Aelfrid poured me another cup.
We had been drinking through the night, the troll and I. At the fifty-fifth cup, the troll put his tankard down and swayed dangerously. My cousins moved further behind me but I smiled to myself. I was still very sober, but the troll looked as if he could weep tears of ale. As he straightened up, the morning sun came up and it's rays warming the troll suddenly turned him to stone. For a moment we sat in shock. There was a rumbling sound and the stone troll crumbled and fell back down to the mountainside followed by a clear spring of water that gushed upwards and down to the valley below.
I put my cup down, rushed past the remains of the troll and was violently sick. My youngest cousin Brani thought it amusing to bring me a cup of water from the new spring to wash my face and to my surprise the water was good and fresh and pure. I was brought back to the barn and put to bed.
When I awoke the goats were out at pasture and only Brani was with me. I ate a good breakfast, drank some water and went out with Brani to the pastures. I was teased in good nature by my cousins, but they none of them have teased me about drinking tea ever since. After all, it protected them from being eaten by a troll. Still, it took me a while before I could drink a good cup of tea again!" he said with a smile.
The company laughed and they broke up and went home after. Arne and Agni walked home together and when they split up to go their separate ways, Arne asked with a smile,
"At least with us you only had to drink five cups not fifty-five," he said.
Agni laughed and nodded.
"Yes, much better not to drink so much," he said.
"So you see," Gramma said to me, "that is why Per used to drink tea from a glass."
The door opened and Fenrir raised his sleepy head.
"Hallo!" Mama called out.
"Put the kettle on, would you," Gramma answered with a wink at me.