Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm -PART 2 -
When he obeyed the summons and appeared in their midst, they liked him none the better for his looks. He was long and thin, with a beard that came down to his knee and a face the color of mortar, as if he had always lived in darkness and had been afraid to look on the sun. But there was no help to be found in any other man, so they laid the case before him and asked him what they should do. He answered coldly that he would think the matter over and come again to the assembly the following day to give them his advice.
And his advice, when they heard it the next day, was enough to turn their hair white with terror.
For the sorcerer said that the only way to satisfy the monster was to feed it every Saturday with seven young maidens, the fairest who could be found. If, after three Saturdays, this remedy did not succeed in mollifying the Stoorworm and inducing him to depart, there was but one other measure that he could suggest. But that was so horrible and dreadful that he would not rend their hearts by mentioning it in the meantime.
So on that very Saturday, seven bonnie, innocent maidens were bound hand and foot and laid on a rock which ran into the sea. Then the monster stretched out his long, jagged tongue and swept them into his mouth while all the rest of the folk looked on from the top of a high hill.
"Is there no other way," cried the women, "no other way than this to save the land?"
But the men only groaned and shook their heads. "No other way," they answered. "No other way."
Then suddenly a boy's indignant voice rang out among the crowd. "Is there no one who would fight that monster and kill him and save the lassies? I would do it. I am not afraid of the Mester Stoorworm."
It was Assipattle who spoke, and everyone looked at him in amazement as he stood staring at the great sea serpent, his fingers twitching with rage; and his great blue eyes glowing with pity and indignation.
"The poor bairn's mad. The sight has turned his head," they whispered one to another. And they would have crowded round him to pet and comfort him, but his elder brother came and gave him heavy clout on the side of his head.
"You fight the Stoorworm!" he cried contemptuously. "A likely story! Go home to your ash pit and strop speaking nonsense." And taking Assipattle's arm, he drew him away.
Two more weeks passed, and on every Saturday, seven lassies were thrown to the Stoorworm. But still, the monster lingered by the shore and showed no signs of leaving. So the elders met once more, and, after long consultation, summoned the sorcerer again to ask what his other remedy was. "For, by our troth," said they, "it cannot be worse than that which we are practicing now."
But in fact, the new remedy was even more dreadful than the old. For the cruel queen hated her stepdaughter, Gemdelovely, and the wicked sorcerer knew that she did. So he stood up in the council and, pretending to be very sorry, said the only thing to be done was to give Princess Gemdelovely to the Stoorworm, and then it would surely depart.
TO BE CONTINUED.