Elbraith and Verduun’s Golden Apples

Elbraith AnCluin was a mighty warrior among his people. He was a good leader and became chief of his clan, reigning for over thirty years. There was a younger Elbraith however, a man of fifteen who seemed to find trouble around every bend in the road. He is the Elbraith of this story.


Elbraith AnCluin swatted the last of the cattle, driving it behind the protective walls of his village. Looking up, he Verduun1noted the sun was low on the horizon, minutes from dipping below the ridge forming the valley he lived in.

When the cattle were in their corral, he headed for home. Cyril scuffed along behind him, the sound of his dragging leather boots projected his exhaustion.

“You know,” he said to Elbraith, “if the wolf had taken the crippled calf I might have let it go and let myself be beaten for its loss. But no, it tried to take the fine breeder.”

Elbraith smiled weakly, “Yes, and we spent the last hour chasing it and dragging back the calf. I am flat worn out, my friend.”

Cyril slapped Elbraith on the shoulder. “Hear, hear,” he confirmed.

A hundred feet away, Elbraith’s mother stepped from their clay-plastered home. A stray bundle of roof thatching caught his eye and he mentally stored it as a job he would need to do before the rainy season hit in a few weeks.

She saw him, smiled and waved. “You both look tired, like a dog in a room full of cats. Is there a story to tell?”

Elbraith returned her smile. She looked worn but still pretty, ‘hard pretty’ he thought.

“A huge old wolf, tried to steal away with the breeder heifer, the one with the brown spot, center forehead.”

His mother nodded. “Ah, yes, she’ll be a fine cow, and will make fine calves. And you saved her did you?”

“We did,” Elbraith grinned.

Cyril shook his head. “We threw some rocks and chased it off but your son will be making it into a fine battle with trolls and such, I’m guessing.”

Elbraith reached around and grabbed his friend’s cap. “Time for you to head to your own home and not get mine all riled up.”

“Okay, okay,” Cyril said, grabbing at his hat.

“At the cock crowing,” Elbraith said, finally handing him his cap.

Cyril placed the hat on his head, covering his dirty blonde hair, then just as quickly removed it and bowed to Elbraith’s mother. He saluted Elbraith before turning and walking up the street to his own waiting family.

Elbraith followed his mother into his house. A cooking fire of mostly dark red and orange coals, glowed from the hearth and flames danced around randomly.

“Quick with ya, out the back door and wash up. I already pulled some water from the rain barrel. There’s a towel hanging near the wash basin.”

“I’d rather just go to bed,” he said.

“Tish, you get out there and take a quick wash, then come back in here and put some food in ya. There’s time enough for sleep afterward.”

His mother was right, of course, so he washed and ate, then laid down on his mattress and was immediately asleep.


Elbraith awoke to the smell of breakfast on the table. After a quick splash of cool water on his face, a bowl of porridge, two eggs and a thick slab of ham, he headed for the door. His mother was there with his cloth pouch. “I packed you a pie, and there’s some cheese, and a couple apples. You share with Cyril.”

“Yes, Mother,” he said, grabbing the bag and kissed her forehead as he slipped through the door. Cyril was waiting a few feet away and they struck off together.

At the corral, the cattle were anxious to get to pasture and pushed gently at the gate, jostling Elbraith as he attempted to unlatch it.

“Yes, yes, Lilly, I know you want to get to munching the grass but manhandl’n me won’t get you there any faster.”

“And, what if I was to manhandle ya?” a feminine voice said from behind.

Elbraith smiled but continued to work on the knot holding the gate closed. “Sure enough, it does depend on who is do’n the handl’n, Miranda, and if your father heard you talk like that, you’d be pull’n the bellows for him all day, and unable to sit.”

She stepped closer. “Do you think it likely he’d be hear’n me, young AnCluin?”

Elbraith turned to look at the young woman, her bright round face reflecting the new sun off her auburn locks, which shifted slightly under her bonnet with the morning breeze.

“Not likely,” he said enjoying the view. “You’d blind him with the glow around you, and the new priest over the hill would have to be called on to do some healing on him.”

She stepped closer, now a single step from him. “That slippery tongue of yours will see you to trouble one day.”

“I suspect you’re right,” he said taking a half step toward her.

Her eyes widened and she held up a basket between them. “Would you like a cake? I happen to have an extra. It’s sweetened with honey Father earned for hammer’n a notch out of Loren Glen’s sickle.

Elbraith’s smile broadened. Miranda, daughter of the blacksmith, was known to be one of the best bakers around, second only to her grandmother.

She smiled back. “Course I’ll be mak’n a whole other thing when the apple trees begin drop’n their fruit.”

Elbraith tilted his head back and rubbed at the attempt of a beard on his chin. “What could you make with the golden apples from Verduun’s Tree?”

“Paah,” she said, half-laughing. “Your boast’n is getting less believable. First, you could not get to the magic boar’s tree. Second, Verduun himself, who protects the tree night and day, would eat you for …”

She hesitated and Elbraith jumped in on the pause. “Yes, Verduun, the terrible magic boar, would eat me …?”

Miranda placed a hand on her hip. “Well, I was going to say, ‘for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she looked at him, from boots to cap, “but you would only make one meal for’m I think.”

Elbraith slapped a hand over his heart. “Ow, woman, did I deserve that?”

Cyril, coming up from behind Miranda, reached into the basket and removed a small loaf of dark brown bread. “Still warm,” he said, looking directly at her. “Why would you be tote’n around a loaf of fresh bread here at the cattle corral this early in the morning?”

Elbraith’s hand fell to his waist but he kept his eyes locked on Miranda, waiting for her to answer. When her eyes widened, he arched an eyebrow.

The young woman’s face pinked. “Well, I was … err, I had a chore I needed …”

Cyril continued. “Yes, as I thought.” He cleared his throat while dropping the loaf into the woven wool bag slung around his neck. “We have work to do and if you two are done with your … ‘good mornings,’ the lad here and I should be off.”

Cyril reached past Elbraith, tugged on the rope and watched it fall away easily. He swung the gate open and threw a nod to his friend to follow the cattle.

Elbraith saluted Miranda with his cap as he walked backwards behind the animals. “Think about what delicious thing you’ll make for me when I bring you those golden apples.”

“Hah!” Miranda said quickly. “You bring me a golden apple from Verduun’s tree, and I will make you anything you want.”

“Deal!” Elbraith yelled back over his shoulder, tapping his rod against the back flank of a cow, causing it to take a step back toward the center of the road.

Miranda watched him go. She wanted to say more but something in his tone caused her to remain silent and reflect on all the possible outcomes of the day.


The morning’s work continued as it normally did. Move the cattle to the high pasture, be watchful of cattle thieves and wolves, and as they approached the river, watch for bogs and sinks.

Elbraith wrinkled his nose as the smell of swamp gas, traveling on the breeze, came to greet him from his right. He was sensitive to the wetlands ever since he allowed a heifer to sink past her knees in a bog and spent hours trying to remover her. With darkness coming on, he finally sprinted to town for help and eventually removed her with rope, and help from several men, Miranda’s father among them. It was at that point the elders decided Elbraith should have “help” and assigned Cyril to help him.

The day was hot but the last few evenings had cooled. Just last night his mother had said, “Old Man Winter is flirting with us.” The change in temperature caused him to wear a long-sleeved tunic, and toss a cloak over a shoulder as he left home. However, this morning proved winter was taking his time.

Elbraith removed his cap and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He had already tied his long hair up in a knot to keep it from collecting sweat and slapping against his bare neck. From this viewpoint, he could see the tree line in the distance marking Bard River.

It would be nice to find a log, submerged a foot or so in the flowing water close to shore, where I could sit and cool down. Cyril and I could take turns sitting in the river. The thought grew in scope. If we found a beach area, we could water the cattle too.

He placed his cap back on his head and looked over at Cyril perched atop a rock. The older boy’s head was nodding slowly. “Yo, Cyril,” he called out.

Cyril’s head jerked, “What?” He rolled his head up slowly as though he had not been dozing.

“The Bard looks mighty cool today don’t you think?” Elbraith suggested.

Cyril had been around Elbraith enough these last few months to hear the thrust of the real question, unspoken in the other young man’s words. “And?” Cyril asked.

“And, it’s just down the hill a bit, not more than a mile. The cattle could drink and we could cool off. We could eat our lunch in the shade.”

“It’s possible we might find a shallow bank to water the cattle, maybe, one or two at a time, but the farmer, Lusk, came to the market yesterday while Mother was shopping, and said there must have been rains in the mountains because the river had risen, and the current was moving fast.”

“And, what’s your point?” Elbraith said, his voice betraying his annoyance.

“What’s my point?” Cyril looked at his friend recognizing the smile and the gleam in his eye and understanding they would be at the river sooner than later. The only thing he could do now was to strategize on how to keep his job, not get a beating, and keep the cattle unharmed.

“There’s a spit of land, fairly high off the water, about half a mile to the north. Perhaps it is still above the flood, it could be our answer. If not, we move the herd up the brook near the spit, then this evening we can come straight south back to town,” Elbraith suggested.

Cyril was about to object, merely because it was Elbraith’s idea, then stopped, noting it was reasonable and there was a backup plan. He grimaced knowing he was missing some pitfall but then gave in, “Okay, I’m with ya.”

They moved the cattle slowly, and an hour later, they were on a small rise near the Bard River. At the river’s edge a small finger of land stuck out into the water thirty feet. The river had encroached on it, narrowing it from twenty feet to twelve. A mulberry tree grew near the end, providing a shady area.

Elbraith bounded down the hill and out onto the spit before Cyril had a chance to say anything. “You see, a piece of paradise, just for us,” he said, standing at the base of the spit and pointing to the tree at the end. “We could get the watering out of the way, then relax under the tree while the cattle graze this hillside in full view.”

Cyril stood, wondering at their fortune but also with a sense of dread, knowing most of Elbraith’s schemes eventually lead them to misfortune.

Two hours later, the last cow was watered and prodded away to graze the hillside. Her calf, the weak one with the limp, followed slowly behind. Elbraith wondered each day when he went to herd the cattle to pasture, why the poor animal had not died in the night. Perhaps Cyril had better insight on why it should be kept. Perhaps a wolf would see the crippled calf and take it leaving the rest alone.

The calf half limped, half stumbled up the hill to stand by its mother, then leaned over to nibble some tall sedge grass.

Elbraith looked at Cyril. “Time for some food and rest, my friend.”

“Aye,” Cyril said, “let’s stomp down a spot in the shade of the mulberry tree then we can pull out our food.”

Elbraith nodded and an hour later, they had eaten and were sitting with their backs against the tree, half watching the cattle chew cud, or lay in the tall grass, content with the cooler breezes from the river. Two young bulls romped, nudging each other in their play fighting, while the weak calf lay by his mother.

“You know,” Cyril said, half asleep, “its times like these I don’t mind these stupid beasties.”

When Elbraith didn’t answer, Cyril twisted to see if his friend was sleeping. Elbraith sat, staring across the water.

“What river fairy has trapped your gaze?”

It was a moment before Elbraith spoke. “The top of that tree, across the river, see.” He pointed to the canopy of a medium sized tree barely seen over the crest of the opposite bank. “Do those shiny things hang’n in it not look like apples?”

Cyril turned further to get a better look, “Maybe.”

Elbraith got to his feet and padded up the hill, veering to one side to avoid spooking the cattle. When he got to the top of the hill, he called back. “I believe it is the Golden Apple Tree of Verduun, sitting right there, at the top of that hill.”

“Stop your think’n right there, Elbraith AnCluin. It’s that kind of thinking that got me sentenced to be your conscience in the first place.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, strolling back down the hill. “If you are my conscience, it is not overly strong since it helps get me in trouble.”

“Never!” Cyril said, smirking.

“That stray sheep of the Overhill Clan?” Elbraith asked knowingly.

“A poor lost animal in need of a home.” Cyril stated, spreading out his hands.

“If by ‘home’ you mean a spit over your hearth,” Elbraith said.

“Aye, and who was it gave a home to the other half?” Cyril asked.

“Oh, for sure it was my idea, but that’s my point, you were fully involved.”

Cyril looked at the ground for several seconds. “Okay, say I turn my head at your STUPID adventure. What would be in it for me?”

“Well, my fine accomplice, with the loan of your big wool bag, I would bring us both back a half dozen of the most delicious apples in the whole of the land. And while your mother is no Miranda, I have tasted her fruit tarts and wouldn’t throw one away for certain.”

Cyril looked up into the mulberry tree where black birds hopped about looking for ripe berries. “Okay, but here is my final word on it. I am telling you, straight out, do NOT swim across that river and leave your responsibilities, just to impress your lovely back in town. If you do, I will help the counsel whip you bloody.” Cyril held his friend’s gaze for several seconds before a smile twitched at the edges of his mouth. “However, if you succeed, I get half of your haul and nothing will be said,” he finished quickly.

Elbraith’s smile was broad and infectious, and caused Cyril’s smile to spread across his face. “I hear the first, intend to ignore it, and agree to the second.”

“Fair enough,” Cyril said. “Now how do you intend to get across this swollen river?”

“Swim, of course.”

Elbraith walked up river until he found a fallen tree, stretching several feet out into the river. He stripped naked, walked to the end, and jumped in, then began to swim hard.

The current caught him instantly and pulled him quickly downstream. For several minutes, it seemed to Elbraith he was not making any headway across the water but suddenly he looked and saw he was within fifty feet of the opposite bank. At the same time, he noticed limbs of a submerged tree sticking a foot above the water, like the teeth of a giant river monster waiting to eat him. He realized at this speed, if he didn’t make it to shore before he reached them, he might get skewered on their ragged points.

Though it seemed to him his ‘swimming’ was little more than thrashing about like a drowning squirrel, he put more energy into his thrashing but hope left him as he suddenly knew he would not make it in time to miss the wooden spikes.

Thinking quickly, he turned to face the protruding wood, and moved his legs to place his feet first. The fast current pushed him to the limbs and at the last moment, he twisted out of the way of the nearest point. The pain that sprung from his thigh as a submerged limb ripped through his flesh quickly canceled the elation of a successful maneuver.

Elbraith began to swim again and several strokes later, he grabbed an overhanging limb and pulled his tired bleeding body into rushes growing at the river’s edge. He examined his leg immediately. The cut was not the deepest he had but it was ugly and jagged and it would take time to heal.

He grabbed a tussock of dried grass and removed water from the wound and the surrounding skin, then reached above him and flipped a spider from its large web and covered the wound with the spider silk. By the time he was ready to stand, the gash oozed only slightly thanks to the clotting capabilities of the spider web.

“Are ya okay?” Cyril’s voice drifted across the river.

“Aye. A little scratch but otherwise I’m fine,” he replied.

“Well then, go grab our apples and get back over here. The sun is on its downward slide.”

Elbraith got to his feet and looked at the sun’s position. Cyril was right, it was a couple hours past mid-day. He took a step out on his injured leg. It ached but the bleeding had stopped and he decided it would be little more than an annoyance for the short time he would be here.

Since he had not drifted past the spit of land they had eaten lunch on, he knew he had to climb the hill and head down river a couple hundred feet. This was confirmed when he reached the top of the hill and saw the tree standing in the distance. He began walking swiftly but carefully, not wanting his leg to start bleeding.

He looked around and kept his ears open for indications of trouble. His people seldom crossed the river but they frequently saw wolves, bear and other odd creatures on this side of the water. Things that might be drawn to him by the smell of blood, and lest he forget, there was Verduun, the boar, whom reportedly guarded his tree most diligently.

As he walked, Elbraith thought of the legend of the great animal. Though he had never seen it, it was well known to be nearly as large as a bull, only with shorter legs. They believed he had other magical attributes including the ability to place people in a trance and to speak human speech. Some stories combined the two ideas and said he had the skill to weave stories that put a person to sleep. The stories also suggested various outcomes of the beast’s storytelling skills, none ended well for the sleeping victim.

Elbraith continuously scanned the area, watching for movement in the waist high grass. Regardless of the truth behind Verduun’s talents, there were also his less extraordinary abilities that came with his large size and tusks. Not to mention other hazards, like wolves, panthers and bears.

Elbraith closed on the tree, slowing to a walk, then a creep. He now saw there was another tree, a large knurled black pine, probably taller than the apple tree, growing behind it on a steep slope. It had been blown over at some point because its lower half jutted away at a right angle but the upper half grew back towards the apple tree, the limbs of the two trees were close and intertwined at several points.

When he saw the grass begin to thin at the tree line, he crouched and moved slower, as if he was stalking a deer. He saw or heard nothing but the birds chirping and the background noises of the river. He stood and took a better look.

The tree, at least two feet in diameter, stood only thirty feet away. It was obviously home to one or more animals as the grass was flat, and the ground turned up in several places. Never the less, the tree seemed healthy.

Elbraith looked up in the tree and saw birds flitting through the branches. Here and there, gleaming golden orbs dangled from the limbs, the sun reflecting brightly from them.

The apples, he thought.

He hurried to the tree and looked up into the canopy. The lowest limb was barely out of reach. Even if he jumped, he would miss it by a hand’s breadth. He looked to the trunk and noticed a knob, jutting from the trunk three feet from the ground. He walked to the tree, set his foot on the knob and launched his body up, grabbing the limb. As his thigh took the weight of his body, he felt a pull at his wounded leg and grimaced. The initial numbness had worn off and now throbbed in rhythm with his heart. He grabbed the limb and lifted his legs up over the limb, pulling his body up behind it.

At this vantage, he could see the other bank, but he was still too low to see the river. He stood and slipped in something on the limb, nearly losing his balance. Looking down he saw it was blood, from the reopened wound on his leg.

He had little time to think, when from behind he heard the tromping and snorting of an animal. When it finally cleared the grass, he saw it was a huge boar, more than six feet long and weighing several hundred pounds. Its tusks jutted from its mouth several inches on both sides, and though it was a huge wild pig, he noticed it was clean, its teeth even seemed polished and glinted in the late afternoon sun.

When it walked beneath him, it stopped mid-step and sniffed the ground. A rolling growl came from its chest and it held its head up and looked around.

“I smells intruder,” it said in a deep voice. “Except whom, in their right mind, would dare to invade my territory?”

Elbraith decided the animal must be Verduun. How many talking boars could there be? he thought. He slowly pulled the knife from his belt as a crazy vision of him jumping on top of this boar galloped through his brain. The thought was completely insane, though success would make him a hero for sure. What’s more, the huge animal could feed several families if they could haul the huge body back to the village. Fortunately, something clicked in his head and he recognized the evil in his deed and slid his knife back into its sheath.

A drop of blood dripped from the limb and fell next to the great beast. “Yes, I know it’s up there, just as I know each pretty bird nesting in those branches.” Verduun spoke to himself, then tilted its head to the left in a halfhearted attempt to look up. “And is that the sound of a blade being slid back into its sheath? Obviously, this brave hunter has wisdom as well as courage.” The animal plopped on its haunches with a grunt. “What is its name, may I ask?”

Elbraith was silent, though he knew the boar could not climb the tree–or he hoped it could not–he was still panicked and his thoughts failed him.

“Please, there is nothing I can do to ye, as is. Do you see claws on the ends of these stumps?” he held up a foot to display his hoof.

“My name is Elbraith, Elbraith AnCluin.”

“Ahh, the boy from the village, the cattle driver. I have watched ye for several years. My friends tell me you ran off a wolf yesterday, what latched onto that juicy bit of calf.”

“Aye, that was me.”

“Well done, lad.” Verduun paused, and looked around. “Well now, come on down and let us discuss this … situation.”

“What situation?”

The boar grunted several times, which Elbraith decided was a laugh. “Why, this situation.” He nodded his head around. “You are in my tree, on my land. What shall we do about it? It needs to be handled.”

“Could I not simply climb down and be on my way?”

“Oh, come, come. Then you would tell the story of our meeting and how you climbed Verduun’s magic tree and returned with nary a scratch.” He sniffed the air and chuckled again, “Though perhaps your wound is a bit bigger than a scratch. And what would happen …?”

Elbraith began to speak but the boar interrupted him.

“I shall tell you, from that day on, every young man who wanted to test himself would swim the river, sneak onto my property, climb my tree and steal my apples,” he paused and shook his head. “No, no, this would not do. I would get no sleep–always patrolling, always watching, and what fun would that be for me? None!” he said with a snort.

“Well, I tell you now,” Elbraith said, “I will not come down from the tree and be mauled by you.”

“Ah, now, lad, it doesn’t have to be like that.”

“No?” Elbraith asked.

“Well, yes it will be like that,” Verduun said with a sneer, “but I will admit, it’s unfortunate.”

Elbraith sat on a limb, placing his cut leg on another. “So you see my problem.”

“Yes, yes I do,” the animal sympathized. “But, what is the answer?”

“I don’t know, I am thinking,” Elbraith said.

“Ah, thinking. Perhaps if you had done this earlier you would have no need to do it now.”

Elbraith smiled at the poke. “Yes, most likely you are right,” he paused, remembering Miranda, “but there is this girl.”

“What, a girl? Females, paah!” he said with a huff of breath, and slammed the ground with one large hoof, vibrating the tree. “They lead us all to misery.”

“Not this one,” Elbraith closed his eyes, remembering their last meeting and his promise of the apples. “This one is different.”

“Tish-tosh, they are all the same, in every species. Trouble, capital ‘T’.”

They sat in silence for a few moments until Verduun nodded as if he had made a decision and spoke, “All right, grab an apple,” his head tilted quickly upward. “Just one, mind you, and come down.”

Elbraith smiled, grabbed the nearest apple. He stood and moved his foot to a lower limb. “What changed your mind about not harming me?” He stepped lower and prepared to hang off the branch and drop.

“Oh,” Verduun smiled, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t harm you. I decided I wouldn’t kill you.”

Elbraith was lucky his boot caught on the broken stub of a limb. He slipped, lost his footing and dropped to a sitting position on the limb below, his feet dangled above the waiting boar, and waiting he was. He sat directly below Elbraith, his mouth agape with a thick stream of saliva forming on his lower jaw.

Elbraith reached above and grabbed a limb and began pulling himself up. Below, there was a rustle of leaves and he looked as Verduun leapt from the ground, mouth open.

Elbraith yanked his legs up as the boar’s maw snapped shut with a hollow clop. He tried pulling himself higher. His hand slipped and he flopped back down on the lower branch, but before Verduun could gather his legs under him for another jump, Elbraith grabbed the branch, got a booted foot on the limb, and climbed three branches higher into the tree.

“You evil boar, no trusting you now, that’s for sure.”

Verduun shook the animal anger from him, like a dog shaking water from its coat. He paused a moment before speaking. “Boy,” he sighed, “if I do nothing, it will be as I described. I will get no rest and some lucky townsman might manage to skewer me and haul me back to his village. I cannot let you go unharmed.”

“Aye, but you tried to lure me from the tree.”

“Yes, so I could give you a good mauling, take a couple fingers or a hand, then I would have let you go. I may have even dragged you down to the river to aid in your return to the far side. My honor would be intact, and upon seeing your mangled body, others would have thought more than twice about risking it for an apple.”

Elbraith climbed higher and eventually found a wide crotch to sit in. “I understand your situation, wise boar, I do, but Miranda might find the apple little compensation for the mangled body she would have to look at.”

Verduun dropped his head and scuffed at a fallen apple causing several bees to buzz around his head in irritation. “Yes, I see your point. Well, this is a quite a dilemma … for you. Me, I believe I need to sleep on it. Perhaps I will have a better solution after I wake.”

The huge animal sunk to his belly, then rolled over onto its back, feet sticking up. “Now, don’t go anywhere,” he chuckled. He thrashed several times, as if to rub away an irritating bump in the dirt, then was still. It took only a minute more for Elbraith to hear the great boar snoring.

Elbraith sat against the larger trunk and placed his bad leg on a nearby branch, allowing it to straighten and elevate slightly. The blood was not dripping though still shiny. Several brightly feathered finches hopped about on the limbs around him, even landing on his fingers and shoulders with no fear.

“This is a mess,” he told one as it hopped from his hand to his knee and back. The shadows were deepening and he might have little more than two hours before sunset, and three hours before he and Cyril were expected home. By then, however, the wolves would be awake and on the prowl. They may not find him, but the evening breeze would blow the cattle’s scent to them and they would know their prey was not safely in town.

He looked down at the boar, peacefully sleeping, his large porcine body splayed out among the refuse of partially eaten apples, apple cores, and a scattering of animal bones. At least he preferred to think of them as ‘animal’ bones.

Elbraith, now tired of sitting, stood and shifted around to look behind him. He parted the apple tree limbs only to have his vision blocked by the large pine tree. He reached out to pull one of the evergreen’s limbs aside and pulled his hand back, now wet and sticky. He wrestled with the limb, as it seemed to grab him. He struggled to get free while keeping his balance and finally the limb released him suddenly causing him to fall back over a limb. He would have continued down to the waiting pig but his foot hooked under another limb and he hung there, upside down for a moment, catching his breath.

Verduun shifted a little and an eye seemed to crack, though it was hard for Elbraith to tell from this perspective. “If you are going to fall, please have the decency not to fall on me.”

Before Elbraith could pull himself back up, however, he heard the beast begin to snore again.

Once he sat securely, he looked at his fingers. Already the sticky sap from the pine tree had picked up dirt, bark and leaves. He blinked at his fingers, then blinked again and smiled as an idea wandered through his mind.

Two hours later, it was nearly dark. The sun had fallen below the horizon, though the glow lingered and allowed Elbraith to see. Verduun woke, stretched and rolled onto his hooves. “You still up there, my young apple thief? You must be hungry, come down. I am inviting you to dinner.” He laughed at his own turn of phrase.

“No, I am fine, stuffed actually. Thank you though.”

The boar finished his yawn, clopped his mouth shut and stared up into the tree. “A few bits of dried beef, a crust of stale bread?” he asked.

“Oh no,” Elbraith groaned, like he was stuffed, “nothing like that.”

“Really, then what?” The beast was becoming truly interested and fully annoyed as his own stomach began to grumble.

“Oh, my mother roasted some ‘fruit ducks’ my uncle trapped. They are so delicious.

“I have never heard of such a thing, what do they look like?”

“Well, they are small and multicolored. They have the most wonderful flavor … like duck, but also like apple or pear. You don’t even pluck them since their feathers are extraordinarily tasty.”

“Their feathers … utterly outrageous.”

“Oh, and they are filling. I but had a small one and I feel as stuffed as a festival goose.” He sat up quickly and stared down at the animal. “There is this thing that happens, on your first bite, the flavor of rich gravy trickles across your tongue and down your throat. It is wonderful.”

What Elbraith had hoped seemed to happen. As the boar gazed up into the tree, his mouth began to drip in response to the young man’s description.

“And,” he continued before Verduun could speak, “there is this taste that seems to form with the last bite, a flavor or berries and sweat cream.”

“Oh, now, you lie,” the boar grunted.

“Oh, no, it’s the truth. In fact my mother gave me two roasted fruit ducks for our dinner but my friend is not here to eat his so I might just eat it also.” Elbraith rummaged in the bag he had brought to carry the apples, and removed a small, feathered ball.

“Well, you know, had you mentioned this earlier, we might have avoided all of this,” he said, swiveling his head. “I have little patience for thieves, but I have been known to make a deal. Perhaps we could make one now?”

“What, my delicious fruit duck for my foot, or my leg, that doesn’t sound like something I would be willing to do.”

“Well, no, uh …” his eyes shifted to the ground momentarily. “You would give me the fruit duck you currently possess, and if it is as tasty as you say I will let you leave for the promise of five more fruit ducks …”

Verduun finished the sentence, tilting his head away but Elbraith thought he heard the hog mumble, “And your little finger.”

“What was that last part, Lord Verduun?”

“Ah, I said … I, I don’t remember… never mind, is it a deal young thief?”

“Well, the fruit duck only flies to this area once every four years, and they are extremely hard to trap, though my uncle is one of the best fruit duck trappers in our village. I won’t get the taste of another fruit duck for quite a while.”

Verduun rose up on his back legs and brought both hooves down, with a loud thump. “Give me that duck, and you shall get a head-start. If it has the ability to fill one such as me, I will probably fall on my side and sleep.”

“Well …”

Verduun began pawing at the tree, causing it to shake violently with each strike.

“Okay, okay, stand back from the tree while I climb down. Once I am down, I will toss you the fruit duck.” Verduun had backed several feet from the tree. “No, back to the edge of the grass, you said I would have a chance to get away.”

The great boar backed until his flanks brushed against the tall grass at the edge of the clearing.

Slowly, Elbraith climbed down with the fruit duck in one hand. When he reached the bottom limb, he jumped, swinging and dropping lightly to the ground.

“Please honor the bird and my mother’s cooking and do not let this delicate morsel touch the dirt.”

“Yes, yes, get on with it, toss it here,” Verduun said, slurring the last through the buildup of saliva.

Elbraith swung his arm back and tossed the fruit duck. It was an excellent throw and arched through the air directly to the open maw of the great magical pig.

As the boar reached out and chomped down on the fruit duck, Elbraith began to run. He tripped on a root and almost fell even before reaching the tall grass, and reminded himself he would need to be careful in the fading light.

He was half way down the hill when he heard an awful bellow he knew was Verduun. He smiled, knowing his delicious fruit duck was actually a ball of pinesap, gathered carefully, rolled and covered with bird feathers he had plucked off passing birds. He had rubbed it in smashed apple in case the boar had decided to lick or smell it. He laughed, thinking what the boar must have experienced when he bit down on the ‘tender morsel’ and found it to be a ball of sap. And how it must be sticking to his teeth and lips and whiskers. He hoped it would keep the boar occupied long enough to make it to the river, or if it chased him down, it would keep his mouth closed so he could avoid it large maw.

He was a hundred feet from the water when he heard, no felt, the hog’s pounding hooves, accompanied by a horrible wheeze and snort only a few feet behind him. Upon reaching the water, his plan was to simply throw himself in and ride the current downstream. Unfortunately, just before reaching the water, he heard rustling from the left, then the bawl of a young calf.

Elbraith stopped, and in the dim light, the feeble weakling calf from the herd, wandered out of the grass, its eyes showing panic. He had no idea how the calf got to the other side of the river, but it seemed to recognize him and shuffled nearer.

Elbraith had no time left. As the young bull took its first step toward him, Verduun slid to a stop only twenty feet from him, his sides heaving. The young man tried to think of an escape but nothing came to mind. The river was still fifty feet away and the boar could, and would be, on top of him in seconds.

He was preparing to bargain, or plead if necessary, when the boar began to shake. His heavy heaving breaths stopped and he fell over. Elbraith stepped closer and realized the pine sap had not only closed his mouth but some covered his nose. Leaves and dirt stuck to it blocking his ability to breathe, the boar was suffocating.

Elbraith turned to run but something stopped him. He looked back and decided he didn’t have the heart to allow such a magnificent and intelligent beast to die. He ran to the animal, knelt and pulled all the sap away from his muzzle. He stood as the great boar gasped in a long breath.

“You owe me Great Verduun. You owe me your life, and payment will be that I leave your territory with this calf of my herd. Though I cannot promise another wild young man will not bother you in the future, it will not be me. Good health to you.”

Elbraith turned and strode toward the water. He grabbed the calf by one ear and pulled the animal along with him. The calf jerked its head back once and Elbraith’s attention followed it. Though he was not sure, he thought he heard the great boar, Verduun, chuckle weakly.

At the river’s edge, Elbraith found a log floating near the shore and pushed it out, managing to get the calf’s front legs over it. They floated down the river for half a mile before he was able to get the log stuck in among some flotsam.

He helped the calf to shore and they began the long walk back to the village.


Cormack looked at the stars sparkling overhead. The night was cool again causing him to count the number of jobs needing done before the first snowfall. A scuff from the darkness drew his attention to the road running up to the gate. Movement in the shadow caused him to reach for his horn and place it to his lips, ready to sound the alarm. Two shapes formed from the darkness- a man and a calf.

“Who goes there!” he shouted from the other side of the gate.

“It is Elbraith AnCluin arrived back with the missing calf.”

“Ah, this is good news, good news indeed, but to open the gate you know what I must do.”

“Yes, yes, go get an elder but please hurry. I am cold, wet and hungry, and wish to be none of these.” The calf mooed, throwing in his two cents.

Without further conversation, Cormack left his spot and ran into the village to get an elder’s permission to open the gates.

Several minutes later, Elbraith heard a mumbling of voices and the foot falls of several people. “Elbraith?” he heard the anxiety and relief in his mother’s voice.

“Yes, Mother, I’m here, only slightly worse for wear. I found this calf, the weak bullock we’ve been nurturing. Where is Cyril?”

Silence followed, then the bars on the gate lifted and they swung outward for several feet. Inside, stood his mother, Geran the chief elder, and Cormack.

“Come in quick so we can close the gate,” Geran said.

After the gate shut he continued, “Cyril will be fine, with time. He told us how you fought with him when the wolves came, but how the bullock was separated from the herd and you went after it. He said the wolves pushed you back to the river’s edge and you fell in. After that, the wolves attacked Cyril but he drove them off, only losing a finger to a wolf in the fight. When you didn’t come back at dark, we feared you had drowned.”

Elbraith’s mother slipped her arm around his waist. He did the same and hugged her.

“Well, if Cyril is okay, I will leave him to rest tonight and come to visit tomorrow. Perhaps we could give him a day to rest. I will take the herd and promise not to get into trouble.”

Geran and his mother both looked at him.

“What? It’s but one day, what could happen?”

His mother rolled her eyes and Geran laughed. “I’ll think about it,” the village elder said.

Geran left them and Elbraith walked with his mother to their home. When they entered, he noticed a cup and plate already sitting in his spot at the table.

“I never actually thought you were gone,” his mother said, and walked to move the stew pot from the glowing coals.

“Good to hear,” he replied.

He went to his bed. A wicker partition, allowed him to change clothes in some privacy. He sat the bag down on the stool next to the bed and remembered the contents.

“Mother,” he said, speaking through the partition, and grinned, pulling the dirty tunic over his head.

“Yes?” she said, ladling the steaming stew on his plate next to several thick slices of bread.

“How many apples does it take to make a pie?”


“How many apples do you put in a pie?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Mother, I’m tired and hungry, please answer my question.”

“It depends on the size of the pie and the size of the apple, but I would say about six large apples should do it. But apples won’t be ready yet, how about a nice blackberry pie?”

“That would be fine,” he said, and went to bathe and tend to his wound.

The next morning, after Elbraith had eaten, his mother went to milk the cow. When she returned, he was gone, but sitting in the middle of the table was a large golden apple.

She smiled, then frowned and shook her head.


Miranda awoke to the sun lighting up the oiled rawhide window panel. It was a special day because she heard last night Elbraith had returned. She planned to wash, dress and meet him at the corral before he left with the herd. Putting on her finest dress, she stepped lightly down the loft stairs, passing her father’s bedroom, his snores rolled from the room making her smile.

She grabbed her bonnet from the peg and opened the door quietly. Halfway open, several round golden balls rolled in. It took her a few second to identify them as apples, six golden apples. Three had rolled into her house, glowing unnaturally in the dimly lit room, and three still lay in front of the door. A rolled up piece of rawhide lay beside them.

She picked up the note, unrolled it and read the words written neatly in charcoal, “Here are the six golden apples from Verduun’s tree, as I promised. I believe our deal was that upon delivery you would give me anything I wanted. I will discuss this later, with your father. – Elbraith”

She smiled, wiping a tear away, then rolled the note up and held it to her chest.


The sun was up again , and while Cyril continued to recover at home, Elbraith herded the cattle up the hill alone. He spoke to the weak young bullock walking beside him. “An easy day, I tell you,” he said to the calf. “The sun is full, the breeze, gentle and warm … what could happen?”

The herd moved ahead of him slowly. He tapped his rod on a young heifer’s flank to correct its path.

He turned to the bullock, “Have you ever heard of the great eagle Fal’noose? They say her eggs are the size of a baby’s head.” He took a couple more steps. “I have heard her nest is close, only an hour’s journey up the next set of hills.” He stopped to let an older cow catch up, then turned back to the calf, which seemed to have developed a nervous twitch, and eyed him warily. “I wonder what kind of dinner mother could cook with one of those eggs.”

The young calf made a strangled moo and ran off to its mother.

Elbraith watched the calf leave, then looked to the taller set of hills in the distance and smiled, but that is another story.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *