Chapter 2: Ellen the Harold - Part I
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Well, what a perverse little world this is. I certainly didn't imagine this is what I'd be writing when I sat down in my little chair. As strange as it is, though, it makes a kind of sense, in a way. Ok, neither of us are buying that, but I encourage you to stick around, if only for the reason that you've come this far and might as well stick it out to see what happens.
The day after Himelforth Monk-guy's vision of prophecy, the hamlet of Himelforth had worked itself up into a frothing tizzy. The old monk was insistent that the girl, who had become known as Ellen—whatever that meant they thought—be taken to the Abbey, Riley's holy house atop Mount Geriatris.
Himelforth Thumb-twiddler, one of the village elders, would have none of it. He, along with many of the other Himelforths, thought that absolutely no good could come of leaving their hamlet of Himelforth and venturing through the dangerous and unknown province of Himelforth to then enter a completely foreign and unknown country which didn't sound at all like Himelforth, to reach some bear-goat den at the top of a mountain.
It was with a heavy heart that Monk-guy finally resorted to appealing to the baser instincts of his fellow Himelforths. He reminded them that the Abbey was likely full of food from offerings across the region, along with the newly abundant crops that surely had sprung up elsewhere. Much discussion was had in the cramped space of Monk-guy's hut. But the not too subtle odor of growing bread-farts, owing to their unrefined digestive systems tackling the flaxseed from their gifted buns, slowly encouraged everyone to vacate the hut. They quickly agreed that it was all in their best interest to go to the Abbey and attempt to barter the Ellen-child for food.
Straws again were drawn to see who would escort the child. Though, after several false starts owing to numerous bathroom breaks, the village unanimously decided that they would all go together, as none trusted the other to safely deliver their share of rewards. Everyone except Hinklefister, however, because no one liked Hinklefister, who himself was still ignorant of the Ellen-child's presence in the village.
Together they went to Himelforth Pigwhistel's hut to send a message to the Abbey ahead of their departure. Himelforth Pigwhistle was named as such, being that he was the only Himelforth in town who had been well enough off to have afforded such a luxury as a pigwhistle, the primary form of communication throughout the continent. He was initially disappointed, as he wanted to be known as Himelforth the Rich, but grew to accept the name upon learning that the word "pigwhistle" had become synonymous with "wealth" in this particular hamlet.
Similar occurrences were sprouting up from other places across the continent. Glimpses of Riley and miraculously abundant crops had been reported from many other villages and towns, but Himelforth was the only reported sighting that also included a bespectacled bowl-cut moron as well as such a sustained visitation from the Makers of Food himself.
The usually dismissive church pigwhistle operator was decidedly more dismissive since the Abbey's single pigwhistle, housed in its personal quarters, was being overwhelmed by numerous calls to confirm the divinity of ongoing events. After a few exasperated hems and caws, the people of Himelforth were curtly told they could bring the Ellen-child to the Abbey, if they had to, and briefly relate the miracle they witnessed, which the operator highly doubted had even occurred.
Cheers erupted from the Himelforthians, and what ensued next was the chaotic scramblings of greedy peasants, eager for their prize. The majority of the afternoon was spent packing up what little the villagers had, which one would think would be quite quick, but in reality, it proved indiscernibly difficult to decide which favorite small rock one should bring or how many handfuls of dirt one should stuff their pockets with.
If it seems like I'm being rude, just remember that these people ate cats and shunned a man for his non-homogeneous name. They really aren't the best of people. And speaking of Hinklefister, a brief note was left scrawled into the dirt for him, asking him to mind the village while all the Himelforths were away on a "vacation," along with a stern warning not to use the civic center bathroom, as that was only for chamber of commerce members. Though, as none of the Himelforths really knew how to read or write properly, what was actually left behind was nothing more than some smudgy stick-pokings in the ground.
With bindles packed to the brim, the people of Himelforth ventured from their hamlet. Chattering rose and fell around the procession as the roving band of peasants talked over each other excitedly to discuss what each thought their prize would be and how they would use it. Himelforth Monk-guy, the only Himelforth who actually knew how to get to the Abbey, led up the head of the party alongside the small Ellen-child, who alternated between skipping, hopping, and tripping.
Along the way, they made a few off-the-path excursions to view some of the more enticing tourist traps. For most of the villagers, it was their first-ever trip outside of their little hamlet, and they took every opportunity to explore. Ellen, who didn't really know who she was with or where she was going, was still somehow pleasantly excited to be along for the trip.
Their first stop was to see Himelforth's Largest Himelforth. Some among them lamented loudly that if only they still had their famous cat dog stand and their one-of-a-kind wedged bread buns, their Himelforth could be just as much of a draw as this Himelforth and just as much of an economic competitor in the region. Ellen wasn't exactly sure what she was supposed to be looking at, but "oohed" and "aaahhhhed" along with the rest. (Ellen is a very agreeable person after all, as I'm sure you'll come to find.)
As the Himelforths took advantage of the free camping that Himelforth's Largest Himelforth provided them, along with its complementary outhouse (which was in fact just a toppled tree trunk, though it did have a rather respectable view of a flowing stream which ran under it, and then down through several Himelforthian villages), Ellen and Monk-guy enjoyed a chance to speak as the others in their party bickered over who would sleep where and which one of them would hold their reserve bread awkwardly over the fire to toast the buns.
"Ellen, if I may ask, why do you wear your hair like that?" Himelforth Monk-guy leaned forward on the old stump upon which he sat.
"Like what?" Ellen asked in earnest.
"Well, like a bowl. It's not usually regarded as the most fashionable of hairstyles, nor usually for children."
"Oh, I dunno. I've never really done anything to it. I like it, though," Ellen said while tousling her hair back and forth with a squinty-eyed smile. "Why do you wear your hair like mine?"
Himelforth Monk-guy reached up to touch his own hair, equally as cut into the shape of a bowl as Ellen's, though decidedly less impressive. "Well, it's a symbol of my faith and of my order."
"Order?" Ellen asked with wide, blank eyes.
"The Order of the Geriapolean Monks of Riles-bad. The most divine faith of the land under he who is the bringer of food. All monks wear their hair like this."
"But why?" Ellen queried.
"This haircut symbolizes the giving nature of the bowl, a simple and yet powerful object. From it, we draw out our generous nature, so that we might help others in Riley's good name," Monk-guy smiled and then continued in more detail after noting Ellen's somewhat dumbfounded expression.
"The Abbey, Riley's good house, is the historical source of agricultural production. Aeons ago, the first monks grew food there, and it was with the bowl which they gave that first plentiful gift in. Since then, the Abbey has spread its knowledge of agriculture far and wide, and still to this day, helps manage many of the production fields which the people rely on. Which many have claimed is a bad thing, too much power and such, and of course, the lasting famine. But it is our haircut which I am reminded of in conversations like that. The upended bowl, every monk is reminded by his haircut, to give, more than he receives, even when there is so little."
The older man paused to pass his share of bread to Ellen with a smile to accentuate the point.
"So if you guys know how to grow food, why has there been so little?" Ellen asked as she pinched off a piece of bread with slightly crooky fingers.
"We don't know, it's a mystery, really. We've done nothing different since the first days of harvest, and yet, famine has stricken the people many times, though these last few years have been harder than any I can remember. Which is why you are so very important, Ellen."
"Huh? I'm important?" Ellen somehow looked even more confused than before.
"Of course you are! You're The Harold, Ellen!"
"The who? What's that? My name's… Ellen, isn't it?" The child asked as if she had suddenly become unsure if that was indeed what she was called.
If by chance, or more likely classical education, you think this is just a misspelling of the word and or title “Herald,” be assured it is not. It is, in fact, a man's name I am referring to, which will be addressed in time (and if you spent more time enjoying the story rather than critiquing its grammar, you might find that you enjoy its contents a bit more).
Himelforth Monk-guy let out a deep bellied laugh (and a small bread-fart) at Ellen's confusion.
"Of course you are ‘Ellen,’ but you are also 'The Harold,'" and just as the little girl's eyes began to cross, he continued. "The Harold of Riley was the founder of the Abbey and the city of Geriapolis. It was from him that we learned all about Riley and his good work. The Harold taught us how to farm, brought us together in large cooperative communities, and showed us how to identify the difference between a stone and a small rock. And it was foretold that The Harold would return again in a time of great need and that we would know him by his description through ancient lyrics."
The old man beamed at Ellen for a moment, before closing his eyes and tilting back his head to sing a soft, rhythmic jingle into the night.
"Riley's return, a flaxen bun,
A golden crown, the cresting sun,
A turtle's neck, weathered and fun,
Stirruped in purple will ride the Harolded one,
As through a mirror, see yourself and know they have come."
Ellen stared up at the waning moon for a few moments while contemplating the ancient song, her little mouth silently forming the words thoughtfully. She lightly touched her turtleneck sweater and kicked her stirrup pant legs out in front of her. "Well, this is just what I've always worn, it's nothing special, just comfy."
"And that's why you're The Harold, Ellen. That's why it's you."
Several days later, they came upon a village claiming to have the World's Oldest Still-Living but Actively Dying Himelforthian. Their entry fee included one free group question, which Himelforth Thumb-twiddler was elected to ask.
"Great renowned one, what should we ask of the church as a reward for bringing their Harold?"
In which the World's Oldest Still-Living but Actively Dying Himelforthian replied, "Betwixt two trees, lies the roots of both."
This was met with, "hmmmms" and nods, but none actually knew what it meant. (Of course, being the world's oldest Himelforthian, he was deranged and extremely ill, making him a poor source of wisdom and advice. But who knows, we'll see.)
As they finally transitioned from the country of Himelforth and into the greater dominion of Geriapolis, the lively and adventurous Himelforthians quieted down, and their trek grew solemn. Complaints began to replace conversation as they found unknown and suspicious features within the landscape.
"Look at those weird trees, they're too green."
"And those birds, they fly funny."
"The clouds here are much too puffy, not nearly enough gray."
"I'm not sweating enough, the breeze is cooling me off too fast!"
Instead of finding excuses to stop and explore, as they had in Himelforth, the party found excuses to keep going, even forgoing sleep for several days, as they were sure that the ground was far too suspicious to rest on, owing to the fact that of course it was called "ground" and not some derivation of Himelforth.
It wasn't until the group was forced to pass by Dorsendrooble's Smallest Stinksqual Swamp, which was wedged in the shape of a stretched rectangle in the middle of the road, that some mild form of appreciation grew for things outside their comfort.
This miniature ecosystem had been discovered by the road builder, Dorsendrooble. Seeing the importance in preserving such a wonder, he decided that rather than build through it, he would build around it. Several years went by before it was officially listed in Niktay and Splendache's Wildly Renowned Travel Guide, which was much appreciated by those lucky enough to be published in its pages as Spendache and Niktay were far too kind to give any establishment or destination a rating of less than three stars. Dorsendrooble, upon the listing, had it bronzed and displayed on either side of the swamp to bring notice to what others now knew was a wonder worth taking a moment to enjoy.
Splendache and Niktay's Wildly Renowned Travel Guide
Dorsendrooble's Smallest Stinksqual Swamp:
"A quaint take on a larger geographical feature. Viewable from the road and the
comfort of your snooterwagon. Definitely worth a look."
While the Himelforthians didn't actually stop for any period of time, their gaze did linger on the tiny Stinksqual Swamp a bit longer than they would have normally been comfortable with giving anything outside of Himelforth.