Lost & Found

By Elizabeth Garner

A treasure trove of folk tales by Elizabeth Garner

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

90% & The Whole Of The Stolen Moon

It's been another busy week in Lost & Found land!  Absolutely delighted to have made the 90% milestone today.  We really are at the final twist and turn of the Long Roads now.  Thank you so much for travelling alongside us - and please do continue to share news of the book to bring us home safely...

In celebration, I am sharing the full text of Stealing The Moon - I gave a fragment in an earlier update.  This is one of the first tales that I wrote and is a real favourite of mine. At the heart of it is the well-known Folklore motif of the fallen moon and those who try to catch it.  You can still find 'Moonraking' festivals celebrated far and wide today. 

I have put good old Trickster Jack in control of the action - and he does indeed feature in some recorded versions.  Then with a nod to Chaucer, I expanded the characters of the 'fools' who get drawn into the well.  It's a favourite when read aloud to children (I have tested it!) It also feels like an adult cautionary fable for our time...

This tale, set alongside Johnnie He Not (see update 29th May) shows the range of tone and content of Lost & Found.  They also both demonstrate techniques and motifs that we will be working with in the Finding & Keeping workshop.  I hope you enjoy!

Stealing The Moon

Jack was down on his luck. He had not a penny to his name. His boots were battered to breaking, his coat was worn thread thin. His pack was empty – he had no tools with which to ply an honest trade and all that he had to defend himself from the thieves and vagabonds of the long roads was a blunt butterknife poking through a hole in his back pocket.

As he walked the lanes of the village that fresh Spring night the full moon was shining above like a great silver coin and Jack felt that even the sky itself was mocking his plight. But the more he thought upon this, the more his wits sharpened.

He came to the village green, with the wide-walled well set at the heart of it.  Then there was the inn, with laughter and singing drifting out of the open window on the warm breeze. Jack pushed open the door and walked across the threshold.  The room fell silent and the faces that turned to him were faces of men he knew.

There was the fat Farmer, with his sun-scorched skin. Slung across his back was a cattle-rope and he had his boots propped up against the hearth.  Beside him sat the broad-backed Woodcutter, with his keen-bladed axe leaning against his chair.  Beside them was the Soldier, standing straight and stern, in his smart red jacket bedecked with medals and with his sword hanging handsomely at his side.  Leaning across the bar, haggling pennies for the price of a bottle of brandy, was the Merchant in his fine long coat, fitted with too many pockets to count all fixed with gleaming gold buttons.  Beside him stood the broad-bellied Bishop of the Lands who had folded his sermons of sobriety back inside his Bible for the evening and was filling his goblet up to the brim with wine that was as red and rich as the ruby set in the  golden band of his Holy Ring.

“We want none of your trouble tonight Jack,” said the Innkeeper. “Full and fair payment before you set a foot further.”

“It’s not trouble I’m bringing,” replied Jack. “But opportunity.” 

Then he turned to the assembled company and asked them if they had ever given any thought to how the stars were placed in the sky and what caused them to shine so bright?

“How else but by the hand and the will of The Almighty Himself?” declared the Bishop.

“Without question, Your Worship,” said Jack. “But do you have knowledge of the exact material that Our Good Lord, in his great wisdom, chose to forge the stars from?”

The Bishop muttered into his goblet some words about the infinite mysteries of the Heavens.

“As Old Mistress Henwife told it to me,” said Jack, “I now tell it to you. The moon is made of silver and when it turns from full to thin, that is the hand of God breaking pieces from it slice by slice and scattering them across the firmament for our delight.”

As Jack spoke, the Farmer thought of all the skies that he had laboured under through every season and every hour.  He brushed the mud from his boots. “There’s sense in that,” he said. “I’ve seen with my own eyes, how the stars shine brighter when the moon’s on the wane.”

Then Jack told of the great wonder he had witnessed.  How that very night he’d seen the fat full moon slip from its fixing and come crashing down into the village well.  He told how if he could only find one strong man, brave and true, who would be willing to help him, they could haul the fortune of the fallen moon out together. Then they could take it to the Blacksmith to break on his anvil. Then they would share their winnings out even and they’d both walk away with pockets full of silver.

Before another man could say a word in either favour or protest, the Farmer was up from his seat with his cattle rope in hand and striding out of the door with Jack running after.  They came to the well and the Farmer was wrapping the rope around his waist and holding the other end out to Jack. Just as the Farmer was about to pitch himself over the edge, Jack turned and whispered in his ear.

“Those are fine and heavy boots you have,” Jack said.  “A strength on the land, but a weakness in the water.  Take care, my friend.  Wealth in the pockets of a drowned man is no wealth at all.”

Greed is a blindness.  The Farmer unlaced his boots and set them aside. Down into the well the Farmer went, slipping and cursing.  Jack held the end of the rope tight in his fist and he waited.

“There’s a fortune here sure enough,” called the Farmer. “But the moon is stuck and I haven’t the strength to lift it.”

“Sit tight,” said Jack. “I know just the man we need.”

He tied the end of the rope to a nearby tree-stump and he went running back to the inn with the Farmer’s demand.

As Jack spoke, the Woodcutter thought of all the timber he had cut and fashioned, from the hazel poles of the shepherd’s crook to the broad oak beams of the great hall of the Lord of the Land.  “There’s sense in that,” he said. “A fat full moon will sit heavier on the shoulders than a sickly slice of silver. It wants splitting.”

Before another man could say a word in either favour or protest, the Woodcutter was up from his seat, placing his axe in his belt and striding out of the door with Jack. They came to the well, with the Farmer bellowing up at them from the belly of it. 

Jack untied the rope from the stump and just as the Woodcutter was setting it around himself, Jack turned and whispered in his ear.

“That’s a smartly sharpened axe you have,” Jack said. “ Why risk the rusting of it? I’ll warrant that a man with your strength can break apart a sheet of silver with fists and feet alone.”

Pride is a blindness.  The Woodcutter unhooked the shining axe from his belt and set it aside. Down into the well the Woodcutter went - as swiftly as a stone dropped from the hand of a child to test the depth of it. The splashing and cursing doubled. Jack held the end of the rope tight in his fist and he waited.

“There’s a fortune here sure enough,” called the Woodcutter. “That moon broke easy.  But now there’s nothing but argument about how to carry it up.”

“Sit tight,” said Jack. “I know just the man we need.”

He tied the rope to the stump once more and he went running back to the inn with the Woodcutter’s complaint.

As Jack spoke, the Soldier played with the golden medals on his chest. He thought of all the honours that he had won in every corner of the Kingdom – and how none of them were for kindness. “There’s sense in that,” he said. “It takes a certain strength of character to command the uncouth and the unruly.”

Before another man could say a word in either favour or protest, the Soldier strode forward. He had one hand on the hilt of his sword and the other on Jack’s elbow as he marched him out of the inn. They came to the well and the tree-stump beside it. The Soldier sliced through the knot with a single swipe of the sword and Jack caught the quick run of the rope as it was released.  The Soldier grabbed it from his hand and he was setting it about Jack’s own waist when Jack turned and whispered in his ear.

“It is an honour to be under your command, Sir.” Jack said. “No man standing before you could doubt your authority. But consider the deception of the echo cast by well-stone and water.  I fear that if you issue orders from above then your voice will assume a weakness that it does not possess.”

Vanity is a blindness.  The Soldier praised Jack for his astute assessment of the terrain and accordingly considered him a man worthy to be entrusted with the safekeeping of his sword as he set it aside.

Down into the well the Soldier went with slow, steady steps of stealth and intention. Jack held the end of the rope tight in his fist and he waited.

“There’s a fortune here sure enough,” called the Soldier. “We are swimming in a thousand pieces of silver.  However, these insubordinates refuse to take instruction on how to share it out according to our individual worth and station.”

“Sit tight,” said Jack. “I know just the man we need.” He tied the rope to the tree stump once more, a little taughter and tighter after the massacre of the knot.  Then he went running back to the inn with the Soldier’s dilemma.

As Jack spoke, the Merchant patted down his own pockets. He thought of all the names in all the ledger books that were stacked up on his shelves, and all the percentages set in their margins  Before The Bishop could say a word in either favour or protest, the Merchant stepped up to Jack and pulled out his pocketbook and pen.  "There’s sense in that,” he said. “The ignorant man has a tendency to over-estimate his own worth and indeed the payment that is his due. I would be willing to consult in this matter for a higher dividend of the profits of the moon.”

Jack had been on the long roads and back again enough times by now to know full well that the moment a man starts using 3 long words when a short one would do, there’s trickery in it.  But that night Jack agreed upon the Merchant’s terms and conditions and held the door open for him as he marched out of the inn.  When they reached the edge of the well, the Merchant grew pale and he began to tremble.

“I would take your instructions down there myself, Sir,” said Jack. “And I would do it gladly.  But which man amongst them would obey orders from a ragged ruffian like myself?”

The Merchant nodded and held his arms out so that Jack might fix the rope to his waist.  Then Jack turned and whispered in his ear.

“Consider for a moment, the ruinous nature of the water,” Jack said.  “Your book of credit and calculations will spoil in an instant, as will your fine coat.”

Cunning is a blindness. The Merchant fixed all the buttons of all his pockets, folded his long coat up tightly and set it aside. 

Down into the well the Merchant went, with creeping caution. Jack held the end of the rope tight in his fist and he waited.

He could only be certain that the Merchant had reached the water when the quarrel echoed up the walls to him.  Eventually the men shouted themselves into silence.  Then the Merchant called up to Jack.

“There’s fortune here sure enough,” he said. “And the correct division has been agreed upon.  However, the silver is slipping between our fingers as we attempt the collection.”

“Sit tight,” said Jack. “There is but one man left in the world who might help us.”

He tied the short tail end of the rope to the tree stump, straining to hook it.  Then he went running back to the inn in search of a miracle.  As Jack spoke, the Bishop turned his gold and ruby ring around his finger.  He thought of how his faithful followers knelt before him on his command, forever grateful for bread and wine and the salvation of their souls. “There’s sense in that,” he said. “If God has deigned to bless us with a Heavenly fortune then it will take the hand of the Holy Man to claim it.”

Jack bowed his head in supplication and followed in the wake of the Bishop’s billowing red robes as he strode out to the well. The Bishop did not flinch at all as Jack tried the rope around him.  Rather, he declared how the Good Lord protects his Chosen One and how this world held not the dangers for him that it might hold for the more common man.

Jack turned and whispered in his ear. “There is none more worthy of the favour of The Almighty,” he said.  “But ought you not consider the sacred symbol of your calling?  If the Holy Ring slipped from your finger during the course of your perilous descent, then how might your Authority be understood by the unenlightened?”

More than anything else in the known world it is Power - and the possibility that it might be lost -  that blinds a man.

The Bishop took his Holy Ring from his finger and set it aside, insisting that Jack swore on his own soul for the surety of its safekeeping.  Down into the well the Bishop went, signing hymns of Holy Water. 

He landed with the full force of a cannon ball, the spray soaking Jack to the skin as he peered over the lip of the well, with the last inch of the rope held tight in his fist. He watched the tethered floating congregation paddling around the belly of the Bishop, heads bowed and hands clasped as he bestowed blessings in expectation of riches to come.

“Amen!” called the Bishop as he made the sign of the cross before him.

The Farmer, The Woodcutter, The Soldier and the Merchant all echoed the gesture and so did Jack.

The rope slipped from his fingers and slithered down the wellside like a snake.

Then Jack put on the sturdy boots, placed the axe at one side of his belt and the sword at the other, buttoned the long coat up to the collar, slipped the gold and ruby ring upon his finger and set out.  The smiling moon above lit the road ahead as Jack went on his way, whistling.

And there we must leave the Farmer, the Woodcutter, the Soldier, the Merchant and the Bishop, whose folly blinded them to common sense so that they only saw the world that they wanted to see.  Whether they ever found a way to set aside greed, pride, vanity, cunning and power in favour of the greater good, I do not know.  Perhaps they are down there still, squabbling over a fortune as false as their hearts.

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