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Tuesday, 28 August, 2012, 6:35 ( 4:35 GMT )
A Retelling of a Libyan Folktale (2)
1/12/2007 13:13:00
by: Tasnim Elqutait
Long ago, in a far away country where the trees were black and twisted and as tall as mountains, there was a ghoul who lived with her daughter in a castle with no windows but many doors. She was so old her wrinkles were like the rings in a giant tree-stump, and her yellow teeth were as long as daggers.

The path past this ghoul's castle was stony and full of rocks. It was such difficult terrain that when travelers passed by, their horses picked the way so slowly that all the ghoul and her daughter had to do was step out of the cover of the trees and watch as the horse threw off its rider and galloped away in fright.

They could of course have eaten the horses too, but both the ghoul and her daughter had got used to easy hunting, and they much preferred human meat.

The ghoul would chop the head off with an axe and catch the blood in a dish, and her daughter would light the fire. Then the ghoul would pick up the head and open the door of the garden behind the castle.

Beyond this door, there was not a stone in the ground, the soil was soft and crumbly and black as midnight, and strange plants tangled their creeping green coils all along the white and yellowed walls, which were made of row upon row of skulls. Something glittered in each of the empty eye-sockets, and if you came closer you would see that they were full of gold rings and diamonds and necklaces and brooches and earrings.

There had been many new skulls added last winter. And, with the luck they were having, this coming winter would be just as good. The ghoul placed the latest head on the wall of skulls, cackling and rubbed her hands together. Just as the ghoul had hoped, they had that very good luck the very next day, the sort of luck that only comes on a good year. Standing behind the giant black trees, motionless, they listened as the sounds came closer, a great number it seemed.

A thin layer of grey, filmy dust rose up as hooves struck the dead earth, a slow, silent procession of guards. In the center came a woman dressed all in white, and by her side rode a child with a round, solemn face.

As soon as the ghoul stepped out, the horses screamed, and the humans screamed, and the guards bringing up the rear turned and ran. The ghoul and her daughter snatched up the woman and the child and came back with the guards who had been too slow to get away.

With all that horrendous noise, it was some time before the ravens settled back in the twisted branches of the trees.

Far away in the city, Hedaidan was selling his vegetables in the market just like any other day, when he heard about the death of the princess Qurratul Ayn and her son. Quick as can be, he loaded everything back onto his donkey cart and hurried home, and he told his mother how the King had sworn to avenge his only daughter, and her son, the heir to the throne. And then he said: "Mother, I'm going to go take a look at this ghoul. What do you think?"

Now Hedaidan's mother was a very clever woman, and she had taught her son everything he needed to know. He had a good mind, sharp ears and quick eyes, but most importantly, he could run like the wind. Only his donkey was faster. So she did not laugh. Instead, she said, "I have one condition."
"And what's that?" asked Hedaidan.

"Whenever you don't know what to do, you must sit down in the shade to eat and think about the donkey." She pointed to where the donkey was eating. When Hedaidan looked at him, he raised his ears and brayed.

Hedaidan turned back to his mother and said, "You want me to bray?"

"The donkey, Hedaidan,' she said, very slowly, "is a symbol for patience. If you go, you must remember what I have said."

Hedaidan scratched his head, but nodded. "When I don't know what to do, I go and sit in the shade and eat and think about the donkey." He repeated. "Yes," said his mother. "Now you can go."

Hedaidan set off early the next day, with a basket full of bread and olives. He traveled all day eating the olives, and every night he ate a quarter of a piece of bread before sleeping under a tree, and so the days went until finally he reached the forest with the giant trees. It was early in the morning, and the birds should have been singing joyously, but there was not a sound to be heard. When he looked up, he saw only the silent ravens, watching him with gleaming eyes.

Leaving the donkey in the forest, he went towards the castle. Just as he came close enough to touch the slimy grey green stones, he heard the ghoul's low laughter and saw the wall of the skulls.
As he watched, a hand with nails like talons placed a new small head on top of the top row. That was the prince's head. Hedaidan slid back into the trees and climbed up to see inside the garden.
He saw the ghoul with her yellow eyes and dagger teeth, counting her skulls and he saw the jewels glittering in the empty eye sockets.

Hedaidan climbed back down, wondering what to do. He stared at the wall of skulls and then he remembered what his mother had said, and he went back to his donkey, took out the basket and ate ten olives one after the other. When he had done this, he began to think.

Then, he dug a hole, took his food from the basket, wrapped it in a napkin and hid it in the hole. As soon as he had finished, he gathered up some wood, and sat down to make a bird trap. The next day, he woke up early and set off out of the black forest. He rode back the way he had come, until the ground was soft and easy again. Every so often he would stop, take off a ring his mother had given him and put it on the ground, and then he would lie in wait for magpies. As soon as they ventured close, he tugged on a piece of string and the wooden cage he had made slammed down on them.

When he had filled the empty basket with live, fluttering birds, he heaved it back onto the donkey and went back to the black forest. He took the donkey and the basket with him up to the castle, and crept round the back.

The sun was close to setting, and in the garden, there was the sound of the ghoul counting her skulls. Hedaidan took off the basket's lid. A cloud of birds flew out, black and white wings beating in the air, obscuring the ghoul's vision. The magpies flew straight for the skulls, breaking the wall, snatching at the jewels. Hedaidan, as soon as he saw this, came out of his hiding place and as fast as can be - and Hedaidan could run like the wind - he gathered up the skulls into a bag. Before the ghoul had even noticed he was there, Hedaidan had run back into the woods.

The next day, when Hedaidan reached the garden, he found the ghoul with ravens flying round her, walking around the edges of her garden, and watering the ground with blood. Hedaidan clicked his tongue at the donkey, and the nimble footed grey animal bolted right into the middle of the garden, trampling through it.

When the ghoul saw what the donkey had done, Hedaidan shouted: "O ghoul, my name is Hedaidan and I destroyed your garden" and ran back into the woods.

Now this went on for a few days. Every day, the ghoul watered the garden with blood and every day Hedaidan would come by riding his donkey, and take a short-cut through the ghoul's land. Of course, the ghoul got very angry, and she would scream:
Hedaidan, ya Hedaidan
Lao enshedak, shin endirlak?
Hedaidan, o Hedaidan, If I caught you, what would I do to you?
Every day, the same thing happened, until finally, one day, Hedaidan suggested: "Pour glue on the ground to slow me down." So the ghoul did this, and she caught him the very next day. She locked him in a room and every day gave him beans, hoping he would grow fatter. Every day, Hedaidan would pretend to eat the beans when he was really hiding them, and every day, the ghoul would come in and ask: "Hedaidan, have you got fat yet?"
And he would reply: "Not yet, ghoulish, not yet."

One day when the ghoul decided to go hunting, her daughter Shrimita was charged with standing guard outside the door.

Hedaidan called out to her: "O Shrimita, Shrimita, won't you free one of my hands so I can eat the beans easier? That way, I will get fat quickly."

Shrimita, who was not very bright, agreed. The next day, Hedaidan called out to her: "O Shrimita, Shrimita, won't you open the door to let in some air? That way, I will be healthier when you eat me." Again, Shrimita agreed. As soon as the ghoul's daughter opened the door, Hedaidan came out of the r oom, killed the ghoul's daughter, put on her clothes, chopped her up and cooked her. When the ghoul finally came home, she found Hedaidan had gone, and her daughter already cooking. So she asked: "Where is Hedaidan and what are you cooking?"
Shrimata replied: "The answer to one question is the answer to the next."

Her mother was astonished that her dim-witted daughter had managed all this by herself, but she was very happy and sat down to eat the meal. When the ghoul had finished all the food, Hedaidan started singing:
Wakala lahm bintha
Shufi elgasa shin tahta
Eater of her daughter's flesh
Look what's under the bowl
The ghoul raised the bowl and saw the grisly remains of her daughter. Hedaidan laughed and ran away, climbing the tall tree outside. The ghoul rushed after him, screaming:
Hedaidan, ya Hedaidan
Lao enshedak, shin endirlak?
Hedaidan, o Hedaidan, If I caught you, what would I do to you?
So he suggested: "Dig a hole under the palm tree, fill it with wood and light a fire, then throw a rope up here and pull me down into the fire. That way, you'll not only kill me, you'll cook me too."

So the ghoul went and got a rope dug a hole and lit a fire. But when she threw the rope up, Hedaidan quickly tied it round the tree and pulled, so the ghoul lost her balance and fell into the pit of fire herself.

Hedaidan climbed down from the tree, put out the fire, and taking his basket, went to the garden. There, in the ruined garden, he cast 100 olive pits, and straight away, one thousand olive trees rose up out of the earth, with olives green as emeralds.

Other Parts:
Part 1: Sabe'a Sabaya
Part 2: Hedaidan
Part 3: The Fifty-first Wife
Part 4: Patience-Stone and Patience-Knife
Part 5: The Bedouin and the Jiniya
Part 6: Bo Yenan
Part 7: Prince Ali and the Bride of the Sea - Episode One
Part 7: Prince Ali and the Bride of the Sea - Episode Two
Part 8: Buying Wisdom
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