Notes from ‘Rivendale’ #3

Posted: June 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

The farm cohort has considerably increased from last year. Today we have over 24 hens, 14 ducks, two turkeys and about 10 roosters. As the countdown to the shortest day approaches, so we have started to get a few eggs. One hen lay an egg with a paper thin shell yesterday, usually a sign of a new pullet who has started to lay. Another one was tiny, also a sign of a new pullet laying. As it has cost me around $37 a fortnight to feed these animals, getting 2 dozen eggs a day (hopefully) might make it worth it. I have also made money by selling a few ducks, mostly females and a few males as I just can’t bear to kill them myself even if eating succulent duck meat is sacrificed. They look up at me with their cute little faces and I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s a bit easier killing roosters who annoy us with their constant crowing but still, its an unpleasant job and not one I feel good about having to do.

The two new chook houses built last year have withstood high winds and rain and I am proud to say, they have not fallen down or suffered in any way. The hens and turkeys seem happy to live in them and I am very happy when they actually lay in the nesting boxes instead of on the dirty ground. The male turkey, who loves to display his huge fan of a tail and sporting a bright blue face has yet to mate with the female so we have had no eggs, certainly no fertile ones yet from that pair. I hope they are worth their feed. They certainly add some charm to the flock with their eccentric faces and huge bodies. The male, is all  white and we call him Mr T. He has a small patch of black moustache-like feathers in his chest and a dropping red wattle like a tiny trunk hangs down beside his face when he’s displaying. The female is grey and white and we call her ‘Speckles’. They dominate the other poultry and make sure they eat first when it comes to getting a good feed of grain.

My favourites amongst the chickens are the frizzles. We started with a white frizzle rooster and now we have a pure black rooster and a pure white hen. Next cutest are the silkies and we have buff females, a gorgeous golden/ russet rooster  and two pure white roosters all bred on the farm using my incubator and a friend’s eggs. The incubator and brooder have proved their worth and when the eggs are flowing again, I’ll start incubating some more eggs to build numbers and hopefully to sell. The ducks don’t need any help. We have had two clutches of 8 and 14 eggs which all hatched. The bright yellow ducklings are amazingly beautiful and very cute when they all follow their mother in a line. In fact, an amusing sight on the farm is all the, now grown up, ducks following me in a line to be fed at night. They waddle in their beautiful white feathers and plod along slowly. A few, especially the ducks, show off by flying back to the house and trying to get in first for a feed. My poultry give me a lot of pleasure and hopefully will start to produce decent lots of eggs to sell on a Saturday out the front of the farm.

We were coming home late one night last week and turned into our driveway and who should be bumbling along but our own wombat! He’s a big old fellow, thankfully mange free and a tough dirt miner. He’s responsible for a sizeable heap of dirt behind our garage where he’s burrowed into the dirt mound thrown up when the garage was built. When it rains heavily here, the whole burrow fills up with water and then the overflow floods our garage floor. This is a problem as we want to line the garage and use it as accommodation. Someone is going to have to shift this excess dirt thrown up by you-know-who!
Mr Wombat has another four residences on our property. One under a tagaste tree, one near the creek on a bank, one under an old goose house and the piece de resistence is an underground metropolis near our western boundary that’s at least 6 metres down to the entrance with a huge entry of excavated pathways. Sufficient to say, Mr Wombat, had designs on our own house a few years ago when he discovered the door to the underfloor area dislodged and proceeded to start tunnelling under the house. Alarmed, I rang the local ranger who suggested I spread ‘blood and bone’ fertilizer near the entrance to deter him as wombats don’t like the smell. He seemed not to worry so eventually I put down flour and could see if he’d gone in or out. When he was out, I shut the door again firmly and threw some corrugated metal down so he wouldn’t try tunnelling under it.
Despite the flooded garage and the threat to the foundations of our house, we were so proud to see our own wombat. Determined, resourceful, stubborn and expert, he’s a native animal that calls our property his home, so how can we not be happy to live beside him?

Hi all!
Writing is important to me but sometimes life makes you stop and take stock for a while.
The Viking novel will continue when I get back into that groove but at the moment it’s on hold. So I thought I’d write about my small farm, some of the stories that we tell and retell at the dinner table which are usually funny and sad at the same time.
I was offered and took care of two very aged farm animals who had been brought up together, a sheep and a goat whose owner had gone into a local Aged Care facility (Old People’s Home). We had been watching a funny TV series at the time called ‘Summer Heights High’ starring Chris Lilley and his character name was Mr G. Mr G had a dog called Celine whom he taught to do tricks, so we called the old sheep Mr G and the female goat, Celine.
Mr G was indeed very ancient. His legs were like sticks and he was extremely skinny, as old people get too. He had only one tooth left in his mouth but still managed to eat the abundant grass we have here. The kids fed him bread and patted him but he usually just stood around looking old and feeble. Celine was an angora goat whose light and fluffy goat is not really suited to this climate and its extreme weather and storms in Winter. However, I agreed to take them as they had been kept in a back yard and I thought our 4 acres would be like a retirement home for them.
One day Mr G disappeared. I was perplexed because he hardly had the strength to wander far and the kids and I searched thoroughly but he couldn’t be found. About a day and a half later, I was sitting eating breakfast pondering where Mr G might have gone when I had a sudden revelation. Maybe he had fallen down somewhere, but where? I raced out to the paddock, there was only one place he might have fallen into. The wombat hole. Those of you unfamiliar with wombats, they are a short fat furry native animal whose nocturnal wanderings include digging deep holes in our red dirt in sleep in during the day.
Sure enough, there he was, Mr G was head first down the wombat hole with only his hind legs sticking out! Andrew, my son, helped me pull him out. Amazingly, he was still alive. I got water and forced some into him and we pulled him onto his legs. He was wobbly and unsteady but had miraculously survived his ordeal despite his age. After twenty minutes or so he was able to walk. He joined Celine in the chook paddock well away from wombat holes.

The poor old fellow lasted a few more months until he had to get shorn. We put a coat on him but he was so thin, like a white stick insect, but he didn’t last the night. He was happy at least for the six months he lived with us. Celine lived on a month or so longer.

Mark Maker #20

Posted: August 4, 2013 in Uncategorized
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After a time we too climb the hill, pass through a forested path and come upon a hut set in a clearing on the other side of the hill. It has a view of the ocean. I can hear the waves crashing and I shudder. I will slit my own throat rather than go onto that merciless element again. The sun is high in the sky as we approach a turf roofed hut and outbuildings. Ring Man makes me stay and he calls out to the house in his strange tongue. Another man appears at the doorway, a dark-haired younger version of Ring Man. His eyes openly glare at me and run up and down my body as if to say, “This is her!” We walk up to him. Ring man points at him and says: “Valdr” He turns to me and holding his hand on his chest says: “Asmundr.” I catch his blue eyes and deliberately look away as I don’t understand. He repeats the introductions. I repeat the names and he nods, seeming pleased. Then he points at me. I give him the word that means I can walk on the earth’s sods again, “Isla.” He looks at me and smiles again and says, “Isla.” I nod now too and smile at the deception. It is better he does not know who I am. It is better no one here knows. Then I might be safe.
I am prepared for his sexual attention as soon as I enter the hut and see furs heaped on the bed platform. I have learnt these months not to struggle. Fryth fared worse than me because they liked her dark hair better. He goes instead to the fire pit and lifts a rabbit roasting there on a stick and pulls off a hindquarter and hands it to me. The juices drip down my chin as the sweet hot meat fills my mouth. I sit on the bed platform. Valdr is creeping around like a ghost and Asmundr is throwing chests and pails, milk pots and boxes from the floor into a corner. I cannot believe they have not attacked me already. I begin to cry, great sobbing, heaving cries of relief and frustration and loneliness.
(c) 2013 Amundr

‘Finally, finally a moment alone again. I’m sorry, I know it’s been months. She outdoes herself doesn’t she? That was Isla, in the boat. Isla arrived on the island and Asmundr, the man she chooses, Asmundr of the broken jaw and incredulous lack of imagination. Unbelieveable both of them. So ordinary. So cute. Do you really think a slave woman and the strong, silent blacksmith would hit it off so well in such a short time? Come on! They’d be way more suspicious of each other. They couldn’t even communicate with each other! Except, ok, yeah, yeah in the intimate fluid exchange way. Pathetic. In their private little world all cosy and snug in their turf-roofed hut- how sweet! Soon to be all pulled apart in a Viking holocaust. It’s a pity they didn’t snuff out Asmundr and then we wouldn’t have to listen to his drivel. Did you pick up the invisible throat-ripping monster who wiped out most of the villagers? How convenient. Now she doesn’t have to describe him or her. You darlings get to use your imaginations again because she is so bereft of ability. Hahahahahaha. That little weevil, Ragi, the completely gutless wonder who ran to save his bloody sheep of all things, the one Asmundr doesn’t trust , well, let me tell you HE DIDN’T LIE to cover up his yellow-livered cowardice. No. The monster is actually…’ (c) 2013.

Aside  —  Posted: July 4, 2013 in Viking novel
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Mark Maker #18

Posted: June 4, 2013 in Viking novel
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(c) 2013.
Chapter Two.

There is a heavy poison in my guts. The bile rises and burns my throat. My head is heavy on the sacking. People move near me and the movement is a torture. I want them to stop! They pace, they grunt and spew while I am like a flower seed tossed in a massive north wind. My mind struggles to remember why I am here; if it is better here than it was before. How long was before? Did I live any of it? When was my skin last clean? When did I last eat food I did not want to immediately vomit up? But most of all, I want to know what it was I did to come here, to deserve this living death? I scream now and the poison in my guts comes up at last in violent heaves. I splutter and drop exhausted on the decking. Fryth, her face chalk-white catches my eye and murmurs: “Isla, death would be easier.” I smile at her in acknowledgement.
I cannot tell how long we have been heaving around in the boat’s hull, covered by the thin woollen cloaks allowed us. As I sip water, I wonder when my stomach will be still. In between the long sleep of the nauseous, I notice the sky is sometimes blue but most often yellow-laden grey. Yesterday I saw a bird, a thin black bird that flew with a fish hanging out of its mouth. A bird I had never seen before. We are near land and the sailors, our gaolers, are suddenly more urgent in their movements. Arguments banter amongst them. I cannot understand any of them fully, only the word for ‘money’.

Not long after sunrise, the longboat is beached on an island. One of the sailors runs off down the beach and up the hill. We are made stay in the boat so we sleep without the awful motion of the sea. We are yelled at to wake. Mossy rocks and flat green turf is all I notice of the landscape for coming up the beach is a party of men. They are all tall for the most, with blond or dark hair, dressed in cloaks and breeches in varying shades of orange and brown. My eyes squint to see weapons. They have none, not even daggers on their belts. About half are clean-shaven. When they are close to the boat, I notice one man, taller than the others with dark hair and a thin black beard. He has piercing green eyes, a smallish nose, a red mouth. His hands are big but the fingers are tapered and he wears a gold ring on the right one that the sun’s rays have caught for a moment. The flash of sunlight from the ring illuminates the brooch holding his cloak and sets the ruby there on fire. The others, I notice, have such booty displayed as well but none wear it as he does with such confidence.
The captain of our ship, the greasiest of the sailors, yells at us to disembark motioning with his hand. We all, all us women get up and clutch each other to steady our legs. Most trip on ropes or their own feet in our effort to leave this tortuous vessel. I want to throw myself on the sand and not move again. When my feet finally feel the sand beneath them, I splay out my legs to stand still and fix my eyes on the man of the ring and ruby brooch to stop from falling down. There is a flicker in his green eyes. The captain pushes us into a line. Our rag bundles, our only possessions are thrown onto the beach in front of us.
He begins to speak to the party of islanders, pointing at us and raising his eyebrows. He pulls out a leather bag from his shirt and indicates the emptiness of it. The man of the ring steps forward and gives the captain a handful of hack silver, bent and twisted ring money with a few gold coins among it. The captain shakes his head and the Ring Man steps back. He is smiling as he does so. Then the next man steps up and throws his own pile of bullion at the captain. One of the sailors hurries to get a sack and put it before the captain and each of the other eight men in the line now throws their hoard onto the sack. When the last is done, the pile reaches to above his boots. The captain is laughing now, and the other sailors’ eyes are popping with greed. The Ring Man speaks now to the captain and the captain receives his message with great amusement, snorting as he gets the idea, whatever it is. The captain, his black eyes dimmed with perverse pleasure, turns to us women and says one word: “Choose!” He holds his hand flat indicating the men. My ‘sisters’ are confused. I tell them. “We are to choose a man!” They giggle in astonishment. Fryth says aloud, to me, “Isla, it your right to go first.”
I look at the men and stare at their faces, full of lust and the need to appear unperturbed by the circumstances. They stand steady, their shoulders a little straighter than before.
The first man, the Ring Man, stares at me as if to mesmerize me. I stare back at him and frown and for a moment his gaze falters and he looks at the ground. I step forward and taking up my bundle, I walk towards him and reach my hand out to him. He takes my hand in his and we turn and walk back along the beach.

Mark Maker #17

Posted: May 5, 2013 in Viking novel
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(C) 2013
“Ragi, how did you survive?”
Ragi turns as if I have poked him in the back.
“You have no marks at all!”
Valdr is sitting as before and the intensity on his face matches my own.
Ragi stands up and drops the rope he is knotting. He pauses longer than I want. I want to know now. I move menacingly towards him.
“Stop! I hid. I heard them screaming and I ran.”
“Where? Where did you hide?”
“In the caves above the beach.”
“And you stayed there while all of them, even the babes, were massacred!”
Ragi hangs his head. “There were too many. Hundreds of them.”
Valdr speaks now: “How do you know, you ran!”
“I heard them.”
I feel anger rising like a red snake in my belly. “Tell me now what you know, all of what you heard and saw.”
“I was at the north end of the village, returning home after leaving skins for Ingar. I cannot for sure say how but they were inside the village walls before anyone saw them. Gunnar screamed the warning first and the men sought their arms. The women, those outside, turned and ran into their houses and bolted the doors. I had left my sword at home, There had been no need of it. To defend myself, I had nothing. I thought only of my farm and the flock built up from a few weak lambs to a herd worth having. I wanted to save them. So I turned and ran for the back gate and locking it close behind me sought the caves above my beach.”
I am fuming now and want to kill him myself but I need to know what happened more.
“Who were they? Were they like us?’
“Some were…men. Those I could see. There was also something else. A feeling of some such thing moving, a kind of blurr. Our men I saw fall holding their blood-streaming throats with nothing near them.” Ragi begins to groan and hold his head. “I can’t stop seeing them fall! Will Thor forgive such as I?”
Valdr raises himself up to see Ragi better, “What do you mean, something invisible?”
Ragi tries to control his pain, “Something was moving with… a great fastness… Many men fell quickly without the chance to fight back, yes.”
“So there was none of them killed by us?”
“None as I saw with my looking, brief as it was.”
“This explains why I found no evidence of them, the warriors. Who were they, Ragi? Did they have markings on their shields?”
“I who ran fast as I could but cannot for sureness say of the colours nor the workings on their shields. If I saw, the memory of them is lost. I expected my throat out too.”
“Now you must tell me of my wife!”
“I have not news of her, as I have said before. Only the cloak…”
“And from the cave, as I remember from my boyhood searches there, you can see the beach!”
“Aye, as one does look. Would I my face shown then, after such sights in the village!”
“I expect not. But for the sounds perhaps of men moving off into the ocean, do you recall any of THAT?”
“I heard them yelling as of a triumph. Of victory they did chant.”
“Aye of a victory, then you must have heard them in a tongue known to us?”
“Nay, of words a few only, and then in a Norseward tongue unspoken by us.”
“Which words did you understand?”
“They sang only a few I know. They spoke of the ‘victory of the markmaker’ and ‘we have her.’
“And you thought not to tell me this until NOW!”
Ragi looks at me in a puzzled way. “I did attend your needs first, Asmundr and of your brother’s.”
I cannot deny his help and to show him I wish him no harm, I sit down again next to Valdr.
Valdr turns to me, “Asmundr, it may be her they have.”
“I would wish it so and then not. Both.”
“You wish her alive!”
When the injury has left me, when the winter begins to thaw, when Valdr is fit, then we will go to the mainland and consult the Thing as to what can be done. I know in my heart this is a god-driven outcome: The massacre, the loss of Isla, our injuries. All of it is nothing more than we deserve.