The Legend of Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion

This article was originally posted on #FolkloreThursday.com called British Legends: Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion by zteve t evans on 25 January 2018.

According to British legend, Gogmagog was the last survivor of a mythical race of giants that ruled the island of Albion before the arrival of Brutus of Troy and his Trojan followers. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in The Historia Regum Britanniae (‘The History of the Kings of Britain’) written about 1136, tells the story of how the Trojans came into conflict with Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. 

Although Geoffrey made it clear where Brutus and the Trojans originated, he revealed nothing of the history of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. Later writers promoted several versions of a story of the origin of the giants. One tells more about Gogmagog and how he returned to haunt the descendants of the Trojans, taking over a ruined hilltop fortress in Wales now known as Dinas Brân. 

This article attempts to tie the threads together to reveal more of the story of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. It begins by briefly recalling the voyage of Brutus of Troy and the prophecy of the goddess Diana, and then the conflict between the Trojans and the giants of Albion. We then move forward in time to later centuries to the time of William the Conqueror, when a Norman knight by the name of Payn Peverel confronts the demonically possessed Gogmagog on Dinas Brân, forcing him to reveal his history and purpose and foretelling the future of Peverel and his descendants. 

Brutus of Troy

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, after the fall of Troy some of the survivors of the sack of the city, led by the Trojan hero Aeneas, fled to Italy and settled there. Their descendants began building a new civilization. One of the descendants of Aeneas in Italy was a young man who became known as Brutus of Troy. After killing his father in a hunting accident, Brutus was punished by being exiled. He left Italy and making his way to Greece, where he found many descendants of the survivors of Troy still held in slavery by a Greek king. Leading the Trojans in revolt, he won their release and led them on an epic sea voyage searching for new land to settle and rebuild their lives.

While at sea, Brutus came to an abandoned island named Leogecia and found a temple dedicated to Diana, Jupiter, and Mercury, and after performing the appropriate rites he asked the goddess for guidance. Diana appeared to him in a dream and told him of a rich and fertile island populated only by a few giants. She prophesied that he would be the first of a long line of kings that would rule the island and spread across the world. When Brutus finally arrived on the island it was called Albion, and he found it was as Diana had told him. The giants were few in number, and the tallest and most powerful was named Gogmagog.

Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion

After Brutus and the Trojans, arrived they explored the island and found it very much to their liking. Individually, the giants were much bigger and for the most part stronger than the Trojans. Only Corineus, one of the Trojan captains, could match them. However, there were only twenty-four of them and they could not match the Trojan weaponry, armour, and numbers, and the Trojans battled the giants seeking to claim Albion as their own.

One day, Brutus decided to hold a festival of thanksgiving to the gods. During the festival, with many games and events underway, Gogmagog and the giants launched an attack hoping to take the Trojans by surprise. Although the giants at first had the upper hand killing many, Brutus rallied his men and in the battle all of the giants, except their leader Gogmagog, were killed. He was spared by Brutus specifically to fight Corineus, who defeated him. With Albion now free of giants, Brutus shared out the land among his captains and followers as he saw fit. In legend, Brutus became the founder and first king of Britain and Corineus became the founder and first ruler of Cornwall.

Although Gogmagog was killed, he was to return centuries later during the Norman Conquest of Britain by King William the Conqueror. This story is told in the medieval legends or “ancestral romance” of The History of Fulk Fitz-Warine, a mixture of legend, romance, and imagination by an unknown author or compiler in about 1325-40.

Dinas Brân

According to this text, Gogmagog reappeared when William the Conqueror was travelling around Britain surveying his new domain. As he travelled in the wild hills and valleys, he came across a prominent hill that was crowned by a ruined town enclosed in wide stone walls that for a long time had lain desolate and empty. Today, the hill is called Dinas Brân and overlooks Llangollen in Wales, but the ruins that crown its top are those of a later castle and not those that intrigued William which had been built many centuries before his arrival.

As the day was drawing to a close, he decided to pitch his tents on a level plain that lay below the imposing ruins. Curious and not a little awed, he asked about the place from a local Briton and was told the following story:

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Petrification Myths: The Indonesian Folktale of Dewi Jurangga and the Son of Bromo

The island of Java in the Indonesian archipelago is rich in ancient culture and tradition and full of wonderful stories that tell the lives of its inhabitant and their relationships with each other, the landscape, nature and the gods. Presented below is a retelling of an Indonesian folktale called The Holy Mountain, from Indonesian tales and Folk Tales by Adele de Leeuw, which provides a folkloric explanation of how certain volcanoes and the Sea of Sand was created in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

The Giant of the Holy Mountain

There was once a mighty giant who had ruled over the god Indra’s holy mountain of Semeru since the beginning of the world.  His realm reached all around it above ground and extended below it under the ground.  This giant had a daughter whom he loved more than anything else and he had named Dewi Jurangga.  He watched over her day and night keeping her safe and keeping her hidden from the eyes of the world in his a part of his kingdom underneath the mountain.  So well did he guard his daughter that she had never been outside the kingdom under the holy mountain. She did not know what daylight was and had never known fresh air, never known the green leaves and beautiful flowers and never heard birds sing.

Every single day the giant would walk around the bounds of his kingdom  to make sure everything was in order. One day as her father went out to inspect his kingdom, she had a sudden yearning to know what the world of light above ground looked like.  Making sure he had gone, she ran up the way which she knew would bring her to the world of light on the earth because she had seen her father take it.

Dewi Jurangga’s Adventure

Stepping out into the sunshine, at first she was blinded, but as her eyes slowly became accustomed to the light, she grew increasingly enchanted by all the beautiful things she saw that she had never seen before.  First, she looked at the sky which was so deep and wide and blue and was awed.  She saw fluffy white clouds floating across it and was intrigued.  She saw beautiful green leaves and gorgeous flowers of so many different colors and was thrilled and she walked out into the world for the first time full of wonder and excitement and was happy.
Everything she was seeing, hearing, smelling and touching was beyond her wildest dreams and as she walked she seemed to be floating through a beautiful wonderland of new experience.  She could hear the birds singing and the insects buzzing and smell the glorious scent of the flowers and she floated on enthralled by it all. She floated over the rice fields and over the meadows and saw goats and cattle grazing and then she saw a man standing before her and she stopped.  She looked at him and smiled and he looked at her and smiled.

She thought he looked like her father, but was much younger and much more handsome than he.  He stood before her amazed at seeing her and quietly and gently said, “May I ask who you are?”

She had never before heard the voice of anyone else other than the deep rumbling sound of her father’s and she was charmed to hear the soft, gentle speech of the young man and said,

“My name is Dewi Jurangga and I am new in the world above the ground.  I am the daughter of the giant who is the King of the Holy Mountain of Indra.  This is the first time I have ever been above ground and walked upon the earth instead of under it.  This is the first time I have smelled the clean fresh air and the fragrance of flowers and seen the beautiful blue sky. It is the first  time I have met and spoken to anyone other than my father.”

Then the two chatted together like old friends.  She told him that she was so in love with the world above the surface of the earth that she wanted to give up the immortality bestowed upon her by the gods.

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Mt Batok dormant in foreground, Mt. Bromo belching sulphur to the left, Mt. Semeru erupting in the distance By Michael Day [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Son of Bromo

Then asked him if he was one of the divine gods, or a giant and he told her with great joy in his eyes,

 “I am the raksasa, the warden of the great temple of the gods appointed to this task by Brahma.  I am the son of a giant almost as powerful as your father and his name is Bromo.  I have set out to look for a wife because the gods have told me I would find one near the Holy Mountain and now I have found her, if you would give your consent!” 

At first Dewi Jurangga, was pleased and flattered and then she remembered her father and as sadness darkened her eyes she said,

“I fear I can cannot be your wife.  My father loves me more than anything else and he guards and protects me.  To him I am the light of his eyes and he will never allow me to marry a raksasa, especially one who is the son of Bromo who he hates.”

“Why will he not let us marry and why does he hate my father so?” asked the puzzled raksasa in disappointment.

she said sadly.

“He hates your father because his mountain sends fire and fumes and streams of molten lava to flow down into the fertile fields on the borders of his land.  One night your father sent so much fire it changed them all into an arid and infertile plain where nothing will grow nothing. That is why my father hates your father and will never let me marry his son,” 

The son of Bromo shook his head and said defiantly, “That may be so, but I am going to go to you father and ask his permission to marry you, if you agree,”

Dewi Jurangga told him she wanted to be his wife more than anything else in the world. With her agreement that very evening before sunset, he went to the her father in his kingdom under the Holy Mountain and begged her hand in marriage.

The Sea of Sand

He father was furious and roared and thundered with rage.  His daughter told him that if he did not allow the marriage she would go to Mount Bromo and throw herself in the lake of fire, at which he roared louder than ever.  He roared and roared until he could roar no more and sat silently trembling with rage.  Then, shaking his head sadly he said to the son of Bromo,

“Let me tell you this.  Many, many, years ago I vowed to the gods that my daughter, who is the light of my life, would only marry a divine being and not a son of a giant.  Her husband must be the son of a god and to prove his divinity and power he must create a sea of sand around the mountain of Bromo, my enemy. It must be a thousand feet deep and a thousand feet wide, so that the fires and lava from Bromo’s mountain will be extinguished. There will be no fuel to feed the flames and the lava will sink into the suffocating sand and die and will not burn my fields.  The sea of sand must be created in one night between the time of sundown and the first crow of the cock. If you can create this sea of sand as I have described it in one night, you shall have my daughter for your wife. If the sea of sand is not fully complete by the first cock crow you shall both be turned to stone and remain stone for one thousand times one thousand years.”

On hearing this the raksasa stood deep in thought for a few moments then looked into the lovely eyes of Dewi Jurangga and said,

“I will try this challenge for it would be better to be turned to stone and have a heart of stone that feels nothing than to live one day without your daughter as my wife.  Tomorrow at sundown I will attempt the challenge.”

Turning to Dewi Jurangga he asked her if she agreed and she readily told him she did and then he said, “Find the largest possible coconut and cut it in half.  Take half the shell to the very place we first met and lay it on the ground. I will be there before sunset.”

So Dewi Jurangga did as he asked and just before sunset went to him at the spot where they had first met and gave him the half of coconut shell which is called a batok and whispered, “Do your best, my love!  Unveil your true power and we will be happy forever!”
Taking the shell from her he whispered, “My  kembang manis, my lovely flower, I will prove I am worthy of you!”

And as the sinking sun disappeared below the horizon he set to work.  Using the batok he filled it with sand and created mounds which he kept adding to creating hills.  He scooped up sand from the sides of Mount Bromo and ignoring his own father who threw burning rocks at him and yelled at him to stop.  He worked nonstop all through the night with amazing vigor and energy. By the time it was almost ready for the sun to rise he had created a sea of sand nine hundred and ninety yards deep and nine hundred and ninety yards wide, but he knew he it was not complete so he forced himself to work  quicker and harder.

The Trick

Dewi Jurangga’s father watched with eyes that could piece the densest and blackest darkness.  He was aghast to see that the son of Bromo would complete the sea of sand before sunrise and greatly feared he would have to fulfill his promise and give his daughter to him to be his bride.  He was furious and became even angrier as the son of Bromo looked like he would finish with time to spare and perhaps because of his fury he thought, or hoped, he heard the sound of a cock crow.

He was even angrier when he realized he hadn’t and it was his imagination, but  this gave him an idea. He said to himself,

“What if I imitated a crowing cock.  Yes, it would be cheating, but it would save my beloved daughter from marriage to the son of Bromo, a mere giant!  After all I am a powerful and mighty giant who is the King of the Holy Mountain. I am semi-divine and can do anything! ”

Turned to Stone

Therefore, he called out, imitating the crowing of a cock and immediately he was answered by one in a nearby village.

The son of Bromo was full of despair because he was unaware of the trick being played on him and thought the first cock had crowed before sunrise and knew his task was not quite finished.  Angily, he threw the batok and it landed on a mound and became a mountain that became known as the Mount Batok.

Then, behind him he heard a terrifying scream and turning and watched in horror as Dewi Jurangga, his beloved turned to stone before his eyes changing into a mountain that people called Kembang.

“Kembang Manis – lovely flower! All of my work has been for nought!”

he cried as he looked into her dark eyes and saw them glaze to stone.  She could not answer him as her mouth froze solid and with those last words he too turned to stone just as he had been warned becoming a mountain known as the Segarawedi.

However, the father of Dewi Jurangga was so frightened of the punishment of Brahma for the turning to stone of his warden and so sad that he had been the cause his own daughter becoming petrified, that he fled to the deepest regions of the earth below the Holy Mountain.  There he sits to this day contemplating how his own foolish selfishness caused two young lives to be so cruelly and terribly ruined. As he thinks on this, every now and then he lets out a sigh which rises to the top of the mountain and escapes into the beautiful blue sky like a white plume.

One Thousand Times One Thousand Years

There he must sit and sigh for one thousand times one thousand years  until Mount Bromo is sunk beneath the earth and the sea of sand no more.  Then and only then, will the spell of the petrification placed on Dewi Jurangga and the son of Bromo be lifted and they return to their original form.  Let us all pray that when that happens the gods smile upon them and they find eternal love and happiness together.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

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Copyright zteve t evans

Vortigern’s Rule: The Battles of Vortimer

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[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Vortimer

Vortimer was the eldest son of Vortigern, King of the Britons of the island of Britain and his mother was believed to be Sevira, daughter of the Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus, or Macsen Wledig as carved on the Pillar of Elise.   He had watched with growing concern as his father had brought in Germanic mercenaries to fight in the defense of his realm against Pict and Irish enemies.   These mercenaries were pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes and were led by two Hengist and his brother Horsa. The fighting skills of the pagan mercenaries was formidable and Vortigern brought in more and more under the persuasion of the wily Hengist to defend the realm.  However, the British nobles who were staunchly Christian, became increasingly concerned at their growing numbers power and raised objection to Vortigern’s policy of using mercenaries.

Vortigern saw Hengist and Horsa and their warriors as valuable assets in defending his kingdom and also himself and had served him faithfully in his eyes but the Saxon warlords had secret plans to take over the kingdom.  The first part of their plan was to impress Vortigern with their military skills and the second part was to control Vortigern. To do this Hengist brought over his beautiful daughter, Rowena.

As soon as Vortigern set eyes upon her he fell in love with her and begged Hengist for her hand in marriage.  Hengist agreed but drove a hard bargain and asked for the British province of Kent as dowry for her. Vortigern readily agreed and married Rowena while Hengist received Kent which would make an invaluable foothold for him to expand Saxon presence and influence throughout Britain.

The marriage if a pagan princess to a Christian King was seen as strictly taboo by the British nobles, but the increasing Germanic presence and their King’s favouring if them caused increasing alarm and resentment.  They went to him expressing their concerns but he would not listen and the scene was set for open rebellion.

The Battles of Vortimer

Therefore, as Vortigern would not listen to his nobles and war leaders they made his son Vortimer the King of Britain and deposed Vortigern.   Vortimer with the backing of the British nobility began to attack the Saxons with great success. He fought four great battles against them and was victorious in each.

The first battle was fought upon the banks of the river Darent.  The second battle was fought upon the ford of Aylesford where Vortimer brother, Catigurn and Horsa fought together man to man each killing the other. The third battle took place on the sea shore where Vortimer drove them to their ships forcing them to seek refuge on the isle of Thanet.

Finally, Vortimer then besieged them on the isle of Thanet with his fleet continuously harrying them and in control of the seas.  Hengist knew he was trapped and faced slow starvation therefore he sent Vortigern who had remained with them, to talk to his son to sue for peace, but while the meeting was still ongoing they boarded their long ships and returned to Germany leaving the women and children behind and alone to face the Britons.

After these successes Vortimer set about restoring the possessions of his subjects that had been given to the Saxons and at the instigation of St. Germanus to restore the churches many of which had been robbed and ruined by the pagans.  Although he showed his great respect and affection to his people and they returned this, there were those who were not happy with the banishment of the Saxons and one of those was his stepmother Rowena who was still much loved by his father.

Rowena the Poisoner

Above everything else Rowena was loyal to her own father, Hengist and her people.  She was believed to have and she now went and consulted with poisoners and arranged for Vortimer to be poisoned in such a way that it looked like he had been taken by some quick and severe illness.

As the poison took effect Vortimer called his men to him showing them he was near death.  Though they were devastated at the loss of their king and great captain in war he distributed his treasure to them and in a bid to comfort them told them it was just the way of the flesh.  He asked of his followers that when he was dead a pyramid should be built in the port looking out to sea where the Saxons had been accustomed to land and to place his body on top so that the sight of him and his tomb might deter any future incursions by them.  He told them that as the Saxons had feared to face him while alive so they would fear him in death. Sadly, and to their folly, the Britons ignored them King’s wishes and he was buried in London.

© 13/06/2108 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 6th, 2018  zteve t evans

Anansi Tales: The Lesson of The Magical Cooking Pot

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Image by By Ximonic (Simo Räsänen) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Anansi is part human and part spider and a favorite character in the folktales and lore of West Africa.  He is renowned for his cleverness and trickery and his ability to to turn the tables on large and more powerful opponents, but it has to be said he is no angel. Presented her is a retelling of a story from West Africa called Thunder and Anansi collected by W.H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclaire in their book, West African Folk-tales which tells how Anansi learnt an important lesson.

Thunder and Anansi

There was a time when a long and terrible famine came upon the land where Anansi lived and he struggled to find food to feed his wife and family.  One day as he walked by the seashore he looked out over the ocean and was surprised to sea rising from the waves a small island with a tall palm tree growing upon it that he had never seen before. As he gazed at the island he thought maybe there were a few coconuts on the tree that he could bring home to his family. He was confident he could climb the tree to get the nuts, therefore, he set about thinking about how to cross the sea to the island.

The Island and the Coconuts

As he strolled along the beach thinking he came across the an old broken fishing boat.  Looking at it closely, he thought maybe he could fix it and set about making repairs with bits of wood he found washed up on the shore.  When he he had finished it did not look very seaworthy at all, but Anansi was desperate and decided to try it anyway. His first six trials ended in failure with the boat quickly sinking and needing to be dragged back to shore for further repairs.  When he had at last made it watertight each time he managed to get out to sea a large wave would wash him back to the shore. Despite this, Anansi persevered and eventually managed to steer the boat all the way to the island on the seventh attempt. He found it was a indeed a very small island with just enough room for the tree to grow upon it. Quickly, he tied the boat to the tree to stop it floating off, then he climbed up the tree to get the those coconuts which ready for harvesting.  Then he realized he could not carry them all down in one go and did not want to drop them because the island was so small and he feared they would land in the sea and float away.

Therefore, each time he picked a coconut he dropped it aiming for it to land within the boat, but his aim was not very good.  To his frustration and dismay, just as he had feared, every one he dropped landed in the sea and floated away until he had only one remaining.  Taking great care he aimed it for the boat and dropped it but it too landed with a splash in the sea. To his annoyance he had lost all of the coconuts without even getting a taste of one and now there was none left.

Anansi Meets  Thunder

Hungry, angry and frustrated and not being able to bear the thought of going home empty handed he threw himself off the tree into the sea thinking he would drown.  To his complete amazement instead of drowning he found himself standing at the bottom of the sea in front of a very quaint little house. As he gazed on in wonder the door opened and out stepped a very old man.  To Anansi’s surprise the old man politely asked him what it was that he so desperately wanted that had caused him to come to Thunder’s house in search of it.

The Magical Cooking Pot

Anansi told him all about the great famine and how he had seen the coconut tree on the island, repaired the boat and sailed out to pick the coconuts and now had nothing to feed his family with.  Thunder, listened very carefully and very sympathetically while Anansi told his tale and then he went back into his house and rummaged around finally came out again carrying a cooking pot. He presented this to Anansi and told him that with this pot he and his family would never again go hungry because it would magically supply and cook enough food for him and his family.  Thunder then told him to return home all he need to to was think of himself in the boat. So Anansi thought if himself in the boat and found himself back there carrying the pot.

He untied the boat and it began floating slowly towards the shore.  Realizing he had not asked Thunder how the pot worked he sat in the boat thinking and then said,  “Cooking pot, cooking pot, cook for me as you did for Thunder!”

To Anansi’s surprise and delight the pot immediately became full of the most deliciously cooked food and Anansi greedily ate his fill.  When he reached the shore he jumped on to the beach holding the pot thinking he would run to his family and give them a good meal from the marvelous pot. Then a thought hit him and he stopped short.

Greedy Anansi

Inside of him a greedy, selfish fear, had awoken and was whispering to him saying, “Wait, wait, wait!  If I use it to cook them a meal all of the magic will be used up and how will I replenish it?  I will keep the pot secret and only use it for myself I will be able to enjoy a meal whenever I want and the magic might last longer.”  With this he hid the pot in a safe place so that he could return in the night to sneak it into his home, where he would hide it again without his family knowing.

When he arrived home his wife and children were all delighted to see him but they were all weak and tired from lack of food. Anansi pretended he too was hungry and weak and selfishly ignored their plight.  That night, when they were all asleep, he went back for the pot and hid it in his room congratulating himself on his luck and cleverness.

Kweku Tsin

While his family grew weaker and weaker through hunger, he would at times disappear to his room and close the door and enjoy a good meal from the pot.  While his wife and children grew thinner and weaker, he grew fatter and stronger. His family saw this and they grew suspicious and at last Kweku Tsin, his eldest son decided he would watch his father and investigate what he was up to.

The Truth is Revealed

Kweku Tsin was a shapechanger who had the power to turn himself into anything he wished and so he changed himself into a tiny fly and followed his father everywhere he went without being noticed by him. He followed him into his room and saw him take out the hidden pot and heard what he said to it and saw the fine meal it cooked for him. Then he watched where his father hid it when he had finished eating.

Afterwards his father went and announced to his family he was going in search of food for them and went out.  Kweku Tsin, now knew this was a lie and when his father had gone changed back to human form and took out the pot and showed it to his mother and family.  They all sat down and Kweku Tsin told the pot to cook as he had heard his father tell it and for the first time in ages they all had a good, delicious meal.

The Pot Melts

The family were all shocked, angry and disappointed with the greed of their father and Mrs Anansi decided she would punish her husband and took the cooking pot to the village where she intended on cooking everyone a good meal. However, because the pot had so many people to cook for at once it grew red hot and melted. Knowing her husband would be angry Mrs Anansi told everyone not to mention the cooking pot at all and act as if they did not know of its existence.

That evening when Anansi came home he had been looking forward to a tasty supper from the pot.  Saying to his family he was tired and would have an early night he went to his room. Closing the door shut, he went to fetch the pot from its hiding place, but was aghast to see that it was gone. He looked high and low but could not find it and grew angry and knew his secret had been discovered.   Realizing the thief must be someone in his own family he decided he would punish them all.

Return to Thunder’s House

So he said nothing about his missing cooking pot and in the morning at daybreak he went down to his boat at the seashore.   As soon as he sat down the boat moved away under its own power towards the island. As soon as he arrived he tied the boat to the palm tree and climbed the tree looking for coconuts.  He soon found some and this time deliberately tried to drop them in the water, but each time they landed safely in the boat. When he had picked all the coconuts he climbed down to the boat and began throwing them into the sea and then threw himself in after them.

The Stick of Thunder

Just like before he found he did not drown but was safely standing at the bottom of the sea in front of the house of Thunder.  The door opened and Thunder came out and asked him to tell his tale. The old man listened attentively and sympathetically just as he had done the first time.  Then, he went back into his house and came out with handsome looking stick which he presented to Anansi and said goodbye to him.

As he had done before Anansi thought himself as being in the boat and found himself there carrying the stick in his hand. Curious to see what marvelous magic the stick possessed he said, “Stick, stick, stick, what you did for Thunder do so for me!” Immediately the stick began to beat him all over his head and body so hard and fast that he had to jump into the sea to escape it and swim back to shore as the boat floated off.  Then, he went sheepishly home, bruised and battered all over, mournfully wishing he had acted with more love and less greed towards his loved ones from the start and vowed to always think of his family first!

© 06/06/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 6th, 2018 zteve t evans