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Marja’s Winter Tale

Editor's note: On Christmas Eve, a young farm worker, Marja, was asked by farmer Jon's young son, Steinie, to tell a scary Christmas story. The boy enjoyed her stories and always asked for one each evening.

"One dark winter night when the snow was falling heavily in Reykjadal Valley, the evil troll Grýla told her slothful husband Leppalúði, “get up you worthless lump and find me some food to eat. I fancy a nice young child. A boy child."

Marja said this last sentence looking Steinie directly in the eyes, she stroked the farm cat, sleeping in her lap. Steinie ducked behind his mother Elina’s chair. Marja paused.

Steinie poked his head out and said, “Then what happened?”

Well, as you know Steinie, Leppalúði is a very lazy troll who would rather stay in his cave sleeping all day than go out hunting for food.

So he called for their black cat, who loves nothing better than to hunt. And it especially loves hunting for small children it can bring back to the two trolls to eat.

Leppalúði told the cat that he knew of a small farmhouse in Reykjadal valley where a very young boy lived who would be especially tasty because of his fondness for almond pudding and sugar.

Steinie made a gulping noise and again disappeared behind Elina’s back.

The black cat left the troll’s cave and made its way down the mountain, crunching through the snow on the ground even as more snow was falling, filling its freshly made tracks.

Eventually, the small farmhouse came into view. The black cat crept around the house trying to determine the best way to get in and capture the little boy for the trolls. The black cat had gone on many hunting trips of this kind, so it knew what it would need to do in order to snare its prey.

The family was fast asleep because it was now very late at night. The cat forced open the front door, and a gust of wind, which you may have heard last night, accompanied the cat’s entrance into the house.

“I did, I did hear the gust last night when I was in my bed,” said an excited Steinie. He also glanced concernedly into the darker corners of the room.

Marja paused dramatically before continuing in a low whisper.

The black cat prowled through the house in search of her prize. First, she found the farmer and his wife asleep in their bed. They were both snoring loudly and drove the cat from their chambers with their noisy drones.

The whole family laughed at the thought since the sound was indeed a familiar nighttime occurrence.

Next, the cat found two young people, a boy, and a girl asleep but rejected them both as being too big to carry back up the mountain.

More searching through the house and the cat found a sickly young woman who seemed frail enough to attack, but the cat also rejected her, because there was not enough meat on her bones to satisfy Grýla, and besides she was too old and wouldn’t taste good.

Steinie slowly raised his hand and pointed quizzically at Marja. She nodded in agreement.

Now the black cat was just about to curse Leppalúði for sending her on such a useless mission, for no little boy seemed to be present in this farmhouse. That foolish old troll must be losing his mind thought the cat.

Then the cat heard it. A light snoring sound was coming from another corner of the farmhouse.

The cat’s whiskers popped up, as it crept silently toward the sound.

Steinie was now completely hidden behind Elina’s chair. As Marja paused her telling, he cautiously poked his head out from his hiding place, a fearful look on his face. Marja continued.

Now the black cat realized that the foolish old troll might know what he was talking about after all. The cat crept closer to the sound and even though the house was filled with murky darkness, the cat could tell from the sound of the breathing that this was the young boy Leppalúði had told the cat to find. The black cat knew the hunt was over. Now it was time to retrieve the prey and make the hard journey back up the mountain with her prize.

Steinie, still behind Elina’s chair had a look of terror etched on his face. Marja resumed the story.

The black cat was a very smart hunter, but over the years of service to Grýla and Leppalúði, she had become emboldened by victory and as a result, was not as careful as she had been in days of old. As we shall soon hear, this would cause the black cat to have a serious barrier to her apparent easy victory. The source of the black cat’s problems that night could be traced back to the humble but very brave and very smart farm cat.

Steinie now shouted, “Yeah Bína! She will save me!”

Yes, said Marja. While the black cat had thought it had slipped into a house filled with sleeping humans, it had failed to detect another creature present in the darkness, a creature every bit as cunning and tenacious as the black cat. Our dear and loving farm cat, Bína.

Marja softly stroked the cat who remained contentedly asleep in her lap, issuing a gentle purr.

Like everyone else in the farmhouse in Reykjadal Valley, Bína had also been sound asleep when a noise woke her. She got up, did her big arching stretch, and then went to the front door, opened it, and went out into the yard. She sat quietly and listened. What she heard extinguished the last of her drowsiness and replaced it with alarm.

When Bína was just a small kitten she heard a shocking tale from her own mother. A treacherous black cat, in the service of evil trolls, roams the countryside terrorizing the families that farm cats have grown to love. All the cats took a solemn oath to protect their families from this evil creature. Bína’s mother instructed her on how the cat would approach in the dead of night and that Bína would be able to tell of the black cat’s approach by the sound of the cat’s footsteps breaking through the snow. At first, the footsteps would be faintly heard coming from the direction of the mountain, but they would become louder and clearer as the black cat got closer to the farmhouse. Bína’s mother told her what every farm cat has done to rid her farm of the black cat, and that was what Bína should do if the black cat ever came prowling around her farm.

Steinie stared at Marja, then at Bína, fast asleep, then back at Marja, a stunned look on his face.

Bína returned to the farmhouse and waited for the black cat to enter. Thanks to her mother’s warning years ago, Bína’s plan of attack had been in place, unbeknownst to the family, for years. While the family never paid a lot of attention to Bína’s comings and goings; she would suddenly appear from nowhere and just as suddenly disappear. Bína was practicing and improving her plan. While the black cat viewed this as a one-night adventure to appease an ugly old troll, for Bína, our farm cat, who had spent years perfecting her plan, this night was the culmination of her life’s work, her purpose in life.

The moment had arrived. The black cat had crept closer to the sleeping boy and was now leaning over the boy’s face, deciding the best method for removing him from the bed. The black cat was so close it could feel the boy’s breath on her whiskers.

From her perch on the shelf above the boy’s bed, Bína jumped down, landing on the black cat’s back, her talons sunk deeply into the black cat’s flesh.

The black cat was bigger and stronger than our Bína, but in the darkness couldn’t see her assailant, and was seized by fear of an unknown attacker. The black cat let out the most painful yowl. It nearly woke the boy.

“I, I think I did hear that!” said Steinie. The rest of the family gave him doubtful looks. “Well I might have heard it in my dreams, at least,” he said.

That yowl would prove to be the undoing of the black cat and her scheme of an easy victory. Because the black cat’s yowl was the signal to start the final step in Bína’s plan.

With no warning, the front door of the farmhouse burst open, and with a ferocious whinny, in charged Gustí, his sharp hooves stomping the ground, ready to crush any black cat he could lay a hoof to.

“Yay, Gustí!” shouted Steinie. Telling no one in particular, “I’ve often seen Bína sitting next to Gustí for hours out in his field. They must have been working on Bína’s plan.”

The black cat was no match for this attack. Feeling the sting of talons in its back and dodging relentless horse hooves pounding down all around her like big boulders of fire exploding out of Mount Askja, the black cat charged as fast as it could to the open front door. But in the darkness, she kept crashing into chair legs, walls, and the table before finally reaching the front door.

Gustí was right on her tail. He chased the black cat to the base of our mountain. With his larger stride, it was only due to the greatest efforts that the black cat stayed out from under Gustí’s front hooves.

In fact, Bína, who had jumped off the black cat’s back at our front door, could hear the occasional howl in the distance as the black cat’s tail suffered a pounding from a galloping hoof.

Satisfied the black cat would not be back that evening or any evening in the near future, Bína went about straightening out the farmhouse, righting the objects knocked around during the assault of the black cat.

As for the black cat, when she returned to the cave of Grýla and Leppalúði with no food for the trolls, she was given a swift kick by Grýla for all her troubles and forced to spend the rest of the night shivering outside the cave in the howling mountain wind.

Back at the farmhouse, Bína had completed her task of battling the black cat, straightening up the house, and was now quite exhausted. She went to the bed of the small boy she was sworn to protect and jumped up on his chest, where she curled up and fell into a deep sleep.

“When I woke up this morning, she was sleeping on me,” said an excited Steinie. He rushed out from behind Elina’s chair and knelt next to Marja and began petting Bína.

“You’re my favorite cat in the whole world,” he said petting her a bit too vigorously. Bína woke up and gave him a sleepy look.

“Time for bed,” said Marja.

“Ahhh, do I have to?”

Marja gave him a stern look. He knew there was no use in arguing. Then his eyes widened.

“I want Bína to sleep on my bed tonight,” said Steinie. “Just in case.”


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