Gritta and The Witches of Olavland by Janet C. Smith

EXTRACT FOR
Gritta and The Witches of Olavland

(Janet C. Smith)


Gritta and the Witches of Olavland

CONTENTS

 

Chapter 1: A witch falls from the skies

Chapter 2: The princess searches for the list

Chapter 3: King Olav gets a wetting

Chapter 4: Round potatoes cause chaos

Chapter 5: Krog always knew he was a prince!

Chapter 6: King Olav’s Society for the Protection of Creatures

Chapter 7: An answering song

Chapter 8: A valuable prize for information

Chapter 9: A witch to be reckoned with

Chapter 10: If eggs could come true!

Chapter 11: Carl goes on a hush hush mission

Chapter 12: A change of heart

Chapter 13: A lucky escape

Chapter 14: Darkness

Chapter 15: Gritta’s spell goes wrong – and right!

 


 

CHAPTER 1

 

A WITCH FALLS FROM THE SKIES

 

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Once upon a time, there was a frog. That tells you that I’m about to begin, just in case you weren’t concentrating, and I set off without you. It’s a bit silly really, because it’s got to be once, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened at all; unless, I suppose, it had happened twice before. As for upon a time, well it can hardly have been off it, can it? Anyway, it’s a traditional way of starting a story. What I am certain of is that the frog, large, green and gleaming with bulging yellow eyes was named Krog.   

Krog lived amongst the marsh marigolds and bulrushes of a boggy meadow pond where he was happy. He had an ample supply of food in the form of midges and other insects that like to be around water. He had outgrown the threat posed by the two white ducks that shared his pond, and wild geese could be put off by his surprisingly loud “Kro-o-og”. He did however, like others of his kind, live under the shadow of another enemy, but we’ll come to that very soon.

Krog had a strong voice and liked nothing better than a good sing song. His favourite time was when the sun was setting, casting a golden glow upon the pond, and a refreshing evening breeze tickled the reeds. Krog’s chosen perch for his evening recitals was an old upturned bucket at the pool’s edge. Here he would sing and sing and sing and sing and sing and sing and sing and sing, and sing - and sing, until, suddenly tired, he plopped into the reeds, sliding shut the lids of his headlamp eyes.

One evening, when the pond was glowing orange and the ducks settling amongst the reeds, he leapt upon his muddy dais. As he sat, sheltered behind a clump of water iris, blinking and watching the insects dancing over the water, he completely failed to notice that the enemy number one of all the frogs had entered the meadow. 

Had Krog been listening to what was going on around him, instead of to the tunes in his head, he might have heard a steady squelch, squelch, squelch. Had he peered through the blades of green, he might have seen advancing towards him, the very thing that his parents and his grandparents and his great-grandparents and his great-great grandparents and his great-great-great-grandparents and so on had warned him about - but he didn’t.

What Krog didn’t hear and didn’t see, was a witch. On her head was a pointed black hat, around her shoulders a flowing black cloak, and on her feet, wellington boots, because as you know it was very muddy.

Now this witch’s name was Gritta, and she was in a very bad mood. Tucked under one arm was a broomstick, and lagging a few yards behind, a scraggy black cat. As she trudged, she muttered and mumbled, her lips set in tram lines. The cat too was in a bad mood and he didn’t even have wellingtons. As the cold water and mud oozed over his paws, he yowled loudly. Suddenly Gritta stopped, as did her cat whose name was Scraw.  “Sssshhhh!” she said to him, then “Sshhhh!” she repeated, “Do you want someone to report us to the K.O.S.F.T.P.O.C.? The cat’s eyes widened, and his fur stood on end. He hadn’t a clue what the letters stood for. All he knew was, that whenever Gritta said them, she was in a very bad mood indeed. Suddenly with a scowl, she sploshed towards the animal, unceremoniously tucked him beneath her free arm and continued her splashy way.

“Neighbours, nosey parkers, busy bodies - do gooders!” she snapped aloud. As she spat out the last two words, she stamped down hard, causing a dollop of mud to fly upwards into her eye. With a howl of rage, she dropped the cat and broomstick and wiped the mud away with the hem of her cloak. Now I’m sure you’ll have noticed in other books, that witches always wear black, and this is because it’s just so practical. With black, it’s very difficult to detect tell-tale splashes of bat blood, slug splodge, beetle juice, and gnat splat. However, underneath Gritta’s cloak, you couldn’t help noticing, she was wearing a perfectly ordinary pleated tartan skirt and a hand knitted beige jumper and cardigan. It was the just sort of thing you might wear for a tea party, well not you personally, particularly if you’re a boy, but if you were a middle-aged woman.

The trouble was, that under the reign of King Olav and Queen Ingrid, witches were out of fashion. Worse still, they had become, like certain forms of bat, frog, spider and toad, an endangered species. Whereas in King Olav’s father’s reign (Olav X1Vth), people had averted their eyes in terror as witches had gone about their awful unlawful business, nowadays they were harried and hounded. Whereas before, Gritta had merely to open her window, point her broomstick and besom away, now she had to sneak off somewhere out of sight for take-off.

All this nuisance had been caused because King Olav was a naturalist. No-one knows where he got it from, but ever since he was a very small prince, he would catch things in nets and sneak into his pockets, newts, snails, frogs, mice, rats and many other small creatures that you can probably think of. As he grew older, the creatures he collected grew larger, and he ordered larger pockets, until his pockets were as long and wide as his trouser legs. Of course, it was ghastly for the laundry maid.

Yes, King Olav was genuinely fond of animals and the more he studied them, the more interested he became. So much so, that when his father (Olav X1Vth) died and he became king, he banned the shooting, hunting, trapping, treading on, running over, stuffing etc. of them. For a time, he banned the eating of them too, but soon relented because they were simply too delicious. Still, delicious or not, he declared only certain ones should be eaten, namely, the ones he enjoyed best. 

All credit to King Olav, he did cut down on the assortment of meat dishes heaped upon the royal table. From time immemorial royal cooks had braised, roast, boiled, steamed, grilled, poached, smoked and fried creatures such as swans, deer, boar, frogs, snails, eels, crows, sheep, goats, cows, fish, pigeons, and anything else they’d tried once and liked.  Reducing this list to five, he extended it again to six or seven on feast days. He didn’t think those creatures would mind because they were used to being eaten. All the other creatures were put onto a protected list. 

King Olav formed a society called King Olav’s Society for the Protection of Creatures or K.O.S.F.T.P.O.C. for short, although it wasn’t very short. Although he had made protecting creatures the law, societies were a good way to keep the law. However, and this is a very big HOWEVER, the people of Olavland, called Olavians, couldn’t choose whether or not to join his society. Everyone was sent a membership card and a list of rules. Anyone caught ripping up their card up and dropping it into the bin, were themselves dropped into the deep dark dungeons below the castle. The king was firm but fair.

You might be wondering why Gritta was creeping out of her cottage at twilight, to take off on her broomstick?; why witches were endangered?; out of fashion?; and I was wondering this myself. No, really - it was because people didn’t like witches any more, because witches used up creatures in their spells, they couldn’t help it. Not to use creatures in their spells, would be like, like, asking a decorator to paint a room without paint; a comedian to make people laugh with nothing to laugh about; a cook to make a meal without food and - I think it’s your turn now. So, adding whatever it is you’ve just thought of - it was just impossible to do the job of being a witch properly without toads, frogs, worms, spiders, bats and all the sorts of things that make you say AAAAAAAEEEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUG. 

Where were we? Creatures, right. Well now, Gritta could of course have just used plants in her spells. She could have used plants like stinging nettle, clinging ivy, prickly thistle and those bobbly sticky seed heads children chuck on each other’s jumpers in the autumn. To only use plants however and no slippery, slimy, crawly things, would be like asking a tiger to exist on vegetables. They couldn’t do it, they would be miserable, they wouldn’t feel like a tiger, they would stop being a tiger, they would die.        

Gritta was very, very old; witches are. She had lived through the reign of all the Olav’s of Olavland. Before it was Olavland it had belonged to the witches. Just how it became Olavland is another story.

And so, Gritta was making her way to the pond in the boggy meadow where few people walked because it was so muddy. King Olav’s new law had played havoc with the witch population; some had emigrated to places where people minded their own business; yet others bided their time waiting for the Olavs to roll on, what was half a century for a witch?; others languished in the deep dark cells below the castle; a few had got fed up and turned to dust; and a scattering, a scattering to which Gritta belonged, practiced their dark art secretly and silently.

Now I hope that you haven’t forgotten Krog, there on the upturned bucket, blinking, dreaming of singing somewhere splendid, La Scala, Milan or the Royal Opera House, London. Facing the pond, he imagined it the shining sea of faces of the audience; to the left of the alder trees - the royal box where the first family waited for Krog’s wonderful rendition. He bowed to the alders, then to the pond. The white ducks looked at each other, raised their eyes, and tucked their heads under their wings.

It was as Krog was imagining the rapturous applause that greeted his bows, that Gritta arrived at the water’s edge, quite close to the bucket. She too now stood facing the pond. To her it was a mirror over which she would soon see herself flying, cackling horribly.

Gritta could cackle horribly once she was up, because no-one would recognize her. From the skies she would scream defiance to the wind, she would make people shudder in their shoes, she would make them remember that no, absolutely no stupid law would stop her doing what witches had always done, which was magic, using squirmy wormy, tickely lickely, hippety hoppety things. She positioned herself on the broomstick with Scraw behind. Then her eyes narrowed and her lips moved, as if in a trance. The broomstick quivered as if it had merely been asleep, and began to rise.

Just then Krog, who had finished bowing and beaming to his imaginary audience, opened his mouth and began a passage from his favourite aria. It was a passionate song, all about going off to fight and leaving his true love. It required a stirring start. “KRO-O-O-G” he sang, very loudly, but was silenced, when with a wobble and an accompanying shriek, Gritta and the black cat toppled from the hovering broomstick. The enormous SPLOSH they caused in the water, made the ducks untuck their heads from their wings, and a mighty wave to sweep across the bucket washing Krog overboard.