When Anwyl Saved the Elf's Rice PuddingOnce a long time ago, Anwyl the corgi lived on a farm far from here together with her people and all the animals. She was a herding dog and watched over the livestock. All through spring, summer and autumn they spent on the hills and the plains where they found rich, juicy grass for the cows so that they yielded fat white milk for the humans' breakfast. Later, when the autumn storms raged, they could no longer go outside and therefore Anwyl (which means "dear" in Welsh) stayed mainly in the cow shed.
She could be strict with the cows when they were on the pasture, but they were friends all the same. She enjoyed being able to stay in the cow shed in the warmth, laying in the hay and listening to the big animals ruminating and mooing about their adventures during the summer. Even though the wind was howling and whistling outside the cow shed, it was always nice and warm in the darkness with the big cows. Later, the snow spread soft white eiderdowns over the buildings of the farm and the hills and valleys, and everything turned quiet and full of anticipation. Anwyl knew that when the snow had been there for some weeks, it was Christmas. She was very much looking forward to Christmas because that always meant an extra treat for her.
The days passed as usual during this time of the year - slowly and peacefully. The old cow shed door didn't close properly and there was a gap just big enough for Anwyl to slip out and take her rounds on her own whenever she wanted to. Sometimes during the night she could see the foxes playing near the forest border in the pretty moon light, chasing after mice or other small critters. She wanted to get to know them better because they almost looked like her - they even had a white tail tip! When, every now and then, the foxes stopped their play and caught sight of her, they stood for a long time at the edge of the fields and watched her curiously. But Anwyl dared not go too far away from the farm on her own and the foxes did not go near where they could smell the humans, and thus they never got to know each other better.
One day, she suddenly knew that it was Christmas Eve. Children came out from the barn with a bunch of cornstalks which they bound into a sheaf for the birds. They hung it on the door of the cow shed as they used to on every Christmas Eve as long as Anwyl could remember. And now she knew that this evening she would receive a juicy morsel. Happily she strolled into the cow shed and settled down at her usual place in the hay and started to fantasize how delicious it would be. She licked her lips remembering how it had tasted last year and the year before and perhaps even longer ago. Oh, why does the time pass so slowly?
Suddenly she noticed a gray shadow scurrying along the pens and vanishing into the dark. Then it came back, followed by many others. They bustled around and stared wickedly at the cows before once again disappearing into the darkness. The cows grew uneasy.
- Rats! The rats have returned, the cows mooed and stamped with their hooves. Anwyl had occasionally heard the cows talking about rats, but it was so long since any had been around - it was before she was born and therefore she had never seen any. But the cows had told her that they were some nasty, small animals with vicious red eyes and that they were biting the cows when they were sleeping.
Anwyl got angry! They had no business here because she ruled this place! She raised her hackles, bared her teeth and growled deep in her throat while she went to the dark corner where the rats had disappeared. In the dark she saw some glowing red eyes staring at her. Anwyl roared with anger and the eyes disappeared. Warily she moved closer. She could smell the rats and her hackles were raised. Like this she remained for a long time, sniffing and listening, but all was quiet.
- I must have given them a real scare. Now they are gone. I'm going to lie down in the hay again. The cows had calmed down and Anwyl dug herself well down into the hay. She must have fallen asleep for suddenly she heard someone open the creaky door of the cow shed. It was mistress with a juicy bone for Anwyl and rice pudding for the elf. She placed the pudding bowl on the floor and went off along the pens with the cows, talking to each one of them, petting them and wishing them a happy Christmas. Then it was Anwyl's turn. She lay half buried in the hay and was wagging her tail, smacking her lips in anticipation and looking up at mistress with big, beautiful and eager eyes. Mistress sat down beside her in the hay and removed some straws from the dog's head.
- You little rascal, she said. - Would you like a treat? Some yum-yum? Anwyl shook herself and stretched out and said "Aaaarrrrrr" (which in corgi language means something like: "Now I feel good, now I'm comfortable"). - Of course she wanted a treat. What kind of question is that?
Mistress offered the large bone to the corgi. Being a lady Anwyl didn't fall on the food. But it was not without her mouth watering that she, with her eyes wide open, daintily accepted the treat. She was going to enjoy it to the full. She placed the bone on the floor in front of her and sniffed at it in anticipation.
- It seems you have completely forgotten me, mistress laughed. I have to go back to the others again. May you have a merry Christmas, my little friend. Let's hope that the elf is pleased with the pudding and grants us a good year. Well, I don't know, she continued to herself. - It's a nice tradition to offer some rice pudding for the elf even though he doesn't exist. It's probably just the mice that help themselves to it.
Anwyl looked up at her mistress in surprise. - Fancy saying something like this, she thought. Of course the elf exists. Actually she knew him quite well. The elf was an elderly, nice little chap with a grey beard and homespun clothes. Always kind with the animals and extremely shy with humans. If only they knew how much the elf did so that they all could thrive and have a good life on the farm. It happened that he complained a bit that his work was not appreciated by the humans, but on the other hand they didn't know he existed and that was just as well. The elf had always been at the farm, he once told Anwyl. He was the first to come here and had built the house, the cow shed and all the other buildings, cleared forest land and cultivated the fields. And since he thrived here, he saw no reason for going away. The years turned into centuries, new humans and animals came and went - but the elf stayed and pottered about.
The only time of the year that the humans thought of the elf was on Christmas Eve. They set out a bowl with rice pudding looking at each other and smiling, saying that they didn't really believe in the elf but that it was a nice tradition and therefore why shouldn't they? Hearing this, the elf always was saddened. - Can't they see how nice and proper everything is on the farm? Don't they realize that it wouldn't be like this, if no-one did anything? No, no, let them keep doing it their way and I shall keep doing it my way, he thought.
For a long time, Anwyl kept licking and sniffing at the bone. Suddenly she heard a sound coming from the dark corner where the rats had disappeared. Several pairs of red eyes appeared. The rats came back and there were many more of them! They scurried around and sensed the good smells. Then they became braver and emerged from the dark. The cows grew uneasy while the rats ran under and in front of them and all around, getting cheeky. They hadn't as yet noticed Anwyl in the hay, but they had discovered the elf's pudding. The pudding was warm, far too warm for the rats. But they still scrambled about the bowl waiting for the pudding to cool down. Round and round the rats danced, while the corgi didn't move in the hay.
- There are too many of them, far too many, for me to chase them all away, Anwyl thought. But soon they will begin to eat the elf's pudding. And if he comes too late and finds the empty bowl, he will be unhappy and maybe he will also be angry because he believes that the humans placed a bowl without pudding. Perhaps he will be so angry that life on the farm will be sad and boring for a whole year. - This must not happen, I must do something.
Anwyl picked up the bone and moved forward to the rats. Maybe she appeared fierce and truculent but in fact she was scared stiff. The rats leapt forward and hissed when they discovered her. Anwyl stood still for some seconds. Then she dropped the bone on the wooden floor. - Take this bone instead, she said. It's much better than pudding. The rats looked at her. Their greedy eyes wandered from the bone to the pudding and back.
- We take the bone, they squealed. We want the bone! Then we take the pudding for dessert, they grinned.
- Great, said Anwyl, but if you want the bone, you must first get hold of it. Quickly she grabbed the bone and squeezed through the gap in the cow shed's door, ran out into the yard and further down the road - with all the furious rats after her.
- Stop! Stop! We want the bone, they wailed. Anwyl ran faster than ever on her short legs. The full moon had risen and illuminated the landscape and the strange procession, passing at great speed through the winter night. Some of the rats were faster and came up alongside her and caught hold of her coat, trying to stop her. Anwyl ran close to the snow banks so the rats were cast off and had to let go, but there were so many others that came closer. - My legs are short, Anwyl thought, but the rats' legs are even shorter. She jumped into the deep snow with the rats right behind her and struggled in a curve back to the road thereby gaining some seconds, but the rats didn't give up. The pursuit continued down the road.
- I'm so tired. I can hardly go on any longer, she thought speeding around a bend when she abruptly came to a halt! Right in front of her stood three thin and hungry foxes. They looked at her for some seconds. Then they caught sight of the bone.
- Give us the bone, they pleaded. We need it more than you. Please, have mercy! Anwyl didn't hesitate: - Merry Christmas, she shouted and threw the juicy bone to the foxes. Then she turned abruptly and set off in the same direction that she had come from. She was only just out of the foxes' sight before she collided with the furious rat pack.
- There she is, they screeched. - Give us the bone! They got hold of her coat and tossed and pulled. Where is the bone? Hand it over! - You can find the bone around the bend, Anwyl shouted, laying on the ground and fighting against all the rats crawling over her. - But you better hurry up, there are others who want it. The rats let go of her and ran off and out of sight. Anwyl got up, shook herself and ran and ran all the way home to the farm. Behind her she heard a terrible row as the rats and foxes fought each other, but she didn't stop to find out how it went. Panting, she finally managed to squeeze through the cow shed door and, completely exhausted, she crawled into the hay.
- My dear little friend, a well-known voice rasped. What happened to you and why are you so out of breath? There sat the old elf with the pudding bowl in his hands having a great time. Anwyl hesitated somewhat, but then she told him the whole story while slowly regaining her breath. When she had finished, there was a moment's silence. Then the elf said:
- I'm very grateful for what you did because I look forward to the rice pudding during the whole year. Actually I look forward to this moment right from Christmas day the previous year. But this means that you don't get any Christmas dinner and that's a shame - no, we can't have that. Do you know what? This year I received a parcel from my nephew who lives in Belgium and it contained something he calls baked goose liver pâté. Would you like to taste it? Anwyl, who had looked so sad a moment ago, had calmed down and looked happily and eagerly at the elf, wagging her tail.
- In the letter enclosed with the parcel my nephew writes that it tastes best when spread on a slice of fresh bread. Like this! Perhaps it should be a thicker layer, what do you think? Alwyn looked at the elf and the slice of bread and nodded solemnly.
- o.k., we are going to spread a thicker layer on it. Here you are, I hope you like it. And how she liked it. Anwyl enjoyed every single mouthful. And when she had finished, she got another slice and yet another, and even though she was very full and should think about her weight, she managed to eat yet another half slice. After all it's only Christmas once a year, isn't it?
Three months later, on a beautiful spring night, she again saw the foxes dancing on the fields in the moonlight. Every now and then they stopped and looked at her before they went on playing.
But she never again saw the rats.
Bjørn Range, Norway
From the Norwegian Welsh Corgi Club's CorgiPost 4/2018, translated with kind permission of the author.
All illustrations ©Béatrice Quinio