Coming over ‘Black Hill’ the Fiesta changed gear with a grind, and at a steady pace the car travelled down into the valley below. As the central mirror reflected the morning sun, the two occupants carried on their journey towards the river, over the bridge and onwards to ‘Little Cottage’. Pat turned and winked at his grandchild. He gave a quick whistle and pointed below at the clouds that sat on top the Wye.
“Grampy, are they real clouds? Are we going to drive through them?” The six year old leant forward, peered over the top of the dashboard, and dug his fingers into the plastic. He rubbed his tired eyes, and with anticipation waited for them to get to the bottom, over the bridge and into the steam.
“Grampy? He questioned, “Why” he paused, “when, did they get there?”
Pat released the gear stick, slipped his hand onto the boys’ hair and gave it a gentle rub. “Well Tyron,” he began. He paused and gave himself a second by gasping in through his teeth.
‘Tryon, why didn’t his daughter give the child a proper name’ he thought. ‘She must have named him after some pop star or someone from X Factor, or maybe worse, her dealer boyfriend.’ Pat drifted for a while remembering the call that woke him up at midnight, driving up to the police station in London, and the acceptance that this call would come one day. Of course they had been nice to the boy, feed him, and wrapped him up in a blanket. And of course he and Jill would take him in. What else would they do?
“Well Tyron, you know the story of the Four Brothers?” Pat waited for a reply.
The boys ears picked up and his brain went in to overload. “Four Brothers?” he questioned, “what four brothers, what story?”
“You know, the brothers who travel down on the clouds every night, search for the golden key and then, when the sun comes up, they have to travel back up to the heavens.” He said it at a steady pace. With every word the boys’ attention fell stronger on Pat’s face.
The old man smiled, put his sleepy imagination in place and began.
A long time a go, there was, and I guess, there still is, a family of four grown brothers. Their parents were powerful gods. As their children grew, their father built them a splendid house on top of the great cloud to live in (they were far too big to stay at home). It contained four large bedrooms, all with bathrooms and with constant hot water. Each was perfectly decorated in pearl and silk. He built them a great hall, forty cubes long by twenty cubes wide, lined with oak, and with nails of gold. A chandelier hung in the centre and was made of a splendid mixture of raindrops, icicles and diamonds. The light spread by the candles hit the chandelier. It radiated in rainbows and as white lasers across the cheery wood tables. The beams highlighting the condiments and cutlery and danced across the marble floor.
When the last golden thatch had landed and tied onto the last section of the roof, the father came down to admire his work. It was truly a home fit for the sons of the Gods. His wife crept up close; proud of her husband she gently kissed him on the cheek. “I have run you a deep bath, full off rose water and have laid out new silk robes for you. Go home, my husband, rest, relax and return this evening. We will have a feast prepared that will be worthy of the work you have done.”
Happy with his build, he shook his long white locks and drifted on a small cloud across the sky back to his own house.
The mother clapped her hands and very slowly the brothers all appeared; yawning and scratching and shabby. Looking over her boys she pursed her lips, brought in her eyebrows and scowled at her brood.
Loud enough to make mortals hide from thunder above, she spoke. “My sons, your father has worked day and night to build you this magnificent home. Tonight we will give him a feast fit for his standing. You must all travel to the earth and bring back food and drink for you dear father.” She lingered on each one of them, they tried to focus back. “Come forward Rex, my oldest, jump down and bring us back magnificent meat for tonight.
Rex ambled forward, tripped on his sandal and tipped from the cloud towards the earth.
The wind flew through his hair, and the boy, losing balance slanted forward. As he rolled his hands and feet became paws, his back grew yellow fur and a tail sprouted from his backside. With thunder, he landed on the plains of the Savannah, shook his main and roared into the grasslands. His powerful back arched and his fur warmed in the African heat.
Around him stood a heard of gazelles, camouflaged in shades of stripes and only visible by the slight nodding of their heads. Grazing on the endless food; unaware of the presence of the lion, they relaxed in the open prairie. Rex pawed and slunk his way inwards, flicking the flies with his tail and pulling in his eyebrows. Within yards he crouched down and waited. Nothing stirred. Eyeing his catch he chose a large older female, he was sure he could catch her quick, kill fast and bring home the bacon, or in this case the venison.
His left trapeze tensed, the grass moved, and an eyelash flickered. He rose up his front body, ready, wound tightly, and then he leapt. It all happened in an instant. Several small black birds rose and squawked; the herd sprang into flight, went right, then left, back again and crossed into the river. Rex stopped, breathed in deeply and sat back totally confused by what had just happened. He may be the king of the jungle, a god up in the clouds, but he had failed to catch. This needed some thought.
The sun was hot, the air still and the lion tired. Soon he rested his head on his paws and snored into the daylight. The other animals gave him some distance, not wanting to disturb their king, it was far better for them when he was asleep.
Day turned into night and as the temperature dropped, the lion stirred, stretched and surveyed the land. Not an animal in sight and his cloud was ready to take him home empty handed. Even though he was strong and muscular he was also very lazy. He returned outside his home with nothing for the great feast.
The mother of the four brothers then called her second son, “Come, Che, go to the jungle, turn yourself into your monkey and bring us back fruit and nuts for the festival.” With a sly smile Che mock saluted and spinning leapt from the clouds he laughed as he travelled down into the trees.
Before he hit the floor, his tail swung around and grabbed a low branch. Quickly with hands stretched, Che gathered berries and nuts. Leaping from tree to tree he horded them in a large pile.
Soon he had enough for every one to gorge themselves at the evenings gathering. Happy with his lot, he searched around for something else to occupy his time. Something caught his ear. There was movement down on the jungle floor, explorers. Che eyed in, watching, waiting for the travellers to move below him. His excitement grew and he could hardly contain himself. And then he let them have it. First a nut, then the red berries.
Below, the explorers ran as the hail of fruit bombarded their hats. Che chased on, his arsenal colouring their clothing and the nuts bonking their pith helmets. It was as much fun as he had ever had.
Time passed, the explorers escaped the jungle and slowly the monkey went back to his trees, happy with the entertainment. There waiting was his cloud but nothing was left in his pile of fruit and nuts. The second brother arrived home with nothing for the feast. Che was fast and nimble but also very silly.
The third son came forward. “Son, your Father likes sushi, fresh from the oceans, take yourself, turn yourself into the Shark and bring back a brilliant catch." So Occa, dived from the clouds and as he fell, his arms became fins, his legs joined together and flicked as a tail. Breaking the ocean waves he dived deep within the cool water. Power filled his blubber, and as a dart he covered the seas.
His mouth constantly ready, anything that crossed his path was grabbed, ripped and stored away. Before long Occa was full to bursting, his cheeks blown out and he was ready to return home.
“Third son, what wonderful catch did you bring back for your fathers feast?” The delight on his mothers face shone the hottest sun rays down onto the earth. Occa, stood and dropped his catch for all to see. He pushed it with his feet. The first item that came to the surface was a British number plate NP05 UEX. Occa bent down and rummaged, returning with a deck board from the Titanic. After several attempts other items were brought forward, including a petrol four litre container, a large pair of stone wash blue jeans and a case of rubber washers. But no food.
Although Occa worked hard he never did it with any quality, he just grabbed whatever came along.
Shaking his head, the youngest brother stepped forward. Kicking through the rubbish his brothers had brought or failed to bring back, Raja the Tiger roared with delight, grinned at his family and rode a cloud down to the mountains of Napal.
Landing inside his cloud to cover his presence the tiger prowled his domain. First he needed a roast, down in the village, outside in the sun, a deer was being spit over an open fire. Raja saw his chance, quietly he crept forward and then with speed he flew at the pole, catching it in his teeth. A broom sung out form a tent catching the Tiger full in the face bowling him backwards in to the fire.
“Not my dinner, off with you fur ball” said the tents owner.
With a burnt tail Raja shouted into the mountains and with more heat than he wanted, the feline ran towards the river and dived straight in. Steam drifted out as a satisfied cat sat and felt the cool water.
Beside him fish swam passed. He dipped a paw in and tickled them. They came closer. Raja, quick as a flash, flipped one. The fish flew into the air, four feet out of the water and twisted as it caught the wind. Raja spied it, opened his large jaws, his teeth reflecting against the fishes silver scales. And as it dropped closer, the fish opened its own mouth, showing its own razors. Inside it caught the tigers tongue, splitting it and sending Raja into a fit. He sprinted into the jungle and chewed on a doc leaf.
Raja sat and pondered, this wasn’t going very well. An itch began in the middle of his shoulder blades (fur does that). It moved, and spread. Raja backed towards the nearest tree and rubbed. The tree wobbled. A bunch of berries dropped in front. Raja stopped, looked up and rubbed again, more berries fell. A change of trees and cashew nuts fell. Raja, forgetting his injuries leapt from tree to tree, creating a massive pile of goodies. ‘One more tree’ thought Raja and scratched against the highest truck he could find. He rubbed. Nothing fell, he went again, banging against the bark. And through the wind it came, from way up and travelling at the speed of sound. Raja raised his head up as the cocoanut smacked into his forehead.
When he woke, the sun had gone down and his cloud was waiting. Around him the last of his berries were being dragged away by smaller animals. With a headache, a burnt tail and a sore mouth, the youngest brother returned empty handed. Even though he was willing he lacked the skills needed to succeed.
From a distant a clean and well groomed father God travelled on his personnel cloud ready for the great feast. His clothes of silk were tied with rope made from gold which blew genteelly around him. The four brothers stood and shuffled. Their mother, with arms folded, ground her teeth.
The cloud landed and the boys’ father disembarked. With arms open and with a welcoming face he looked forward to the feast provided by his grateful sons.
Coming forward with her left arm stretched his wife asked for the golden key to unlock the beautiful home. Without questioning he handed the key over (he had questioned once before, but learnt his lesson). She turned it over in her fingers, showed it to her sons and spoke in clear, slow, pointed words. “You have failed to show respect for your father. Until you learn how to not be so lazy, not be so silly or stupid and have learnt the skills you need for life. All of you will spend your nights searching for this key. When you have found it, it will show that you have grown up and learnt your lessons in life, and then you will be ready to enter the home of the gods.” And with this she flung the key over her shoulder. It fell through the clouds and into the rivers of the earth.
The car drove over the bridge and crept up towards ‘Little Cottage’. Pat switched off the engine and watched the clouds on the river rise slowly up into the sky. He rubbed the boy’s hair again. “Every night, the four brothers travel down form the sky, each hidden behind their cloud, not wanting to be seen as the animals they are. Each night they trawl the river beds in search for the golden key and their way home. In the mornings the clouds rise and take the brothers back to the sky where they wait for the next night to start the search again.”
Tyron opened and closed his mouth, eyes like saucers. “Will they find the key?”
Pat thought about it for a while, undid his seatbelt and opened his car door. “I guess when they work out they need to work as a team, to work hard, smartly and learn the skills to do the job right. Eventually they will find the key to open the door to their home. Then they can finally relax. I guess we all find it in the end. Come on, I think your granny has bacon cooking.”
Together, as they walked up into the cottage Tyron asked. “Can you tell me it again Granddad?”
“Maybe over breakfast” said Pat.