Since it's Christmas, take some time to put your feet up and treat yourself to a story from our very own Cornish pisky lord, Romeo Kennedy, as he tells the magical tale of Captain Copper Jacca & The Morsarf of Nanjizal...
Welcome to The Horn and Howl Inn, the drinking establishment of choice for the spyrys and animals of Kernow where, on any given night, a tale or two can be heard by the travelling droll tellers and minstrels. Tales of heroic deeds and nefarious characters, wonder and woe, myth and mystery; the gathered patrons would come from far and wide for the wondrous stories, washed down with fine Kernewek ale and leave with magic in their hearts.
This was one such evening.
Jowan, the spriggan Innkeeper was trying to keep the Inn’s fire alight and tutting at the wind that bashed against the shutters, as if it too was trying to come inside and listen to the evening’s tales. The smell of the bread in the oven and the nettle and mushroom soup cooking in the pot made Jowan very hungry indeed, but he would have to be patient ... Perhaps one taste, he thought. Just to be sure.
Berens the droll telling toad waddled through the door and hung his hat on the stand. He was carrying a small fiddle and was whistling. The already gathered group of story hungry patrons greeted the tale telling amphibian, “Ho, Berens! What will this evening’s tale be?” asked a mouse.
“Yeah, what’ee got for us?” added a Pisky.
“You’ll have to wait, won’t’ee?” replied Berens with a grin.
* * *
When it appeared that no more animals or spyrys would enter and interrupt him, the toad coughed for the Inn’s attention.
He was most cross when he realized that some weren’t there for the tellings at all but instead came to play cards and dice.
Croaking his disgust, he picked up the fiddle from the floor. Ah well, any audience was better than no audience.
The gathering of ten watched as Berens placed the fiddle under his chin and started to play. They clapped along and cheered as Berens started to dance in a circle. Then the toad sang ...
The hog of Trevarnon moor
Will eat your bones and more ...
But something was wrong.
The audience weren’t clapping, nor cheering anymore. In fact, they weren’t even listening at all.
Berens stopped playing with a screech of the bow, but even that failed to redraw any attention to him.
He coughed for their attention, once, twice, but nothing. They were much too busy whispering and pointing at the table in the middle of the Inn.
“What the bleddy ‘ell is goin on?” asked Berens. “All this whisperin and tisperin, tis rude. Wasson ere? Dont’ee wanna ear the hog of Trevarnon moor?”
The mouse turned to the cross toad, “Who is that?” She whispered, pointing to the animal sitting at the table, drinking alone.
Berens barged the gathering out of the way to get a closer look and could see a rabbit.
“Ain’t you seen a rabbit drinking alone before? You bleddy daft buggers. Now come on, let’s get these tales underway.”
But Berens didn’t move, instead the toad went to take a closer look at the lone rabbit.
It would have been fair to say that the lone, grey rabbit had seen better days. One of his ears had bits missing, as if something had been chewing on it. He wore an eye patch and a long blue coat. On the collar there were four tin buttons, and a crest on the shoulder.
Berens gave a gasp, and the gathering all turned their attention back to him.
Berens smiled, “I know who that is.”
“Gesson with ‘ee,” scoffed the mouse.
“Who is ‘ee?” asked the Pisky.
“That, my friends, is the one and only Copper Jacca, Captain of the Skovarnek Guard.”
The look on the crowd’s faces said it all, eyes wide and mouths open.
All around Kernow, tales of the Skovarnek were known by many, especially in the Horn and Howl where, on most nights, there would be a tale or two about the many legends and heroic deeds of the brave rabbits. To have Captain Copper Jacca in their presence was very momentous indeed.
Berens ordered a drink for the Captain and watched as Jowan the Innkeeper delivered a fresh tankard of blackberry mead to the table. The rabbit looked straight at Berens and raised his tankard in thanks to the toad.
Berens looked pleased with himself and made to pick up the fiddle to finish his song.
“Tell us a tale about the Skovarnek.” Said the mouse.
Berens tutted and placed his fiddle on the floor.
The group all started talking over one another each asking for a specific story about the Guard.
“I want to hear the one about the singing guard, who lured the Giant into a cave where she chopped off its head,” said the newt.
“Well, I’ve heard that one a few times, and you’re getting it wrong it weren’t a giant. It was a bleddy great bog monster,” replied the Pisky.
“Can you tell us the one about the guard who was pricked with a bewitched thorn and whose fur grew roses?” asked the mouse.
“I know the perfect story to tell.” Berens said, pointing at the Captain.
“Now gather round my fair friends, and our tale shall begin.”
* * *
Our story begins long ago in Nanjizal, near the land’s end, where an arch was created in the cliffs, by the storm god, Bucca.
It is said that the arch was made to contain the anger of a morsarf. The sea serpent had been mercilessly destroying sailing vessels and dwellings near the shore. No one was safe and those who tried to oppose its wrath met with a bloody end. After the mermaids tried to stop its reign of terror, and failed, it was time to summon the Bucca. Of course, to summon the storm God would need a healthy offering of fish. The offering was made and the Bucca summoned, creating the arch in between the cliffs leading to a small cove. In this archway, he weaved a song of the sea which encased the morsarf’s anger. While the song of the sea arch sang, the morsarf’s anger would be contained and Nanjizal was safe until one day, the arch stopped singing.
As the song stopped, the morsarf’s anger was unleashed and its rage, having been trapped for so long, was burning brighter than ever. There were attempts by local spyrys and animals to hunt and kill the serpent but its rage acted as a shield, protecting it from them, and the arrows, blades, and cannon fire only served to make it angrier.
Then a Skovarnek Guard garrison at Porthsennen was obliterated by the morsarf’s rage and it was agreed that the only thing to do was to summon the Bucca. An offering was made but the Bucca did not come.
The offering of fish was made larger but still the Bucca did not come.
That was when Captain Copper Jacca, who had lost friends in the garrison attack, volunteered to recapture the morsarf’s anger once and for all.
Of course to do this he would need help. So, next morning, he travelled to the market in Pensans and soon enough found the help that he needed, in the shape of a vole named Veryan. Now Veryan was not just any vole, she was a thief and a very good one at that. When she picked Captain Jacca’s pocket, and almost got away with it, he knew that she was the right thief for the job.
‘Why have you brought a thief into our midst? How will this help us?’ the Colonel of the Skovarnek asked.
Captain Jacca smiled and said, ‘Sometimes it’s best to hire a thief to catch a thief.’
With that, Captain Jacca and Veryan made the short journey to Nanjizal and to the sea arch.
The problem the brave pair faced was very large indeed. How does one catch a thief of a song woven by a storm god?
There were rumours of course, rumours of sorcerers and dealings of dark magic. After all what could make magic more potent than the song made by a storm god? After many questions and finger pointing all turned out to be dead ends, They came upon their first true lead in the form of a message in a bottle at the foot of the arch, which read,
The morsarf will be our doom, the Bucca makes no reply to our summons and our home is in great peril. Seek the Giant pedlar, Mebyon and you will find your thief and the stolen song.
How the mermaids knew that the Giant had taken the song, to this day no one knows, but the sea has many eyes and ears.
It took a day and a dawn for them to track down the Giant, but find him they did. Along the cliff path of Porthcurno, Mebyon was pushing his wagon, filled with all sorts of wares. Veryan and Captain Jacca stopped the Giant in the middle of the path and asked him about the stolen song. But all
Mebyon said was, “Be gone ye botherers. Away, away!”
Captain Jacca and Veryan insisted, pleaded and even threatened but the stubborn Giant would not help. Instead, he removed a whistle and called forth a flock of choughs, that carried him off into the sky.
“Mebyon owes me money.” Said the newt, “Sold me a bleddy wonky teapot.”
“That was a lamp you ninny!” Said the mouse.
“Hush up!” scolded Berens, whilst watching the Captain join the game of cards in the corner of the Inn. The toad had hoped that the Captain would stay and listen to the story but the rumours all said that Jacca was the shy sort, with a fame that followed him like an unwanted shadow.
“Now, what happened next is disputed by some droll tellers and who knows? None of them may be right.”
* * *
It is said that as Mebyon took to the air among the choughs, Veryan hopped onto the shoulders of Captain Jacca and vaulted straight for the giant’s pocket. And holding two chough’s feathers in her paws, floated safely to the ground with something between her teeth. Others claim that Mebyon took to the sky with the vole already in his pocket, and others yet claim that Veryan cleared the giant’s pockets where he was stood, without so much as a flinch.
Whatever version you choose to believe all come to the same thing, which is that Veryan had stolen Mebyon’s whistle.
“Let us pay the Bucca a visit!” Veryan said and the captain agreed.
“But I thought the Bucca could only be summoned?” interrupted the Pisky.
“Ah, yes. But there is another way. Although it is quite dangerous. Let me tell you about it,” replied Berens. "The legend states that the Bucca can be summoned by an offering of fish but it also says that paying a visit to the clouds and challenging the Bucca will work just as well, if not more so. However, the latter method could mean your end. Especially if you lose The Challenge."
And so Veryan blew the whistle and called forth the flock of choughs. The birds circled around the Captain and the vole and carried them to the clouds, where they called a challenge to the Bucca by reciting the rhyme,
Bucca Bucca, wind and rain
I call a challenge in your name
Be it bow or it blade
A challenge with you, I have made.
They sat on the cloud and waited and waited and, eventually, the Bucca appeared.
“Who so calls for a challenge?” the Bucca thundered, “Do you not realize that I have other things to attend?”
The Captain and the vole asked the Bucca why he did not answer the animals’ and spyry’s summons to recapture the morsarf’s anger but the Bucca did not answer, and only said,
“Name your challenge.”
So Captain Jacca challenged the Bucca to armed combat. A foolhardy challenge you may think, but the vole and rabbit had a plan.
The Bucca drew a sword forged of rain which would call forth the storm. Captain Jacca gripped his own steel blade in two paws and gritted his teeth. The wind started to circle around the Bucca, and Captain Copper Jacca knew that this was a battle he wouldn’t win, or even walk away from.
He yielded there and then.
The Bucca was furious and, with a gust of wind, threw them both off the cloud.
If it wasn’t for the vole, the whistle and the flock of choughs, they would have indeed met a horrific end, instead they were carried safely away.
Once they were delivered back to the ground, Captain Jacca and Veryan heard a roar from the skies. It could have only been the Bucca and both the rabbit and the vole knew the reason for the Bucca’s cry of anguish.
You see, my dear friends, Captain Jacca’s yield was but a ruse and, whilst the Storm God’s attention was diverted, Veryan had swiped the Bucca’s sword of rain, for they both knew what had to be done next and that was to seal the fate of the morsarf for good.
The storm clouds gathered and the rain started to pelt down, the angry Bucca would not be far behind them. As they neared the shore of Nanjizal, the Captain waded out into the stirring waters with the vole on his back.
“Hear me, serpent!” The rabbit shouted against the gathering wind, “WE DO NOT FEAR YOUR ANGER. COME FORTH!”
There was a shrieking sound that hurt their ears and then the morsarf emerged from the ocean’s depths, tearing the waves with its burning rage. With row upon row of the sharpest teeth, a mouth as wide as the sun, eyes that could turn hearts to stone and its scales shining like mirrors. It swayed its sinuous body in a hypnotic motion, sizing up its prey. Then the morsarf gave a roar and struck with unforgiving force.
Captain Jacca and Veryan were swallowed with one gulp.
As they entered the mouth of the serpent the Captain swung his saber at the onslaught of fangs, breaking the morsarf’s dagger-like teeth and dulling the blade of his sword. They then flew down the throat of the morsarf, spinning with the sea water and gasping for breath. They could smell the serpent’s stomach before they fell into its bubbling pool of acid.
With moments to spare before being burnt to a crisp in the caustic turmoil, they paddled to the stern of a half digested ship, and climbed to safety.
Captain Jacca unsheathed the Bucca’s rain sword and held it high. A storm gathered and whirled around the blade and, when Captain Jacca hacked and slashed at the belly of the beast, the lightning erupted, bringing forth the howling wind, rain and thunder. The morsarf howled in pain as the storm raged against its bloodlust. With another few swipes of the storm blade, the Captain made a hole for which to make their escape.
Captain Jacca made to leap out into the ocean, when Veryan said, “Meet me on the shore. I won’t be long,” and darted off. Jacca cried out but knew it was too late. The vole was much too fast for even his voice to catch up with. With a heavy heart he leapt into the waters and swam as fast he could to the shore. He looked back to see the morsarf shake, roar and then disintegrate into pieces in front of his eyes.
The morsarf was no more.
Jacca cupped his paws over his mouth and yelled Veryan’s name out into the debris and smoke covered ocean. He squinted his eyes desperately, searching for sight or sound of the vole.
The drifting flotsam parted ...
Through the smoke came a blackened and singed Veryan, riding the tooth of the morsarf.
Captain Jacca hopped into the air with glee as the vole reached the shoreline.
Veryan was safe and held a leather pouch.
“The anger of the morsarf!” she declared with delight.
But their happiness was short lived.
* * *
“What happened then?” Asked the newt.
“Well, my friends,” the toad said and pointed to the open shutter, "First comes the wind, then comes the Bucca. And that is exactly what happened next."
* * *
The skies darkened and the rain began to fall, and a huge shadow was cast on the rabbit and vole.
“Pitiful, thieving creatures. Trying to best Bucca!” the booming voice rang out.
The Bucca pointed to Veryan, “Thief of thieves! Return my sword and my punishment shall be swift.”
The Captain and the thief had no choice but to return the sword of rain to the God.
“We only did what you would not!” Jacca said pointing at the destroyed morsarf. “And we will both face our punishment together.”
The Bucca readied a lightning bolt but, just before he threw it, Captain Jacca and Veryan opened the leather pouch containing the morsarf’s anger and sent it flying toward the Bucca. It hit its target straight and true.
The storm God howled and dropped the lightning bolt into the sea. The Bucca fell from the skies and landed onto the beach where, in a strained voice it said,
“I have met my match on this day. Very well, you are released from punishment for now. However, when the sunset turns green and you turn to gaze upon it thrice, the wind shall howl and whisk you away to places unknown.”
And, with that, the Bucca reached up, grabbed a nearby, passing cloud and vanished back into the sky.
* * *
But what of Mebyon? It wouldn’t be long before he would return, searching for his whistle. Captain Copper Jacca and Veryan lay in wait behind some rocks, with their backs to the setting sun and, indeed, it wasn’t long before they heard Mebyon’s voice.
“Trinket of trinkets, Relics of old. All can be bought and all can be sold.”
As the giant neared their hiding place they pounced.
“Thieves! Scoundrels! Villains!” Mebyon cried.
“Return the song!” Veryan said, “Or else, this whistle shall call the birds no more.”
The giant gave a sigh, and held out his large hand. It was filled with broken glass.
“I dropped the bottle.” Mebyon said with sadness in his eyes. “It is lost.”
Some say that the giant took the song for his own greed and to enhance the magic of his wares but his clumsiness overcame his greed when the bottle containing the song fell from the wagon and smashed. The song was indeed lost, forever.
“But the song is still there!” exclaimed the mouse, “You have but to stand on the cove to hear’un.”
“Yes,” replied Berens, “But it’s not the song that the Bucca wove ...”
The destruction of the morsarf returned hope to the land. The Captain and the vole used the very same bottle that the mermaids had sent their message in, to return a note to them asking them for their help to create a new song.
Tied around the neck of a gannet, the seabird plunged with the bottle into the ocean to deliver the request. The choughs too, were asked for their help, summoned with Mebyon’s whistle. The song that the birds and the mermaids sang merged the melodies of sea and air, to commemorate those lost to the serpent’s anger and to spread peace and hope across the land’s end.
* * *
“As our mouse friend said. The song still sings and will sing forever more.” Berens concluded.
“But wouldn’t Mebyon just steal this song too?” asked the newt.
“He could try,” Berens replied with a smug grin, “but I’m sure a certain Captain of the Skovarnek and a brave vole will have something to say of it. Speaking of which, tis very unusual to see the Captain without Veryan these days.”
“Perhaps she turned to look at the green sunset three times?” the Pisky asked.
There was a commotion from behind the bar, “All right, own up! Whose taken the soup and fresh bread?” Jowan cried.
Berens smiled and made to pick up his fiddle,
“My fiddle? It’s gone. Whose taken my fiddle?”
The gathered looked perplexed, and from the corner of the Horn and Howl, Captain Copper Jacca smiled.
“Looks like a friend of mine is up to her old tricks.”
Follow Romeo on Twitter @RomeoRites