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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Prickly Thistles and Peonies

Summer nights in the highlands of Scotland are short. The sun goes to bed very late, sets, and rises again just a few hours later. The longer days allow the flowers to grow bigger, brighter, and more beautiful. Such was Friday night.

DING DONG! The doorbell rang. Mungo opened it, expecting the children who came to listen to his weekly storytelling. "Mrs. McAllister?" he said, quite surprised. "May I help you?"

She was carrying a tray. Small flowers were growing from the many soil-filled boxes inside. "I thought you might like some of these peonies to plant in your garden. Iíve got so many flowers already," she told him.

"Why, Iíd be delighted to take them from you. Thank you, Mrs. McAllister. Iíd invite you in but the bairns will be here shortly," Mungo said.

"Thatís all right, Mungo. Iíll be going now. Enjoy the peonies," she said, waving goodbye as she walked down the lane towards her home.

Mungo put the tray of flowers down in the back garden. He stopped and smiled. "Iíve the perfect idea for tonightís story," he said. He walked back into the front garden just as the bairns began to arrive. "Hello and welcome, Morag," he called, "and to you too, wee Hamish," who was right behind her. "Go inside and help yourself to the snacks. Iíll be in shortly," he said.

Morag took wee Hamish by the hand and went inside. Ginger, Mungoís cat, purred near his legs. "Och, I forgot to put you away before the bairns arrived. Come on, then," he said, scooping the cat into his arms. He went in the back door so the bairns wouldnít see him with Ginger and put her on the bed, shutting the door behind him.

DING DONG! Mungo opened the door. It was Gavin and wee Fiona. "Come in. Come in. Weíre only waiting on Gregor and Andy and then we can begin." They didnít have to wait long. Gregor showed up a moment later and right behind him was Andy, smiling at Mungo. "Good evening, Andy and Gregor. Come inside." They went into the living room. Morag and wee Hamish, Gavin and wee Fiona, were already stuffing their faces with golden brown bannocks, cut in half, spread with mayonnaise and a dab of mustard, and filled with sliced ham and cheeses, potato crisps and huge, plump dill pickles. "When youíre done, bairns, weíre going to do something different for tonightís story."

"What are we going to do?" asked wee Fiona. She bit a piece off a crisp pickle.

"Are we going to watch a video?" asked Gregor.

"No, bairns. Tonight weíre going to go outside into my back garden. Mrs. McAllister just brought me over some peonies and weíre going to plant them while I tell you my story. Is that all right with you?" he asked them.

"Iíll get my dress dirty," said Morag.

Gavin shook his head. "Morag, just have your mum wash it afterwards. Itís only a dress!"

"Itís not only a dress, Gavin. I wore it just forÖ.well, never mind," Morag replied. She was going to say that sheíd worn it just for him, but thought better of it. "I suppose I can have my mum wash it."

"Good. Letís go out to the flower garden. You can finish your snacks later," Mungo said. The bairns jumped up and ran outside. "Come and sit over here," Mungo said, walking over to the rose garden. Morag sat right next to Gavin.

"Those are beautiful flowers," Andy said, sniffing one. "They smell good."

"I love roses," said wee Fiona. "They smell so lovely."

"How did you grow yellow roses? Our roses are all red. I didnít know they had yellow ones too. What other colors are there?" Gavin asked.

"If youíll look in my rose garden, youíll see all kinds of colors. Why donít you walk around for a little while and see what colors you can find. In fact, all of you walk around my garden and come back in a while. You can tell me about the different kinds of flowers you see in my garden," Mungo said. "Weíll talk about them when youíre finished." Mungoís flower garden was very large. It took up half his back garden. The sun was still up, casting shadows behind the trees and bushes. The colors seemed more vivid at this time of evening than any other time. Soon the bairns were back, sitting near Mungoís feet. "Letís start with Gavin. How many colors of roses did you find in my garden?" he asked.

"I saw pink ones, red ones, yellow, white and even purple ones. They all smelled good," Gavin said.

"What about you, Andy? What kind of flowers did you see?" Mungo asked.

"I saw some yellow buttercups," Andy said.

"Why do they call them buttercups?" asked wee Hamish.

"They are the same color as butter, silly," replied Morag.

"What other kinds of flowers did you see, Andy?" asked Mungo.

"I saw some poppies. They were red. I saw a bee inside one gathering pollen," Andy answered.

"Very good. Yes, those were poppies. Now itís your turn, Gregor. What did you find?"

"I saw some lilacs. They were purple. Some were dark purple and some were light. They smell almost as nice as the roses," Gregor said.

"They are lovely. Morag, what kind of flowers did you find?" Mungo asked.

"Well, I saw a lot of different kinds. I saw some primrose. I know they are primrose because we have them at our house. Yours are a much lovelier pink than ours. I also saw some hawthorn bushes with white flowers, some pink daisies and azaleas. My grandma has azaleas growing everywhere in her garden. Yours are orange. Theyíre pretty," Morag said.

"Well, Morag. You did see a lot of flowers, didnít you? Good lass. Now, wee Hamish, did you see any flowers?"

"I only saw three kinds. I saw heather, just like the kind that grows on the hills. I saw some little bluebells. I shook them and they wiggled like a bell. I saw thistles too. I like thistles. Our sheep, Bonniebell eats thistles," wee Hamish said.

"Thistles arenít flowers. Theyíre weeds," Morag corrected.

"No they arenít. They have purple flowers on them, donít they Mr. McGee?" Gavin said, happy to correct Morag.

"Youíre both right. Thistles are weeds, but they have beautiful purple blooms and thistles are Scotlandís national flower. Did any of you know that?" Mungo asked. The bairns all shook their heads back and forth. "Oh, look. Thereís a robin," he said, pointing to a red-breasted bird that was running about on the grass.

The bairns turned and watched as the robin pulled a worm out of the ground. "It caught a worm," shouted wee Fiona. She started to giggle.

"Yes, robins like worms," Mungo said. They sat and watched the robin for a few minutes as it hopped around. "Whoíd like to hear a story about the thistle?" he asked.

"I would," shouted wee Hamish.

"Me too," said Andy.

The rest of them raised their hands. "All right then. Iíll tell you. A long time ago, way before the days of the Highlanders and way back before the days of King Robert the Bruce, the people who lived in Scotland were often attacked by Vikings."

"I know what a Viking is," squealed Gregor. "They wear pointed hats and have long boats and blond hair."

"Thatís right. The Vikings were also called Danes, because they came from Scandinavia. Thatís a big word and hard to say," Mungo said.

"I can say it," boasted Morag. "Scandinavia," she said.

"Thatís right, Morag. Very good," Mungo congratulated.

"I can say it too," said wee Fiona. "Scanava," she said.

"Good try, wee Fiona. Weíll call them Vikings. Thatís much easier to say. The Vikings used to come to Scotland and attack the villages, just like the one we live in. They used to rob things from the churches, taking all the gold and jewels and putting them in their longships. They killed a lot of men and women too, and even some children. Some of the Scottish men were very angry with the Vikings and went off to battle them with their swords," Mungo said proudly.

"I hope they donít come and kill the people in our village," said Gregor.

"They wonít. There arenít any Vikings any more," said Morag.

"Sheís right. The Vikings lived a long, long, long time ago. Now, one night, after a long walk, the Scottish men rested in a field that was near the sea. They caught some fish, gathered some delicious clams, crabs, and mussels. They probably killed a couple of grouse too. They built a fire and roasted them. They had a good feast and they needed it. Tomorrow theyíd be battling with the Vikings. After theyíd eaten, they sprawled out in the grass and fell asleep," Mungo said."The moon was bright and there were millions of stars twinkling in the sky. Some of the Scots stayed away for a while watching shooting stars and talk about the man in the moon."

"My dad always fall asleep after he eats too," wee Fiona said. "Is there really a man in the moon?" she asked after thinking about what Mungo had said.

"A lot of people fall asleep after eating and no, there isnít really a man in the moon. When it comes out tonight, look at it. If the moon is full, it looks like a manís face," Mungo responded. "Back to the Viking story. The Vikings sailed up the coast in their longships and spotted the Scotsmenís fire burning. They pulled their longships onto the sand. Seagulls squawked above them as their longships disturbed them while they were roosting on the rocks. They talked and decided to wait until the Scots were asleep and they would attack and kill them. When they heard the Scots snoring and knew they were asleep, the chief of the Vikings told his men to take off their shoes. They wore leather ones and the seawater had made of them squeak when they walked. The Vikings crept through the tall grasses towards them with their long silver swords out."

"Oh no," said wee Fiona.

"Just as they were about to reach the camp, the Viking men reached a patch of thistle. They stepped on the prickly plants with their bare feet. They started screaming and crying, hopping around holding onto their feet," Mungo said.

Wee Hamish laughed. So did the others. "I can imagine the Vikings doing that," laughed Morag.

"The Scottish men woke up from all the screaming, grabbed their swords and fought the Vikings. The ones that didnít die, ran back to their longships and rowed away. It was such a great battle that they won, that the Scots made the thistle the national flower so theyíd always remember their victory that night," Mungo concluded.

"Thistles are prickly. I stepped on one once, but stingy nettle is even worse," said Gregor.

"Stingy nettle hurts," Andy chimed in.

Mungo started laughing. He gave each of the bairns three plants to put in the ground. "Time to plant my peonies," he said. "Dig a hole with the shovel, put the plant in and fill the hole back up with dirt, then pat it down with your hands," he instructed.

They spent the next hour planting the peonies. Wee Hamish and wee Fiona were too little. They tried to help, but ended up breaking some of the stems so Mungo sent them off to chase butterflies. When they were finished, they went back into the house and washed their hands. Morag hadnít gotten any dirt on her dress and she was happy about that. They polished off their snacks and sweeties just as their parents came to pick them up. After saying goodbye to them all, Mungo let Ginger out of the bedroom. Since it was still semi-light outside, he took the cat out to see the new peonies. Mungo sat in a lawn-chair and watched the sunset as Ginger chased a squirrel around the garden. What a wonderful summer night it was.

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