Pekka the brave

Issue 4/1983 | Archives online, Children's books, Fiction

An extract from Pekka Peloton (‘Pekka the brave’, 1982). Introduction by Leena Kirstinä

The other ghost was now very close to the Bear. The inhabitants of the Green Woods had pulled back out of its way in terror but the poor Bear couldn’t even get himself to budge. Miserable, he had covered his eyes and slumped down in his own fur.

‘Psst,’ the ghost whispered. ‘Hi, Bear, it’s only me.’ And the ghost poked the Bear in the ribs. ‘It’s me, Pekka. Come on, open your eyes!

But the Bear didn’t make a move to do what Pekka had asked and Pekka began to get worried. He knew the Wolf wouldn’t stay put for a very long time and little by little would start to wonder what this was all about. ‘Dear Bear,’ Pekka said in a louder voice, and punched him as hard as he could. ‘Get up! We haven’t much time … ‘ Pekka’s voice was trembling. ‘Look! I’ve got the key to your courage right here … ‘

The Bear opened one eye and stared doubtfully at the ghost. ‘It’s impossible,’ he finally muttered. ‘The Wolf has the key. And anyway, I don’t believe in ghost talk … ‘ And the Bear closed his eye again.

Pekka felt fear creeping into his throat, and no matter how hard he swallowed, it wouldn’t slip down to his stomach as easily as before. There was no time to waste! Just then Pekka saw out of the corner of his eye that the Wolf had begun to stare at them suspiciously. Of course, Pekka remembered that the Wolf could still hear! The Wolf had heard what Pekka had said, and although the first fright still held him in its grip, he was certainly getting all kinds of ideas in his head. And although the Owl rose up into the air again and began to fly silently towards the Wolf, flapping a bedsheet at him, he didn’t seem to get too frightened. The Wolf got up from his chair, grumbled a bit, and howled as hard as he could to bring back his old strength. He gave Pekka a sharp look. ‘A ghost … did I hear right, did this ghost of ours call himself Pekka … Strange, isn’t it,’ he said to his guardwolves. Little by little, they began to get their self-confidence back, too. Well … were ghosts supposed to have the names of people?

‘Bear, listen, believe me, we’ve got no time to waste … Take the key and unlock that chest of yours,’ Pekka said, almost in tears, and poking at the Bear. Why did he have to be so hopelessly slow?

The Wolf was quite a different wolf from just a minute before. Wide-awake and alert, he had listened to Pekka talk, and when he checked his pockets he realized that the key that should have been there was now gone. At first he got so frightened that the world came to a stop, but when he saw the Bear slumped motionless on the ground, he figured he hadn’t lost the game yet. Even if the ‘ghost’ had the key, as long as the Bear wouldn’t use the key, he wouldn’t have a drop of courage in him. ‘Well, well, what’s been going on here,’ the Wolf grumbled and turned to glare angrily at his guards. ‘You dumdums,’ he shouted. ‘Spears at the ready!’ Then the Great Wolf lowered his voice and began to explain something, waving towards Pekka and the Bear.

‘Oh, Bear, look here and take the key,’ Pekka begged. ‘It’s only me.’ And Pekka shook off the bedsheet and stood in front of the Bear, looking so much like himself that no one could mistake him.

The Bear opened his eyes, looked at Pekka and finally grasped that it really was Pekka standing there. In his hand, he held something even more familiar. A small golden key.

The Bear slowly reached out his paw, clutched the key and felt how It made new feelings stir in his chest. ‘My key,’ the Bear thought. ‘I’ve got it now, my own little key.’ He rubbed the key gently and remembered why he had gotten it. He dug the chest out of the pocket of his fur coat and started to try the key in the lock. Pekka folded his hands and squeezed as hard as he could. Oh, if only the Bear would manage to do It… Why was he so clumsy?

‘Stop!’ bellowed the Wolf. ‘Don’t move! This is an order and I’m in control here! Stay where you are!’ He turned to his guards: ‘Catch the Bear and the human cub, too! Quick! You have your spears and your teeth, and you are wolves! Go!’

The Bear’s paw trembled at the Wolf’s tone of voice and he couldn’t get the key into the lock. ‘Quick!’ Pekka shouted, fighting tears, and before he knew It, he had grabbed the key, slipped it into the lock and turned It. Snap! and the lid of the chest sprang open.

That had quite an effect. The Wolf and his guards froze for a moment … Who could say what would come out of the chest: ghosts, spirits, nightmare… But the Gnome and the Fox reacted very differently to its being opened. They had rushed over full of hope and were now looking at it in surprise.

‘Oh,’ muttered he Fox, ‘there’s no courage there … only a little scrap of paper… She felt like crying.

The Bear looked just as miserable. But the Gnome wanted to see the paper, at least. ‘Wait a minute,’ the Gnome said, and took the piece of paper in his hand. Something was written on it. The Gnome handed It over to the Bear.

Then, Pekka too, could see that there was something written on the paper. Read It, he shouted. ‘Go on and read it!’

The Bear took the paper and snuffled. ‘I can’t see ‘ he said ashamed: ‘My glasses,’… and the paper was shaking like an aspen leaf in his hand. The Fox had told the truth. How could a piece of paper and a few words give you any courage?

When the Wolf saw that nothing like a genie rose out of the chest only a scrap of paper, he went right back to his task. ‘Guards,’ he bellowed in his harsh voice, ’attack, quick, if your own life is dear to you!’

You could see that it was, because the guards held out their spears and started to march in a column towards them. The Gnome sat down on a rock and decided to forget the whole thing. ‘You sure don’t need a fortune teller’s gift now,’ he thought. He was pretty sure there would be a couple of hundred unpleasant years ahead.

But Pekka didn’t give up yet although the situation looked worse than hopeless. He grabbed the piece of paper from the Bear’s paw and in a loud voice began to read what was written on it. The paper was brittle and the letters were unclear and old-fashioned but by some miracle Pekka managed to make out:

BEAR, ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT YOU AND YOU ALONE ARE THE BRAVEST AND STRONGEST OF ALL THE ANIMALS IN THE FOREST!

‘I … I … I … ‘ the Bear muttered and looked around. That couldn’t be true … There were too many wolves, they even had spears, and the Great Wolf was making frightful faces. Words were just words.

‘Say it, Bear,’ Pekka cried desperately. ‘Say it yourself. Quickly!’ The guards had sized up the situation and concluded that It was rather good for them. They spread out in a chain and encircled them from all sides. There was no chance for escape.

‘Bear, always remember that you and you alone are the bravest and strongest of all the animals in the forest,’ the Bear mumbled. He looked at Pekka shook his head, but something decisive and forceful in Pekka’s gaze made the Bear repeat the sentence once more. Little by little, something was happening in the Bear’s brain! He began to remember many things that the sentence referred to. The words were more than true! Bears were the bravest of all animals! Who was the strongest? Bear, and no one else. Wolves were just wolves, only a little bigger than dogs. The Bear himself was big, really big and strong.

Suddenly the Bear raised up to his full height and was so huge that even Pekka jumped back in fright. The Bear stretched himself just as the Wolf had, and looked at the guards.

‘Well well what’s going on here?’ he asked and took a step toward the wolves, who stopped and eyed each other uncertainly. The plan that a moment ago had seemed so good began to fall apart at an alarming rate … Should they ask the Great Wolf for new orders … ?

But there was no time for that. The Bear was standing right in front of them, tall as a big building. Whack, thunked the Bear’s paw, and sent the first guardwolf rolling like a ball on the floor. Whack, thunked the paw again and sent another one rolling. The others didn’t wait for their turn. They threw away their spears and ran off and hid behind the throne of the Great Wolf. They peeked at the Bear, full of fear. He didn’t seem to obey the rules of an honorable fight!

The Wolf closed his eyes and felt the world spinning fast around him. ‘Oh, poor me, oh, poor little wolf,’ he muttered. ‘I’d so much like to go on a long trip … ‘ He opened his eyes and tried to see a way to escape. If he had to clear out, his legs could carry him off fast, after all.

But the Bear already stood right in front of the chair, and the Wolf could not go anywhere. The Bear reached out his paw towards the Wolf, who howled with fear and threw himself on the floor so fast you couldn’t believe it. He lay on his back and chopped the air with his paws and thrashed the floor with his tail. ‘Mercy, good Bear,’ he begged. ‘It was all only a joke … We were going to go away tomorrow and leave the forest for you … Just forgot to tell you that in the hubbub of the party …’

The Bear laughed to himself. ‘Only a joke … Was Lex Lupus a joke, too?’ He looked at the inhabitants of the Green Woods. They had got their courage back and approached the wolf, growling ominously. Lex Lupus had clearly not been a joke to them.

‘But Lex Lupus was cancelled, all the orders, too,’ the Wolf cried, trying to save his life. He wagged his tail. ‘The extra leaflets have been removed. They were just autumn leaves … ‘ The Wolf began to weep and wail. All that was dear to him was about to be lost.

‘Well, speak up so we can all hear you,’ thundered the Bear. ‘Whose is the Green Woods?’ The Bear looked at the forest folk standing in a tight circle around the Wolf. ‘Let’s hear your answer!’

‘Yours, of course,’ the Wolf whimpered, ashamed to death. ‘The forest’s own folk … who have always lived here … This was just a mistake … ‘

‘The forest belongs to the Gnomes,’ the Gnome agreed, and clutched his lantern tighter. ‘The Gnomes know best. They are the oldest.’

‘Whoo-whoo, it belongs to the owls,’ came a voice from behind him. The Owl swirled around gracefully and fluidly. ‘To the ones who know how to behave … ‘

‘To the foxes,’ said the Fox and smiled sweetly. ‘The foxes are the smartest. Everyone knows that … ‘

The Bear clapped his paws together and all fell silent. Then the Bear said in a slow, clear voice, ‘This forest belongs to all of us. We have always lived here in peace, give or take small squabbles. But I am the ruler of the Green Woods. I am the bravest and the strongest.’

Translated by Aili and Austin Flint

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