Far ago and long away a grandmother struggled to raise her granddaughter in a tidy cottage next to the windmill by the canal. One night, after a long day’s sweeping and scrubbing, the grandmother sat by the fire resting while Elsa, the granddaughter, prepared the gruel. A knock on the door sounding as if from a weary knuckle was heard. Elsa looked to her grandmother, who nodded. Elsa opened the door, revealing a bent crone dressed in filthy rags, who took a single step forward and fell senseless. The grandmother hurried to help Elsa drag the visitor to the fire.
‘Bring some gruel and our best water,’ said the grandmother to Elsa.
Soon the crone was revived and comforted, wrapped in the patchwork quilt and sipping water.
‘Your kindness shall be rewarded,’ said the crone. ‘Listen clear. South, far south, so south as you can go, there is a black bird with a white belly and flippers instead of wings. She lives on the Plain of Whedge, where the white blossoms bloom. Find her and say you are sent by Old Mombillia to collect a reward. Blessings on you, child and child’s grandmother.’
So saying, the bent crone staggered to her feet, waving away Elsa’s attempts to help her. She turned at the door, grinned toothlessly, and disappeared.
‘What was that, do you think, grandmother?’ said Elsa.
‘I don’t know, but heading south to look for a bird with flippers can’t be worse than staying around here sweeping with broken brooms and scrubbing with inferior wax, can it?’ reasoned the grandmother.
The next morning they began their journey. It took them a year to reach what they thought might be the place.
‘Well, grandmother, as far as the eye can see, the ground is blossoming white. This must be the Plain of Whedge,’ said Elsa.
‘I don’t see a bird,’ said the grandmother. ‘Let’s give up.’
They had just decided to turn back when Elsa caught sight of a far off black fleck. Her eyesight was sharper than any day creature’s anywhere. And so they began to run, Elsa struggling gamely to keep up with her grandmother, one of the fastest runners of any grandmother anywhere.
The black bird with the white belly and flippers instead of wings regarded the onrushing pair. Gasping, Elsa and her grandmother pulled up short in front of the bird.
‘Well, I am Whedge,’ said the bird. ‘What do you want?’
Recovering her wind enough to answer, Elsa said, ‘We are sent by Old Mombillia to collect a reward. We gave her gruel.’
‘That was kind,’ said Whedge, the bird. ‘You shall be rewarded.’
Whedge dipped her head, and Elsa and her grandmother found themselves back in their cottage, none the worse for wear. The cottage, however, had changed. Freshly painted and insulated, it was spruced up to a fine neatness. And there were new brooms and a lifetime supply of the most superior scrubbing wax. Elsa and her grandmother could not have been more pleased.