Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
DIANA WYNNE JONES
The Dalemark Quartet
An Imprint of
For my mother
People may wonder how Mitt came to join in the Holand Sea Festival, carrying a bomb, and what he thought he was doing. Mitt wondered himself by the end.
Mitt was born the day of the Holand Sea Festival, and he was called Alhammitt after his father. Perhaps the first sound Mitt heard as he burst bawling into the world was his parents laughing about both these things.
“Well, he took his time,” said Mitt's father, “and chose his day all right. What does this make him? A man of straw, born to be drowned?”
Milda, Mitt's mother, laughed heartily at this, because the Sea Festival was something of a joke. On that day, every autumn, Hadd, the Earl of Holand, was required by tradition to dress up in outlandish clothes and walk in a procession down to the harbor carrying a life-size dummy made of plaited wheat. The dummy was known as Poor Old Ammet. One of Hadd's sons walked after him carrying Poor Old Ammet's wife, who was made entirely of fruit, and her name was Libby Beer. The procession that went with them was both noisy and peculiar. When they reached the harbor, they said traditional words and then threw both dummies into the sea. Nobody knew why this was done. To most people in Holand the ceremony was just an excuse to have a holiday, eat sweets, and get drunk. On the other hand, everyone would have thought it horribly unlucky not to have held the Sea Festival.
So Milda, even though she was laughing until her dimple was creased out of existence, bent over the new baby and said, “Well, I think it's a lucky birthday to have had. He'll grow up a real free soul, just like youâyou wait! That's why I'm calling him after you.”
“Then he'll be common as dirt,” said Mitt's father. “Just like me. You go into town and shout âAlhammitt' in the street, and half Holand will come to you.” And they both laughed at the thought of the common name they were giving their baby.
Mitt's early memories were full of his parents' laughter. They were very happy. They had the good luck to rent a smallholding on the Earl's land in what was known as the New Flate, only ten miles from the port of Holand. It had been reclaimed from sea marsh by Earl Hadd's grandfather and grew lush emerald grass, big vegetables, and corn in narrow yellow stripes between the dikes. Dike End holding was so fertile and the market of Holand so near that Mitt's parents had plenty to live on. Though Earl Hadd was said to be the hardest man in Dalemark, and other farmers in the Flate were always being turned out of doors for not paying their rent, Mitt's parents always had just enough money to go round. They laughed. Mitt grew up running carelessly along the paths between the crops and the dikes. It never occurred to anyone that he could drown. When he was two, he taught himself to swim by falling into a dike when his parents were busy. Since no one was there to help him, he had to help himself. He struggled to the bank and got out, and his clothes dried in the stiff breeze as he ran on.