Updated: Jul 1, 2022
This is a story from the fairy-tale fantasy book 'Amber and Willem'. Young Willem is stuck at home with his broken leg, so his friends, the old ganders, Gilly and Garnet, come to visit and cheer him up.
“I thought you had gone to the Land of the Ganders,” Gilly said.
“Don’t be soft,” said Garnet. “Willem couldn’t go there; he isn’t a gander!”
“Oh, I think they’d let him in,” Gilly said. “He can speak gander after all. I’ve always thought that maybe he was a gander put under a spell. I’ve heard of that before.”
“What is the Land of the Ganders?” Willem asked.
“Haven’t we told you?” Gilly asked.
“Of course we have,” said Garnet. “But he’s forgotten. He’s a human after all, you can’t expect him to be clever and remember things. You have to lower your expectations.”
“The Land of the Ganders is where ganders go when they die,” said Gilly, ignoring Garnet.
Willem laughed. “But we don’t go anywhere when we die!” he said.
“You don’t,” said Garnet. “Ganders do.”
“And anyway, how do you know you don’t?” Gilly asked. “Nobody does know, until they die, and then they can hardly come back and tell everyone, can they?”
“Is there a Land of the Geese too?” Willem asked.
“Of course not! What a ridiculous idea!” said Garnet.
Willem laughed some more because Garnet was so outraged. Garnet did not care at all for geese. He and Gilly loved each other, they were life partners. Gilly was happy enough to talk to the geese and to do what ganders are supposed to do when it was needed, but Garnet wouldn’t go near them as a rule. And both of them agreed that the lack of ganders in the world was a tragedy, for they were outnumbered twenty to one.
“So how do you know for sure that there is a Land of the Ganders?” Willem asked.
“We do, and that should be enough for you,” said Garnet. “I can tell you what it’s like there too. There are beautiful ganders everywhere for a start, and all of them can fly, even the little ones.”
“Most ganders die when they are very young,” Gilly said. “In the Land of the Ganders they can grow up if they like; they can be any age they want to be, but some of them choose to stay little.”
“How do you know that?” Willem asked. He didn’t suppose he believed the ganders really, but he knew they would tell a story if he could entice them into it.
“That’s a secret,” said Gilly. “But there was once a gander who went there by mistake, so he had to come back again.”
“It’s quite true,” said Garnet. “His name was Happy and he was a very lucky gander. He was not chosen to be the gander and live when he was hatched, but somehow he escaped being drowned with all the other little ganders and grew up. The humans thought he was a goose! Imagine!”
“The thing is, he was not a goose,” Gilly said. “And so he had to pretend. He pretended like anything, the geese helped him, but he worried all the time that he would be found out.”
“In the end he got tired of worrying and he decided to run away,” said Garnet. “He ran over the moors and into the forest where it was very dark and there was no grass. He got lost in there of course; he was rather a silly gander.”
“And I suppose you would have done better?” said Gilly. “I’m sure it’s very difficult to find your way in a dark forest!”
“I wouldn’t have given up like he did though,” said Garnet. “He ran around and around in circles for days and days with nothing to eat, and finally he could run no more, so he lay down and waited to die.”
“I’m not sure that’s what he meant to do,” said Gilly. “But anyway, he lay down, and when he did, his soul stood up and walked right out of his body.”
“What’s a soul?” Willem asked.
“The part of you that’s you. This one looked like a thin, see-through version of Happy the gander, and it was him all right, because as his soul he was able to look down at the body lying there without him in it, and he shivered in fear.”
“And this is where he got it wrong,” said Garnet. “He saw his body and he thought he was dead, but he wasn’t.”
“But he didn’t feel hungry any more, or the least bit tired, so he set off to look for the Land of the Ganders because he thought it was what he was supposed to do,” said Gilly. “He had no idea where to look though and he tried asking, but no-one, no goose or gander, seemed able to quite believe he was real, so they would not talk to him. He wandered the whole of the Earth looking, never getting hungry or needing to sleep, and I don’t know how long it took, but one day he found a narrow, twisting path that seemed to lead up into the sky.”
“As he climbed the path,” Garnet said, “he realised that he wasn’t walking any longer, he was flying, and he’d never flown before in all of his life. He flew through the clouds and there below him was the most beautiful land filled with green grass and deep, clear pools and shady trees and meadows of wild corn.”
“The sky and the land were crowded with ganders of all sizes, talking to each other, telling jokes and stories and having scintillating discussions, but when they saw Happy they stopped talking and stared,” said Gilly.
“He was so pleased they could see him that he cried out for joy. But his joy did not last. ‘You can’t come here!’ the ganders said. ‘You are not dead. You must go back!’” said Garnet.
“And he found himself slipping away,” said Gilly. “Flying back the way he had come without willing it, back through the world and all around it and back to the dark forest, into his old body once again.”
“That’s when he woke up,” said Garnet.
“So it had all been a dream, had it?” asked Willem.
“Well it might have been,” Gilly said, with a dip of his bill that was something like a smile. “Except his body in the wood had grown old while his soul had been away from it.”
“His soul was old too, after all that time,” said Garnet. “He went back to his gaggle and the humans he knew, and found they were also old. Some of them had even died, but those that were left remembered him.”
“Even the young ones knew who he was,” said Gilly. “‘You are Happy, the clown-goose,’ they said. ‘Tell us a joke, go on!’ Happy was bewildered for he had never thought of himself as a clown and he did not know any jokes. He told them his story instead and they laughed and laughed as if it was the funniest thing they had ever heard.”
“That’s the part I can never understand,” said Garnet grumpily. “Those were a peculiar lot if they thought that story was funny. It isn’t funny at all; it’s tragic! Now if you want a funny story…”
“How can you stand to have these old ganders in the house?” Amber demanded.
Nobody had noticed her come in, since the door had stood open all along and the three of them were so absorbed in their conversation.
“It stinks in here. Come out for a walk in the fresh air.”
Willem scowled at her and he fumbled for words in human speech. “I can’t walk,” he said.
“You could if you tried,” said Amber. “You’re just being lazy, like always.”
The ganders looked at each other and waddled over the window sill and down their branch.
“Where are you going?” Willem called after them.
“Seems your soul is returning to your body,” said Gilly. “We’ll see you tomorrow. Wait for me Garnet, you old fool!”
Willem looked after them as they went, and he wondered if he could ever love anyone the way he loved those ganders in that moment.
Amber and Willem are best friends and they are the only people in their village who can do magic. Willem speaks to birds and he longs to fly above all things, but when he visits the Great Eagles in the mountains, he learns that he never will - and he may never walk again either after his failed attempt. Amber only wants to be with the horses, who are people to her, since she knows their language. The problem is, none of the horses she loves belong to her, since she is only a goose girl. She makes up her mind to develop every scrap of power she has and seek fortune.
Willem can't imagine his life without Amber. He battles to stay with her, but when the dragons come he has to begin to think for himself and find his own power.