In the old times before the days of William the Conqueror there lived a man in the swampland of the Isle of Ely. His name was Thomas Hickathrift. He was a poor man, he worked hard and he was as strong as two men. He had a son whose name was Thomas too, and he wanted him to have a good education. But the boy was not clever at all, so he did not learn much.
Tom’s father died and his mother looked after him as well as she could. She cooked good meals for him and Tom could eat as much as four or five ordinary men. When he was 10, he was already 2 metres tall and had hands like shovels.
One day his mother went to a rich farmer and bought 100kg of wheat. The farmer laughed when he saw that Tom’s mother did not have a cart to put the wheat on. But he stopped laughing when he saw Tom take the sacks of wheat on his shoulders like they were sacks of feathers.
Soon after that, all the people of the country knew about Tom’s strength and always asked him for help with some hard work. One day a woodman wanted his help to bring home a tree. Four men went there with Tom and when they got to the place they started to pull the tree into the cart. When Tom saw they couldn’t do it, he took the tree with his hands and put it into the cart.
One day in the evening he was going home and he met 4 rogues on the road waiting for him. They thought that Tom was alone and so they would have a good chance to rob him. They stopped him and said:
"Stand and deliver!"
"What should I deliver?" asked Tom.
"Your money, you stupid!"
"You must ask me politely," said Tom.
"Come, come. No more talking. Give us the money."
"Ok, come and take it."
In the fight that followed, Tom killed two rogues, wounded the other two and took all their money.
But sometimes Tom met somebody who was quite hard to deal with. Once Tom met a man in the forest with a thick staff in his hand and a dog.
"Where are you going to?" asked Tom.
"What’s it to you?" said the man.
"I will show you if you don’t tell me."
"I am not afraid of anybody, even if he is Tom Hickathrift himself."
"Well," said Tom, "I am the man. What will you do?"
"I will fight with you."
"Let me get a twig first," said Tom and he got a good hard iron rod.
They fought like two giants. Tom seemed to be stronger and with each blow he hit the other man, but still the man did not give up. Then Tom hit the man on his head and the man fell down. After a few moments he jumped up and was ready to fight again. But in the end, Tom managed to hit the man hard and the man fell. Tom took him home and asked his mother to look after him. When the man got well they become good friends.
Tom was so famous now, that even people from distant cities knew about him. One day a brewer from King’s Lynn needed a strong man to carry his beer to Wisbech, which is about 20 km far. It was not a long distance, but there was a huge giant on the road and everyone was scared to go along the road.
So Tom went to Wisbech every day and did not meet anybody on the road. One day he was in a hurry so he decided to take a shortcut. As he was going on the narrow road, a giant appeared and wanted to take the beer.
"Who allowed you to come here?" he roared. "I will teach you a lesson not to come here. Can you see how many heads there are on the tree? Yours will hang higher than all the rest for a warning."
"I think you my head will not be up the tree. It will be your head that will hang there."
The giant got angry and ran into his cave for a huge club. Tom did not know what to take as a weapon, but he had to think quickly. When the giant was coming back, he took the axle of his cart for his weapon and a wheel for a shield.
When the giant saw Tom, he laughed and hit him hard with his club. Tom’s shield cracked, but at the same time he gave the giant a mighty blow on his head. The giant was shaken and his blows became weaker. Tom easily avoided them and each time he hit the giant on the head. The giant’s head was covered with sweat and blood, he was very tired. Finally, he asked Tom:
"Will you let me drink a little of the beer?"
"No way," answered Tom. "Do you think I am a fool?" And with a powerful blow he knocked the giant to the ground. The giant was crying, promising a lot of money and even offered to be Tom’s servant. But Tom did not listen, killed the giant and cut off his head. Then he went to the cave where he found a huge amount of silver and gold. He went home and told his master about the giant.
The next day all the people of the city were happy because the giant was an enemy to all the country. He took all the silver and gold from the cave, gave half of it to the poor and kept the other half to build a luxurious house where he lived till the end of his days.
Adapted from "MORE ENGLISH FAIRY TALES Collected and Edited by JOSEPH JACOBS"
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