Joan Aiken ~ Telling the Bees

      Simon, the quiet hero of The Wolves Chronicles, and long lost friend of Dido Twite turns out to have a secret skill which can save the Kingdom. Joan Aiken knew her folk mythology, and the power gained from working with Nature, and Simon her cave dwelling Goose boy hero finally comes into his own at the end of the last book in the series – the bees lead him to an important prophecy, and at the end of the story when he returns their help, the secret is revealed…

   “As they reached the far side of the bridge, a swarm of bees, disturbed or attracted by all the unusual human activity, came drifting, like a solid black-and-gold cloud over the heathery hillside. The soldiers yelled in alarm and flung themselves flat on the ground.

‘Holy mackerel!’ said Dido. ‘Bees! Where do they come from? What do they want?’

‘A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay,’ suggested Wiggonholt.

‘They want a hive,’ said Simon. ‘Like the Wends. Somewhere  to spend the night.’

‘What can we do about that?’


‘Oh, that’s easy,’ said Simon. ‘I had lessons from a bee man at one time. You need kind hands.’

He walked towards the black booming cloud with his arms and hands held wide, fingers spread out.

‘Guess he knows what he’s about,’ muttered Dido. ‘I jist hope the bees get the message too.’

‘Bees! Kind hands!’ said Malise. ‘Now I remember – in the street in Clarion Wells – when I ran out –’

‘How do the bees know that Simon is their friend?’ said the Woodlouse anxiously.

‘They just know.’


It seemed that they did know. The black-and-gold cloud narrowed into a funnel shape and poured  itself  like molasses between Simon’s wrists, down his arms, and over his head and shoulders. Moving slowly and steadily he walked across the coach park, stepping over a number of prone troopers on his way, and approached the little stone building.

Proceeding with equal caution, Dido made her way there at the same time, arrived just before him, and opened the door.

The bees peeled themselves off Simon and poured into the hut, where they hung from the ceiling like a huge stalactite. Simon gently opened the window and closed the door.

‘Malise had better put up a sign bees in residence,’ he said.

‘Simon! Ain’t you stung at all?’

‘Not a sting!’ he said. ‘But I do feel rather sticky.’ His head and arms were glazed with a thin film of honey.

Simon!’ said Malise. ‘Did you once take a swarm of bees out of a house in Clarion Wells?’

‘Why yes,’ he said. ‘A long time ago. When I was quite small, travelling with a tinker, I was in that town. And a monk came up to me in the street and said I looked as if I had kind hands and could I help with a swarm which had entered the infirmary. It was a theological college. There was a dying man and they didn’t want him disturbed –’

‘And you took the bees away – ?’

‘I took the bees into the college garden where there was a hive waiting for them –’

‘But the dying man – did he say anything while you were in the room?’

‘Yes, he did! But I didn’t understand what he said. The bees were buzzing … and the man was singing – well, chanting – he had put words to a street ballad tune that a man was playing outside the window –’  “

And what was the prophecy?  You will have to read on to find out!


Joan’s respect for bees appears in several of her stories, find more in

The Gift Giving, illustrated by Peter Bailey

Find all of Joan Aiken’s stories at




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