Tale #25: The King And The Light

There once was a King who had ruled his kingdom for many years, and there remained no-one who dared to question him. Such was his power that there were none upon the earth who he considered his equal, and so one day he called down a star from the night sky and bade her walk with him. It was there, in his vast garden, that he asked her to be his wife.

“Where would I live?” she asked.

“In my castle,” the King replied.

The star laughed, and said she could not, for she was used to the vastness of space, and walls were not to her liking.

“Well then, if not in my castle how about in the fields of my kingdom?” he said, and he showed her the extent of his fields and the vastness of his domain. “All this is mine, and within it you can go where you please, for you would be Queen and none but me would dare stop you.”

But still she refused.

“Even your kingdom has borders. And borders themselves are walls,” she said. “Walls of another kind, yes, but they constrain all the same.”

“Then, if not my wife, my prisoner you will be,” the King said, and he called for his guards to capture her.

To this the star replied, “Wife, servant, prisoner, slave – what difference would it make what you call me? Without choice, the imprisonment is just the same.”

The King’s guards led her to the deepest and darkest part of the castle’s vast filthy dungeons, and there, in the smallest cell, they locked her inside. “Perhaps when this cell has dimmed the fire in your heart you will see the error of your ways,” the King said to the star.

To which the star said to the King, “It is not only me this cell holds in place, for you as well are bound by it.” But the King would not listen, and he left her there, glowing to no-one in the dark.

After a week, the King returned and asked once more for her hand in marriage. The star looked just as bright as before, if not brighter, and still she refused. “If a week is not enough to change your mind, then so be it,” said the King.

“And to you I say the same,” said the star. But the King would not listen.

After a month, the King returned for a second time, and asked her again to marry him. The star’s radiance was brighter than ever and she refused once more. “If a month is not enough to change your mind, then so be it,” said the King.

“And to you again I say the same,” said the star. But the King would not listen.

After a year, the King returned for a final time. “I have asked you three times to marry me, and three times you have refused. If you refuse me a fourth time, I shall abandon you here and you shall know nothing more but imprisonment for the rest of your days.”

By now the star was so bright the King had to shield his eyes against her majesty. “I have spent a year in this cage, hoping each day that you would come to understand that these walls have imprisoned you just as much as me. But you have understood nothing.”

The star reached out and took the King by the hand. “Look, I shall show you,” she said. And with that her brightness flared and the King’s castle was burned to the ground, and the people within were set free.

And then she shone more brilliantly than ever before, and every wall and building in the country was reduced to ash, although the people within were left unharmed.

And then her brightness exploded outwards once more and the walls and the borders of all the Earth were destroyed and everyone across the world was set free. And in the comfort of her light there was much rejoicing and a shared sense of kinship between all which would never fade.

The people of the world did give her praise, but they did not make a God of her, nor even a Queen, for her light had shown them that those that rule are another wall imposed upon the world, and the Gods themselves yet another.

To the King she said, “To you, and only you, shall I show a truly wall-less world, out beyond the binds of gravity.” And she bore him up into the immensity of space, and took him to the deepest and darkest part of her infinitely vast domain, and she set him down there in the darkness, where the only light was her own, for the rest of the stars were too far away to cast their light upon him.

“Now, my King, you are free.”

And she left him there in the dark, in the cold, far out beyond the walls of the world.

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Notes:

1. This was written in May, 2014
2. But was first published in November, 2016, in the anthology Liberty Tales, published by Arachne Press
3. You can see this story being performed by the actor Cliff Chapman at a Liberty Tales launch event here.
4. The illustration is by Holly English, the final of four illustrations she drew for these fairy tales.
5. The original title of this was The King And The Angel Of Light, but the angel bit got removed during the publication process.
6. I was really obsessed with the song not here/not now by the angels of light at the time I think

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Tale #21: The Wolves In The Woods

In the woods a night of snow and howling winds and wolves at the wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them our youngest son, so we may escape.” Said Mother, “But he is our child,” and to that Father said, “We have two more.” So Mother threw her youngest son over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled around the boy and in the darkness they consumed him.

But soon the wolves were back at their wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them our daughter, so we may escape.” Said Mother, “But she is our child,” and to that Father said, “We have one more.” So Mother threw her daughter over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled round the girl and in the darkness they consumed her.

But soon the wolves were back at their wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them our eldest son, so we may escape.” Said Mother, “But he is our child,” and to that Father said, “We can always make more.” So Mother threw the eldest son over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled round the boy and in the darkness consumed him.

But soon the wolves were back at their wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them yourself, so that I may escape.” Said Mother, “But I am your wife,” and to that Father said, “I can always marry another.” So Mother threw herself over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled round the woman and in the darkness consumed her.

But soon the wolves were back at his wheels. Father said, “They are getting too near,” but there was no-one left to throw, and soon the wolves had surrounded him, and Father was forced to stop. The wolves circled the man, round and round in the darkness. They began to shiver and cough and choke and one by one they spat out his children and finally his wife.

And his family circled round and in the darkness they consumed him.

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Notes:

1. Written on July 21st, 2014
2. Illustrated by Holly English
3. The last line is an echo of the last line in The Three Wishes

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Tale #3: The Cat Wife

A nobleman had three sons, but had yet to choose an heir. When a cat began to attack the people of the town, he said to his children, “Whosoever saves our town from this beast of the woods shall inherit my castle and all of my lands”, and each in turn set out to defeat the creature.

The eldest son, a soldier, picked up his sword and marched out into the forest where the cat was presumed to live. He quickly became lost and as the day headed towards night he sat down and, although only intending to rest for a short while, fell asleep against the trunk of an old oak tree.

When he awoke it was completely dark, and he could feel the weight of something heavy on his chest. He tried to move but the cat – for that was what it was – pushed its claws into his skin, opened its eyes (which were just in front of his own) and said, “What is that you hold in your hand? Is it for me?”

The eldest son said, “Yes, it is for you. If you let me up I will give you a good close look of it.”

The cat leapt from his chest and sat down in front of him, and the soldier stood up, raised his sword, and swung it as hard and as fast as he could at where the cat now sat. But the cat’s eyes saw so well in the dark that she dodged easily out of the way of the blade and then leapt forward and sliced the man’s head clean off his shoulders with a single swipe of her claws.

The next day the nobleman woke to find the head of his eldest son left on their front doorstep. So now the middle son, a farmer, strode out into the woods to try his luck against the cat, and he carried with him a bag of the finest meat from his farm.

He quickly became lost as he searched through the unfamiliar woods, and as the day headed towards night he sat down to quickly rest his weary legs. Yet he ended up falling into a deep sleep, and when he awoke the moon was high in the night sky above him and bathed in its light he could see the cat asleep on his own chest.

When he tried to move, the cat awoke and said, “What is that you have in your bag? Is it for me?”

And the farmer said, “Yes, it is for you. If you let me up I’ll open up my bag and give you a good look at what’s inside.”

The cat leapt from his chest and sat down in front of him, and the farmer stood up and opened his sack, and took from within the meat he had brought with him and threw it onto the ground. The cat sniffed at it, and satisfied that it was not poisoned, began greedily to eat, and while she was distracted the farmer held out the sack and approached the cat as quietly as he could. But before he could lower the sack over her head, she heard the heavy beat of his heart as he approached and leapt out of his way. And then, with a single swipe of her claws, sliced his head clean from his shoulders just as she had his brother’s.

The next morning, the nobleman awoke to find the head of his second son left on their back doorstep. The youngest son, who was considered useless by his father for he had no job nor a wife, was still in bed when his father burst into his room. His father dragged him from his room and insisted that now he must make his way to the forest and avenge the deaths of his brothers.

To this the young son said, “I do not want to, father. This cat has never harmed me. And anyway, surely now you’ve sent my brothers to their deaths, I’m your only son and your only heir.”

In response to this insolence the nobleman beat his son so fiercely that the boy agreed tearfully to go to the forest, even if only to escape his father’s wrath, and he set out before lunch. In the woods, the young man did not become lost, for he cared not where he was, and gave no thought to returning home.

He came soon to a stream, where he stripped naked and bathed his battered body in the babbling brook. When he returned to the riverbank, he found the cat sat on top of his blood-soaked clothes, busily tearing the cloth of his shirt to ribbons with her long and deadly claws.

She looked up at him while her claws continued their game and said, “Your first brother brought me a sword, and with it tried to kill me. Your second brother brought me a sack of food, and with it tried to capture me. What have you brought me, and what will you try to do to me with it?”

The youngest son said, “I have brought you nothing, for I came here only to escape my father. I cannot give you my clothes, for you have already destroyed them. I cannot give you money, for I have no job and therefore nothing to spend. I cannot give you food, for I forgot to bring any even for myself. All I have left are my hands and my heart, which for all my trying I have never been able to give away, for no-one has ever wanted to employ me, and nor have any ever wanted to love me.”

“Then give me your hands,” said the cat. “To stroke me whenever I desire. And give me your heart, to love me forever and without regret, and in return I shall become your wife, and cease my attacks upon on the town.”

So they returned to his home and were married that very afternoon. For saving the town, the young man and his cat wife inherited the nobleman’s castle and all of his lands, and lived there benevolently until the end of their days. As for where the noblemen went, none would say.

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Notes:

1. The earliest version of this I can find is from August 2013.
2. Illustrated again by Holly English
3. I like cats

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Tale #1: The Unhappy Bride

A young woman was betrothed against her will to the son of a wealthy farmer. No matter what she said, nor how unhappy she became, nothing would change the minds of her family or his, and the marriage quickly came to pass.

On her wedding night, after her husband had fallen asleep, she rose from bed, went outside, and wept bitterly beneath the moon.

A crow looked down at her from a nearby tree and said, “Why are you, who are still in your wedding dress, so unhappy?”

“I did not wish to be married, and I do not love my husband, and I have been betrayed by those who should love me, and so now I am all alone.”

The crow flew down from the tree and stood beside the bride.

“I can help you,” the crow said. “First, take off your dress.”

The young woman did as she was told, removing her wedding dress and dropping it to the ground.

“Now, let me cut off your hair.”

The woman nodded her agreement, and the crow hopped onto her shoulders, and with a quick bite of its beak cut the hair clean from her head.

“Now, let me give you my feathers.”

The crow pulled a feather from its wing, and plunged it deep into the woman’s arm. The crow then pulled a feather from its other wing, and plunged that deep into the woman’s other arm. And in this fashion the crow continued until it was completely bald and the woman was clothed in a thick black coat of feathers.

“Now, take my beak.”

The woman pulled the beak from the crow’s face and placed it carefully over her own mouth.

“Finally, fly away.”

And the woman flew away into the night.

The crow watched the unhappy bride leave, and then dressed itself in the woman’s dress, and placed her hair like a crown upon its head, and went inside her new house and climbed into bed with her husband.

The years passed, and the husband passed away, and after he was buried, the woman sat outside in her mourning dress and wept bitterly beneath the moon. A crow looked down at her from a nearby tree and said, “Why are you, who were never even truly married to this man, so unhappy?”

“I saw myself in this dress and remembered being a crow.”

The crow flew down from the tree and stood beside the widow.

“I can help you,” the crow said. “First, take off your dress.”

The young woman did as she was told, removing her mourning dress and dropping it to the ground.

“Now, let me cut off your hair.”

The woman nodded her agreement, and the crow hopped onto her shoulders, and with a quick bite of its beak cut the hair clean from her head.

“Now, let me give you back your feathers.”

The crow pulled a feather from its wing, and plunged it deep into the woman’s arm. The crow then pulled a feather from its other wing, and plunged that deep into the woman’s other arm. And in this fashion the crow continued until it was completely bald and the woman was clothed in a thick black coat of feathers.

“Now, take your beak.”

The woman pulled the beak from the crow’s face and placed it carefully over her own mouth.

“And finally, crow, fly away to your old freedom, and let me return now to mine.”

The crow, no longer a woman, flew away into the night. The woman, no longer a crow, pulled on her mourning dress, placed her hair like a crown upon her head, and went inside her old house and climbed into her old bed and slept soundly until morning.

And when she woke she rose anew.

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Notes:

1. Originally written in October 2013, although it’s been revised a few times since then
2. Illustrated by Holly English, who very kindly drew pictures for a few of these stories when I was putting a small anthology together in 2015 (for which this was the title story)
3. I like crows

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