Tale #144: The King In His Castle

The King sat in his castle and slowly went mad. It was his right and his pleasure. Within the walls, none could escape his ever growing insanity.

Outside, none knew of it. Or if they knew, they did not care. And even if they cared, no difference in his behaviour could they discern.

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Notes:

1. Written in July 2019
2. About no particular person
3. Or persons
4. We could name

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Tale #119: Little Sparrow

Little Sparrow and her mother fled across the kingdom, and her father the king followed. For two years they ran, and the king and his armies could not catch them, for Little Sparrow and her mother were too quick. But eventually they tired, and so in the third year they hid, and hoped that the king could not find them.

For two months Little Sparrow and her mother hid there in the dark, drinking from the spring that bubbled up through the rocks, eating what little food they had in their packs, holding each other in the dark for warmth, singing to each other for comfort.

But in the third month, the waters in the spring froze, the food in their packs dwindled away to nothing, and the nights became so cold they needed a fire to keep from shivering to death as they slept. So each morning at dawn, and each evening at dusk, Little Sparrow crept from the cave and would flit from tree to tree, crawl through the long grass, and slip silently through the whispering mists of winter.

And like this, for two weeks Little Sparrow filled their bottles in the stream, picked mushrooms in the meadows, and gathered fire wood from the forest, all without making a sound, nor ever being seen by any living soul.

But in the third week, she lost her footing on the river bank one morning and slipped into the stream, and the sound of her splashing echoed through the forest, across the fields, beyond the hills, as loud as cannon fire, as loud as screams. Soon the woods were full of the king’s men, and it was long past sunset before she could find a way back to their cave unseen.

Alas by then it was too late. In the pale phosphorescence of the cave, Little Sparrow saw her mother by the cold ashes of the fire, the king’s huge silver sword plunged through her back and into her heart, her body cold and dead, the only sound the drip drip drip of her blood as it blossomed across the floor and trickled down the rocks to melt the waters of that icy spring.

For two days Little Sparrow mourned and wept. She washed her mother’s clothes with the last of of their water. She kept the fire burning by her mother’s side with the last of the wood. And she sang songs of love and remembrance through the last of her tears.

On the third day, Little Sparrow pulled the sword from her mother’s heart and went out in search of her father the king. The sword was so huge and heavy she could not carry it, and instead had to pull it along behind her, both her hands on the hilt, her back to the path as she walked. The tip of the blade cut a channel in the ground that led all the way back to her mother’s tomb.

For two days Little Sparrow dragged that sword across the kingdom. It was not hard to find her way to her father, for where Little Sparrow and her mother were quick, the king was slow, and where Little Sparrow and her mother were quiet, her father was loud.

On the third day she came to the King’s camp and stood before her father, his huge sword still held tightly in her hands.

“Little Sparrow, come home to roost,” he laughed. “Are you going to peck at me with that blade of mine? It looks a little big for you!”

“This sword is not for me, father,” Little Sparrow said. “I brought it back for you.”

She spun round once, twice, and on the third spin she let the sword go and threw it across the dirt towards her father’s feet. The king picked up his silver sword, and as he held it up with one hand towards the sun, Little Sparrow laughed.

“A coward’s blade for a cowardly king,” she said, and in his rage her father the king swung it down upon Little Sparrow’s neck.

But not even that great blade was enough to save him. For where the king was slow, Little Sparrow was quick.For while the king was furious, Little Sparrow was calm. And though the king was cruel, Little Sparrow was just.

For two hours she followed the trail of her father the king’s blood, as it trickled down the channel left by his sword, all the way back to her mother’s tomb. And in the third hour…

…well, who can say. Who can know.

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Notes:

1. Written between November 18th and November 20th, 2019
2. The first line is taken from The Gunslinger by Stephen King

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Tale #91: The King’s Wives

The king kept his wives on an island from which none could escape. And every year he sent more wives to the island as new lands were conquered and became part of his kingdom.

One day, he decided to sail out alone to the island to spend some time with his women. But when he arrived, there were no wives to be seen.

“Where are you, my dears?” he called out into the silence, but there was no reply. And when he tried to leave he found the winds had fallen still and it was impossible for him to sail away on the becalmed seas.

He spent the night in his favourite chambers, but found it hard to sleep in the huge and empty bed. He woke twice to the sound of voices, but when he called out they fell silent, and there was no reply. The third time he woke there was nothing but silence, and when he tried to call out he found he could not.

The wives woke in the morning and were surprised to find the king’s boat moored at the shore. But of the king there was no sign, and though they called his name across the island they received no reply.

They sailed away without him, and where that island is now, none can say.

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Notes:

1. Written in July 2016

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Tale #89: The Poor Woman

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She had no money, and could find little work, and those that paid her paid her very little.

One day an old lady knocked at her door and begged for some food to help her through the cold winter’s night, for she was far from home and farther still from reaching her way. The woman who lived in the woods said, “Alas, I haven’t enough even for one, let alone two, but you may have what little there is, although whether it will do you any good or not I cannot say. And you may sit by my fire and warm your bones, although the wood is already burning low, and the night has barely yet begun.”

The old lady came in and together they sat by the fire, which seemed to burn brighter than ever, and ate the last of the bread, which seemed to fill the bellies of them both. After an hour the old lady got up and said that she must again be on her way. “In repayment for your kindness I will leave you a gift,” the old lady said. “So you may earn that which your kind spirit deserves, each time you receive payment for your work you shall become twice as beautiful as before, and subsequently earn twice as much, the next time circumstances allow.”

With that the old lady made her way to the heart of the woods, where she disappeared from this world and went on her way to the next.

At first the woman noticed very little change. She still struggled to find work, and for many weeks she starved away, surviving on scraps scavenged from the forest, and if anything when she looked at herself in the waters of the brook she thought that rather than becoming any fairer her famishment had made her ever fouler.

In the early days of spring, however, after the snows had melted and the flowers of the forest had begun again to bloom, a woodsman from the nearest town knocked at the door of her house and she invited him in and provided him with what he desired. As he left she asked him for a shilling, but he looked her up and down sadly and paid only a penny.

She wept that night, but the next day, when she caught sight of her reflection she was surprised by the vitality of her appearance. When the woodsman knocked again, he gladly paid the price she asked, and the day after he gave her double. “A tip,” he said, “for one so pretty.” And he even asked her to walk back with him to town, for rather than being ashamed by his patronage he now was overcome with pride.

After she saw him to his house she tarried awhile in town, and by the end of her stay her beauty was greater than any the town had ever known, and her purse fuller than she had ever dared dream.

Soon only the local Lord could afford to pay her. He took her into his house, and by the end of the week the house was hers and the Lord a beggar, much to the satisfaction of his staff, and the spiteful delight of his wife. The woman, who no longer lived in the woods, was generous with her money, and kind to all in her care, for she knew the horrors of poverty, and the humiliations of servitude.

Eventually the King came calling, for by now stories of her otherworldly glamour had spread far and wide. As his treasuries emptied over the subsequent weeks, and her beauty multiplied, the King began to despair, for soon he would no longer be able to afford her services, and he could not bear to return to the drabness of his court. “How could I live, knowing this beauty was out there, beyond my reach?” he sighed.

He ordered his treasurer to mint him a million pound coin, and then two more. By now the currency of the land and the entire economy of the country was on the verge of collapse. No matter how much of the money lavished on her by the King she spent trying to alleviate the suffering she saw around her, the country continued to collapse into despair and horror. And all the while the King tried ever more desperately to finance the further satiation of his lust.

For him the end came quickly. The people rose up and threw him into the sea without ceremony or regret.

In the ensuing days, they crowned the woman their Queen. She used her money and her wisdom to rebuild the country into something far greater than it had ever been before, and she ruled divinely for the rest of her days, delighting in way her country now prospered. She spent the rest of her life enjoying the many friendships she formed with the subjects of her land, and occasionally bankrupting other countries when politics and desire demanded.

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Notes:

1. Written on February 9th, 2015

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Tale #88: To Ponder Infinity

There lived an expansionist king, whose policies of growth ensured his kingdom doubled in reach every single year of his reign.

In the 64th year of his rule, having seen the extent of his domain grow from the single planet of his birth to the 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets of its current jurisdiction, he called upon his most trusted advisor, and asked her how many more years would it take until he commanded power over the whole infinite expanse of the limitless universe in which they lived. For he wished one day to retire, and he wondered how many more years he needed to remain upon the throne before his dream of complete dominion over all was achieved.

“Infinity cannot be reached by multiplication, no matter how vast in scope the numbers are,” she advised. “So you could reign forever, less a day, and still not achieve your dream of an infinite kingdom.”

The King bade his advisor farewell, for he wished for solitude in which to ponder her words. He sat on his throne and spent the night contemplating the nature of the infinite. The King soon went mad, and died.

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Notes:

1. Written on 1st April, 2019

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If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.