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 #24: The Lunar Queen

I heard a story that went like this.

A troubled king was beset on all sides with trials and tribulations that were beyond his capacity to control. Even his wife was critical of him. In his anger at her betrayal, he shouted, “If you believe you can do a better job than me, I shall grant you a kingdom of your own to rule. Then we shall see what manner of monarch you would make.”

Nevertheless, she continued her criticisms of his policies, and he had her banished from his kingdom and exiled upon the moon. He said to her, “I grant thee this kingdom of rock and ruin. Now let us see the great successes of it you shall make!” And he left her there in the vast ocean of dust that was now her domain.

The queen did not despair. “First,” she said. “I need air so I can breathe.” And so she spoke to the northern winds of the earth, for they blew harder than any she knew, and were despised by the people that lived there for their malevolence and unceasing destruction.

“The people of the north do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and blow as hard and as long as you like, and let them pour their smoke up into a windless sky and choke beneath a fog of their own making.”

The north winds agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their birds and their bees, and so the queen had all the air she could breathe, and a great deal more besides. And the north winds had a whole world on which to blow, and blow they did.

“Next,” the queen said. “I need water for me to drink.” And so she spoke to the southern seas of the world, for they were deeper and wilder than any she knew, and were hated by the people of the south for the ships that they sank and the storms that they brewed.

“The people of the south do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and spread you waters as far as you wish, and as deep. And let them pour their filth into their own soil, rather than down their rivers and into you.”

The south seas agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their fish and their whales, and so the queen had all the water she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the south sea had a whole world round which to flow, and flow they did.

“Now,” said the queen. “I need some land on which to live.” And so she spoke to the eastern mountains, for they were higher and harder than any she knew, and were feared by the people of the east for the barrenness of the soil and the coldness of their cliffs.

“The people of the east do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and stand as high as you wish, and as proud. And let them try to grow their crops without the rains you squeeze from the sky for them.”

The eastern mountains agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their goats and their glaciers, and so the queen had all the land she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the eastern mountains had a whole world on which to stand, and stand they did.

“And,” she said. “I need some woods in which to walk.” And so she spoke to the western woods, for they were thicker and wilder than any woods she knew, and were hated by the people of the west for the monsters they contained.

“The people of the west do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and grow as thick as you like, and as far. And let them try to build their houses and heat their homes without your wood.”

The western woods agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their flowers and their foxes, and so the queen had all the places to walk she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the western woods had a whole world on which to grow, and grow they did.

“And finally,” she said. “I need some friends with which to talk.” And so she spoke to all the women of the world.

“The men of the world do nothing but complain about you no matter what you do, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and live exactly as you wish. And let them try to live their lives without you.”

The women of the world agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their joy and their love, and so the queen had all the friends she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the women of the world had a whole world on which to live, and live they did.

Whatever happened to her husband I never was told.

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Notes:

1. Written September 2016

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Tale #18: The King and His Weeping Wife

There was a king long ago who lived hereabouts, and who had been away at war. On his return to his castle he chose for himself a wife, and told her she was his one true love. They were married beneath the falling blossom of the orchard trees, and she wept throughout the ceremony, and on into the night, overcome by her emotions. And he called her his Weeping Wife, for she cried her tears of happiness from that moment on.

One day, the king went with his men to the woods to hunt. He caught himself a pale deer and returned to the castle, only to find it quiet there in a way he at first could not quite place. Eventually he realised it was the sound of no-one sobbing, and he welcomed the change that must have come over his wife while he was away. He took the deer to the kitchens and cut out its heart, for it was a rare delicacy much enjoyed by noble men. Satisfied with his meal, the rest of the animal was condemned to the fire.

It was only after he had eaten that he returned to his chambers, and in calling to his wife, realised she was gone. He had his men search for her, and after several days word reached him that she had been taken by her sister, who was a duchess of a neighbouring land. His wife, the messenger said, was so shocked and overcome by the ordeal that she no longer wept her tears of joy.

The king, to give himself time to think, went hunting in the woods once more. The hunt proved fruitless, and he returned to the castle empty handed. There he ordered his army to prepare for battle, and the next morning they rode out.

At the gates of the duchess’s castle, the king called out, “Give me my wife, so I may take her home with me.”

The duchess came to the window of the highest tower, and looking down at the king, said, “No, for she is not mine to give.”

To which the king replied, “Give me my wife, so I may take her home with me.”

His wife came then to the window, and stood beside her sister, and looking down at the king said, “I am not hers to give, nor yours to take. I am mine and mine alone. Leave, and let me be.”

The queen closed the window and went back inside, and she sat with her sister and did not cry, even though she knew what surely was to come. The king below smashed down the gates and rode into the courtyard and set fire to the buildings there, and to the castle itself, and to the fields all around and the nearby town, for there were none that his rage would spare.

On his return to his castle he chose for himself a wife, and told her she was his one true love. They were married beneath the falling blossom of the orchard trees, and she wept throughout the ceremony, and on into the night, overcome by her emotions. And he called her his Weeping Wife, for she cried her tears of happiness from that moment on.

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Notes:

1. Written in July 2014

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Tale #9: The Saddest King Of All

There was a king in the woods who was ever so sad. Every day he looked out of the window of his castle and sighed. “If only these trees did not block my view,” he thought. “Then I would be happy.” So he ordered his soldiers to cut down all the trees in the forest.

The next day he looked out of his window again, only now he could see another castle on the horizon. Again he sighed. “If only I had never seen that castle, I would still be king of all I surveyed,” he thought. “Then I would be happy.” So he ordered his treasurer to buy the castle from whomsoever it was that owned it.

The next day the king and all his court travelled there to the castle by the sea and set themselves up in their new home. In the morning he looked out of his new window and saw before him the sea. “I hate the sea,” he realised, sighing more deeply than ever before, for he knew the sea could not be controlled, and nor could it be moved away. “If only I was back in my old home, quietly away from the endless roar of the waves. Then I would be happy.”

So he went back to his old home, which was silent and empty. He sat down upon his throne, and began to weep. “If only there was someone here to talk to,” he said. “Then I would be happy.”

But there was no-one for him to talk to, for his family and the members of his court much preferred living by the seaside and would not return. And so he wept and wept, all alone, for the rest of his days.

As the years passed, the forest grew back up around the castle until the trees were thicker and darker and deeper than ever before (for there was no-one there to cut them back), and the many empty rooms of the castle were claimed by crows and foxes and other creatures of the forest (for there was no-one there to shoo them away), and in time the walls themselves began to crumble (for there was no-one to repair them) and eventually the king died, unhappy and unloved and unremembered, in the ruins of his home.

And all the while the city by the sea prospered.

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Notes:

1. Written June 6th, 2014
2. The title, premise and opening line of this story are inspired by (or parodies of) The Saddest Bear Of All

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