So… here it is: the previously mentioned short story. Later than I thought, as usual. And if it is later than planned, but that is usual, doesn’t that make it normal? Or is it still abnormal? And I am rambling again, as usual!
Anyway, one or two (or three) things before we start: this story is my normal style of writing. The previous story that I published on here was more like an experiment in modernism/surrealism. And I don’t even like Modernism in general! Sometimes I don’t understand myself…
The second thing is, this is an late and random entry to Mara’s Weekly Writing Challenge. Do you know how long back I started this story? When she first published the challenge. Yes, that’s right. That’s how bad I can procrastinate.
The third thing is, if you are familiar with the stories of the Old World, you will perhaps recognize some of their elements in this story. The reoccurrence of “three”, for example, and also the importance of “a year and a day”.
I’m not all that sure about this story. I’m not sure if it hangs together, and I’m not sure how much sense it makes. Ah well. Tell me what you think!
Now, to the grand reveal!
The Self-Conscious Folktale
I am Emory. My father is king of Asharnia. But I am not a prince. For most of the time I refuse to be a prince. Although sometimes it does have its advantages, I must admit. Like all the free plumes I get to put in my hat. And the perk of skipping a queue and go right to the front. But most of the time I just ignore it and refuse to be royal.
But Fate had one more cruel trick to play on me. She made it so that I have two older brothers. And we have no sisters. That means that my father is a king with just three sons. Now this is as good as laying down bait for folktales. And all folktales focus on me, as the youngest prince.
There will be a quest… And my father will send each of us in turn to complete it… Both my brothers will fail and come home in disgrace… Then it will fall to me to complete the narrative true to stereotype. Now is the time.
They say that every person has at least one day in their life that they will never forget. Well, I know what mine is. It was the day that my tutor was giving me a lesson in folklore and happened to touch on the topic of… let’s say… three. The three witches, the three stars, the three heroes, the three princesses, the three rings, the three riddles, the three wishes… the three princes… And I remember immediately asking my tutor whether these things still happened, because my brothers and I made up three princes, and I was thinking that I was the youngest of the three, therefore it all fell to me… My tutor simply laughed and told me that no, these things only happened in the age of legends but that that was long past. I needn’t worry.
A large part of my existence was indeed then spent not worrying about folktales and the Power of Three anymore. I spent more time worrying about how to appear princely, and how I did not really like my position of birth. However, recently my mystical position in the family again entered my consciousness. This was because an old crone happened to turn up at my father’s gates and demand to see the king. As is custom and practise in these situations, my father granted her an audience. And she told him a fantastical tale: about a girl living in a high tower a thousand miles away, of how the crevices of the stones were infested with dragons of all shapes and sizes to about knee-height. The old crone told my father how she had once been a great lady in this kingdom a thousand miles away, but the journey to our palace had worn away everything she had. She had been travelling for a year and a day to reach the kingdom with three princes, for it had been prophesied that only one of these three princes would be able to break into the tower and save the girl and return her to her father. This girl was, of course, also a princess and her father was a very wealthy and powerful king.
Now, I was not intended to hear all these things that the old crone spoke about. But I knew my way about the inner politics of the palace – that is, I knew my way about the secret passages very well. And I also knew where all the spy-holes into the throne room were and I could therefore easily eavesdrop on the conversation. My blood ran cold several times during the course of that afternoon. The first time was when I heard the tale of the prophesy about the three princes, because I was remembering the tales that my tutor told me and I was acutely aware of my status as the youngest prince – the one fated to succeed where his brothers had failed. The second time was when I realized that my father was agreeing to the “quest”. He considered it his traditional duty to agree to this. And the third time was when I realised that the quest would likely first claim the lives of my brothers, before it could lead to my success. How could my father agree to this?! He knew full well where it was leading! But it was Fate leading his hand there, not his own thought. It was the inexorable and irresistible drag of the fairy-tale that would not allow him to make any other choice.
At least I would have grace for a few years. It would take a year and a day to travel towards this distant kingdom, therefore that would already be more than two years for each of my older brothers to at least travel there, not reckoning in time spent there, and time spent returning, if they were lucky. I was only eighteen years old at the time when the crone brought the fairy-tale to us.
Well, in the end I had more than 4 years before my turn came. And both my brothers survived their quest, though they returned rather battered and with bruised egos. Both had taken a year and a day on the going trip and a year and a day on the return trip. Then they had also spent some weeks at this tower. Therefore, by the time my Fate had come I was twenty-three years old. I have to admit that during this time I wondered about the girl locked in the distant tower. Was she aging as well? Did she get impatient, waiting for her saviour to come? Did she know that both these men who had already been there were doomed to fail simply because they were not the third and youngest prince? Sometimes I wondered whether my brothers knew they were doomed to fail due to their birth, or whether maybe they believed they could change Fate and, for the first time in history, win out against the weight of fairy-tale. But if I thought this, I would inevitably begin to wonder whether I was really fated to succeed, or if maybe I was imagining things about the folktales being weaved around our families. Then I wondered if this was really the predictable Power of Three working, or if it all was just coincidence.
I was certainly not excited about my turn. Me? Definitely not! No, I seriously. Not a day of my life has gone by since finding out about the quest that I have not resented being born the third and youngest prince of a country. But as I sit here now at the top of the highest tower in my father’s palace, looking at the stars, it has also come to my mind that I should thank my fate spinning up there with the stars that all large dragons have died centuries ago. Otherwise there could have been only one way that this encroaching tale could have ended: me and a huge dragon. Maybe I would have had to slay it, or perhaps I would have found it necessary to sneak past it to its treasure hoard. No wait, worst of all: I would have had to fly it! What would my vertigo have had to say about that?! No, the little ones you could deal with, but not with more than, say, three at once. They were quite vicious.
Shortly after my second brother returned dejectedly from his quest, it was my turn to embrace Fate. I have to be truthful, but I have to admit that I would rather have had something a little more material to embrace. Ah well, we cannot have everything in life, I suppose. The day before I was due to leave, my father called me into the throne room. When I entered, my father was standing in front of the window, looking out towards the mountains. He heard me and turned around. Then I saw what he was holding in his hands. It was a sword – a beautifully engraved sword, topped off by an engraved crown inlaid with gold on its hilt. My father spun it in his hands, making a few swipes at invisible enemies before grasping it by the blade and holding it out to me. I took it gingerly, feeling the balance and the weight of the sword. I had, of course, had sword-fighting instruction under one of my many tutors and it may have been the one part of my education that I actually enjoyed, but I had never felt a sword like that. It was so sharp, so smooth and it radiated a feeling of power.
“This is a sword with a history,” my father said. “It was mine. And your grandfather’s. It is the swords of the kings of this country. I hope that it may now save a princess – that would be something to add to its pedigree, eh?”
“I suppose,” I said. “Thank you, Father. I will look after it.”
“Do you have everything you need?”
“Yes, father. I guess so.”
“Well then. Here’s one thing more.” He felt inside his pockets and drew out a small drawstring bag. For a moment he weighed it in his palm. Then he handed it to me. “It’s three wishing stones, son. I hope they will be useful to you.”
“Thank you, father.”
“This is it then.”
“Yes. The farewell for quite a while, probably.”
He shook my hand. “I hope you make the kingdom proud, son. Good luck.”
“Thank you, father.”
And with that I took my leave. I left early the next morning. I was just me, my horse, the sword and the direction. At least I could not miss that. A wide road ran all the way from Asharnia to this kingdom far away.
For a year and a day I travelled. The scenery around me slowly changed, but not much else did. For most of this time I tried not to think. I tried not to think about the dragon infesting the tower. I tried not to think of how I would go about any rescue attempts. I tried not to think about the princess, most of all. I tried not to think what she would be like, what her personality would be like. But this was hardest of all. I could not seem to stop trying to picture her in my mind.
On the first day of the new year, I came within sight of the tower. For a few days past I had been travelling in inhabited country again, but I had not seen much life about. The tower was however living up to its name and towering high above the rest of the scenery, outlined against the horizon. I reined my horse in and slowed down to a walk as we neared the tower. It was looking suspiciously devoid of life. But then I got close enough to see the stones. There were dragons everywhere! Most were no bigger than the regular lizards that you would find back home in Asharnia, sunbathing on rocks. They squirmed and crawled over the stones, and into the crevices. However, there were also some larger dragons that climbed over all the little ones, sometimes stepping on top of them. These circled around and around the tower, almost like guards on patrol. My heart went cold at the sight of all those dragons. I had been expecting a lot of dragons. But I had not been expecting an infestation on this scale – where they sat on top of each other in the mortar and crawled over each other.
I stepped back and looked at the window at the very top of the tower. I could not see anyone in there, but that did not mean much.
“Ahoy!” I shouted.
There was some movement up there. Then a face leaned out of the window. A very pretty face surrounded by a mess of frizzy blond hair.
I waved and shouted “Hello!”
She waved back. “Are you the third of the three princes?” she shouted back.
“Yes! How did you know?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Well, yes, I suppose it is! Do you want to come down from there?”
“Isn’t that obvious too?”
“Sorry! Silly question! You wouldn’t know how to come down from there, would you?”
“Don’t you think I would have, long ago, if I had?”
“Sorry! Another silly question!”
“You are full of silly questions, Mister Prince!”
“Yes, yes, I know. Well, could you maybe tell me what my brothers did when they came here?”
“They both jumped in and started slaying dragons until they became overpowered and had to back off.”
“Well then. I will have to think of something a little more intellectual.”
I led my horse away from the tower and sat down on a smallish rock. I stared unseeing at the ground as I tried to think how I could get rid of the dragons. I thought of distractions, of explosions, and of being invisible. Oh, and of returning back home. But none of these ideas helped at all with a really good idea. Then my fingers touched the three wishing stones still in my pocket. As I fingered them absentmindedly, an idea slowly began to form. Hmm… creating a distraction…
As it was getting dark, I set up camp for the night, and then went to sleep.
The following morning, I was all set to make a start on my plan. I would use one of my wishing stones to create a large, inviting, animal carcass about a mile from the tower. Then all the dragons would flock there at the invitation of the meat. And that would leave the tower unprotected. But before I started using the wishing stones, I decided to first check how hostile this infestation of dragons really was. Maybe it was all just a lie. Maybe they would just let me walk in the door. I guess I was hoping to get this over and done with, without going to a lot of trouble. So I went and circled the tower until I could see the front door underneath all the writhing bodies. So far, none of the dragons were batting an eye at me. I carefully stepped forward and put my hand in between the dragons onto the doorknob. The closest little dragon lifted up its head to glare balefully at me. As I turned the doorknob, more of the dragons in the vicinity turned to look at me and bared their teeth, growling at me. One or two of them started to move closer, and the closest one bunched their muscles to spring. When I did not remove my hand from the doorknob, one of them sprung onto my wrist and dug in its claws. Needless to say, I hurriedly let go of the knob, sprang back, shaking my hand frantically in an attempt to dislodge the little dragon. I started running – just running to get away, still hopping and twirling to get rid of the dragon. Then, after I had gone a little way, I heard laughter from up in the tower. I turned to look up and saw it was the princess, leaning out of her window and laughing at my predicament. This made me freeze. She seemed so joyful about my failure. At that moment, I finally manage to dislodge the dragon and tossed it away, stalking off in the other direction.
The wounds on my wrist were not nearly as important to me as my hurt feelings. Now was the time to do something and fast. I had to get that condescending princess out of that tower as fast as possible and away at the speed of light. I continued marching, kicking at the tufts of grass. Then I drew the bag with the wishing stones out of my pocket and poured them out of my palm. I knew, of course, how to use wishing stones, but I had never actually used them before. What you did was stand with the stone held in your right palm, then you turned round clockwise 3 three times, and then 3 times widdershins. Then you threw the stone over your left shoulder and made your wish. When I had walked far enough from the tower, I performed this ritual. And said, “I wish for some food source that will be attractive to the dragons from yon tower.” Afterwards, I put myself some distance away rather speedily. And waited. And waited.
Finally I risked a look to see whether the dragons were coming. But no. Far away, I could still see the tower – the tower which was still covered in a writing mass of bodies. They did not seem to have any ideas to inspect the heap of rotting meat behind me. They still clung to the tower. I took the other two stones out of my pocket and deliberated. Had my wish been specific enough? Probably not. I had not wished that the dragons would find the food more enticing than that tower. As I looked at the tower, I could see the princess at her window again. No way! I would not fail!
I dumped the second wishing stone into my palm and repeated the ritual, this time saying “I wish that the dragons would be highly attracted to that meat, come to feed on it, and stay there for a long time.”
Scarcely had I said that or I could see a cloud rising from the distant tower. I could hear the snap of thousands of wings. And then the dragons were at the meat. It was not a pretty sight and not something that I will venture to describe. I started running back towards the tower for I was not sure how long the decoy would keep the dragons occupied. I wrenched open the front door and ran up the spiral stairs two at a time. Before I knew it, I was in the princess’s room. She was backed up against the window, staring at me.
“How did you manage that?” she stammered.
“Come, we have no time,” I snapped brusquely. I was not feeling very friendly towards her.
In retrospect, I wish that I had been less hasty, and had spent more time just looking at her. She was just the kind of beautiful woman that you would like to lock up in a tower so that you always just stay to appreciate her. But at that time, all of her charm just went past me.
“But then I will have to pack a few things!” She was still stammering. “I mean, I mean, I wasn’t ready for this!”
“Then just come!”
She scurried around, grabbing here, leaving there. Then she was at my side. “You wanted to get out, my lady?” I made an attempt to be gallant.
“Yes, I want to get out. I want to go with you to your kingdom.”
“Alright, but I warn you: I am no prince.”
“No prince?” she gasped.
“Oh, my blood is princely, but I do not wish for the lifestyle of a prince.”
“Oh.” She looked at me doubtfully.
Once again, I moved fast. I helped her down the spiral stairs as fast as possible and over the tufts of grass to where my horse was tethered.
“You can ride on the horse,” I said, helping her up. “I will walk.”
She slid onto the horse’s back in her blue dress, almost lying flat against the creature’s neck, and worked her hands into its mane. “It feels so good to be out of that tower,” she whispered. “You have no idea how good it is to feel a living creature again. You just have no idea.” She rallied a little. “But are you going to walk all the way back to your kingdom?”
“No,” I said. “I have another idea.” This idea had come to me when I took her down the tower. “I think this is why my father gave me the wishing stones. And I still have one left.”
Then, keeping one hand on the horse’s bridle, and performing the – by now – familiar ritual, I wished to go home.
Well. There you have it. My story, of how Fate took me on a quest, and how I cheated my way through it by using wishing stones, where my brothers attempted it with brute force and egos. I am still Emory. My father is still king of Asharnia. I still refuse to be a prince, except for the plumes allowance. I never even unsheathed my sword. I think that should go down in the record books – it’s an achievement for a quest of this nature, I should say.
Oh? You are asking what happened when I got home with my princess? Well, firstly, she wasn’t my princess. And, secondly, in answer to the question, well, we surprised everyone with our early return. And everybody was happy at my success and at making her acquaintance. Her name was Jessica, by the way.
And then? Well, she and I – Well, we decided to call it a truce. And she went home on a trip to see her family again. And I went on with my life – trying to both avoid being a prince and also to avoid real work. And I gave my historical sword back, and my father hung it up in the throne room where it still hangs, gathering history.
Yes? And next? Between Jessica and me—well, we’ll have to see what develops there…
There you have it then! I think the story kind of ran away with me. Over three-and-a-half thousand words, and 7 pages – What can I say? It is not really the kind of scope that I planned!
Status update: Elana is back on duty!
Eating: What is this stuff? *pokes it, peering into the bowl*
Drinking: Hot Chocolate. Mmm!
Listening: “Someday” ~ John Legend
Reading: This interesting blog post on a blog named Cartoons and Creative Writing. You should read it too!
First off, Readers: Y’all should appreciate this post muchly.
Why? Well, because this week I, being my usual foolish self, managed to tear the tip of my left thumbnail completely off, and then into the nail bed. It hurts like— like— something that you can imagine that hurts in incredible amounts. If only there was an interesting story behind my little accident it might have been better in some way (more ideas for blog posts for one thing), but unfortunately it must be the lamest story you have every heard about a wound like this. I was sitting in the library, being academic, tried to take my diary out of my bag, it got stuck, I yanked at it, my fingers slipped, and when I looked again the front part of my nail was hanging like a flap. Ouch!
But I still haven’t explained why you should appreciate the appearance of this post. Well, that would be because, with a finger like this, it hurts to do basically everything that I need to do. It hurts to write with a pen (I write with my left hand), it hurts to type, it hurts to pick up my bag (yes, the guilty party in my wound), it hurts to take a bath and it hurts to put on my clothes. Therefore you should have appreciation right now, because I still bath (not that you care), I still wear clothes, I still write and, most important of all, I am still typing this blog post at the time that I had said I would do it.
Now. Without further ado, let us proceed to the long-awaited (not!), new, long cartoon!
The following anecdote happened when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I think… Well? Are you going to check?
Cue… the incident of Lord Voldemort, the shower, and… yours truly!
Yep. I was a stupid kid. I still am actually, sometimes. (Think torn-off thumbnail! ) And this was just sooooooo embarrassing!
But in all seriousness, for quite some time, I was truly scared of reading Harry Potter because I so scared of Lord Voldemort. But, when reading the later books, this fear was replaced by an irrational fear of that pet snake of old Voldy. Nagini, I think? Seriously, for years, when I was blow-drying my hair in front of the mirror, I would be continually checking behind me, and under the bed because I was scared there would be a huge snake there. The reasoning behind that being, if the hairdryer was making such a noise, I would not hear the snake sneak up behind me! I know, I know… Therefore, thinking of my childhood fear, I was very gratified to watch that snake getting killed in the final Harry Potter-movie. As I watched it, I thought that if my childhood had to die along with this movie, then my phobia might as well go as well. Hah! I truly hated that snake!
And this post just made me look like the hugest Harry Potter fan! I’m not actually. I liked it whilst it lasted; the final movie made me extremely melancholy and nostalgic; sometimes it annoyed me greatly… but I can’t say that I was ever a Harry Potter fan-girl! *ahem* Rambling off-topic again… (And now I have an addiction to ellipses!)
Lastly a special announcement: to my very special Impish friend, the professional geek, the Serverus Snape of our world, and sayer of really strange things Such as…
Here’s a big internet hug for you! *hug* Hope you enjoyed your
Up next (that means next week some time, hopefully!): A new short story! A fairy-tale — Elana-style.
The voices— again, as always. It always comes again… Then the flight— the running away and the door slamming. Running and more running… And always: darkness, blackness—
This is what my life had been like until a year or so ago. When I was little, it was not quite so bad. But as I grew up, things slowly built up to a climax. That was a year or so ago. Because, you see, “a year or so ago” is the crux of the story I am about to tell you.
My room was dark and the wooden floorboards creaked. I knelt on the floor with my forehead pressed again my closet door. Floating up the stairs, I could hear the voices of my family. I pressed my forehead harder against the wood, hoping that if I did it hard enough, I would never have to hear such voices again. Voices raised in anger, hatred, and, more and more often, fear. Then came a sound that I had never heard before. But this sound also I never wanted to hear again. The sound was innocent enough in itself – just a bland “bump” – but I immediately knew it was the sound of someone hitting someone else. Suddenly it was as though my legs were controlled by someone else – without thinking about it at all I just started running. I had run before when I heard the voices, but then I had always run into the garden, or other times I had jumped right into my closet and closed the door. This time I did not stop at the garden.
Down the stairs, clinging to the banister… out through the front door – slamming the door to the wall in the process – and across the front lawn. Here is the edge of the garden— the edge— the edge…
I teetered on the garden’s border, debating. Then I barged through the hedge marking the border and plunged into the forest beyond. It was a pine forest, and my feet scuffled up the needles as I landed among them. The trees were planted in scientifically precise rows, as it was a forest specifically planted for harvesting wood sustainably. That forest had always bothered me, ever since we had moved to this house. It felt to me that trees should not be planted in rows, but just grow any way – the way nature had intended it. But that day I was grateful for it – for its trees that were planted so straight – because this meant that I could run down one of these aisles between the trees, without having to dodge and weave or bother about any undergrowth. I ran and ran. Then the forest ended. There was no petering out for this forest – no, it ended with a line so straight that it could have done an architect proud. I saw that I stood at the end of an estate. There was a gravel driveway which gracefully curved up to the front door. There seemed to be miles of grass and flowerbeds. It was still gloomy, dark and forbidding. It was the most wonderful place that I have ever seen.
Today I look back on this moment as a moment critical to the direction my life has taken. Had I been the kind of person to use symbolic imagery, I might have said that this moment was a crossroads in my life path and in this moment I had chosen to take one way or the other. But I’m not the kind of person who says these romantic things. I just say that this moment shaped my life.
Reverentially I walked across the lawn in the direction of the manor house. There were bees buzzing in the flower beds and a butterfly or two flew past. But except for the background noise of the bees, the entire place was deathly quiet. There were no birds chirruping. There weren’t even any trees – the entire place was flat and smooth. I reached the driveway, and wandered up it. I had forgotten what I had run from. I had forgotten the voices down the stairs and the bumping sound. All I saw was this manor that was strangely attractive and repelling at the same time.
Eventually, I reached the front door. At first I just stood staring at it: it had a lot to stare at. There was a polished, upside-down horseshoe as a knocker, in between fretwork that ran in elegant scrolls down the length of the door. Then, I reached up, grasped the knocker and let it fall against the door – twice. In the deathly quiet that hung about the vicinity I could hear the knock reverberate on the inside. After I had knocked, I turned to leave. I did not expect any answer to the door. Not even in my craziest moment would I have thought that a butler in a black suit with golden epaulettes and a white cloth over his arm would open the door. And he did not. But I did hear footsteps. So I lingered on the front step. Then I knocked again. The footsteps got nearer. I could hear a key being scraped against a lock, and then a bolt slid back. As the hinges squeaked and the door swung inwards, I could get a glimpse of the resident of the manor. In instalments I could see more and more of it. At first I could only see darkness with a vague shape inside. Then I picked up a definite hint of feeler. Then wing. Then pointiness. The door swung back completely and the tenant stood revealed. There was thorax. There were black leather and black leathery wings. There were pincers. And through the clicking of pincers, its voice came: slowly, without a hint of aggression, but still threatening.
“What do you want?”
I was gasping and gaping at this monstrosity far too much to be able to answer.
“What do you want, knocking at my door?”
“I— I wanted—” I did not even know what I had wanted when I knocked on the door, so I could not answer.
“You wanted to find out who lived here.” The voice made it a statement, not a question.
I managed to get it out. “Yes.”
“You were running away from something when you came here.”
I was dumbfounded. Firstly, I suddenly remembered again what had happened at home, and secondly, I was wondering if it could read my mind. Again, I did not answer.
“No,” it said. “I know because I saw you come here through the woods. I saw you running.”
“I was running… from home,” I stammered.
The wings snapped open behind it, and the darkness in the vicinity seemed to grow even blacker. “Running does not help. I can see you are getting ready to run again. You are edging away from my countenance. Face up to me!”
I stood still. Actually I froze. I was too scared to move. Then it spoke again, with even more authority than before. “You! Girl in the black dress with the mousey-coloured hair! Never run! Never hide! Face your fears and learn from me!”
The door slammed shut and I heard the bolt slide into place. My knees were too shaky for me to lift my feet, so I sat down carefully on the step. I sat there a long time.
Today I look back on this determining moment in my life. My name is Nirneth. I looked into the Black. And I survived.
This is my entry to Mara’s Weekly Writing Challenge.