Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Earthen Queen (Short story)

This is a short story myth told as a fairy tale to accompany The Books of Amber my forthcoming high fantasy novella series. It features castles and trickery - everything a good fairy tale needs, and can be read on it's own, without having read the novella series. Enjoy.

The Earthen Queen
1915 words

Many years ago lived a King and Queen of a town of glimmering silver buildings. The royals were much beloved, and their people were safe and comfortable inside the high walled fortress that surrounded them. Not one person had a worry or concern in the small town of Tandem.

In seventy years no stranger had ventured past the fortress walls of Tandem, and so when the King and Queen awoke one airy morning to the sound of horns playing beyond their castle walls they were wary and fearful.

Knowing no other action to take, when knocking came on the fortress gates the King ordered the men to be welcomed to the town and a feast to be held in honour of their first guests in seventy years.

Their guests, a Prince named Waterwell and his friends, gratefully ate the feast and slept in beds provided for them by the King. On the second day the Prince and his friends rose early to take a stroll through the ramshackle streets, cheerily greeting those selling wares in the morning market and waving at children dancing between the slanted houses. They took breakfast and dinner with the King and Queen and their daughter, and rested easily in their beds when night fell.

On the third and fourth days they did the same.

By the fifth day all those who lived in the town knew Waterwell and his friends, and they called to them jovially during their morning stroll. Children waited on street corners to trail the Prince through the streets, laughing and singing as they went, and the civilians of Tandem regarded the newcomers as welcome friends.

On the sixth day the Prince rose early but his friends did not. He waited in the food hall for the King to descend from his chambers to take breakfast, and Prince Waterwell asked for the Princess’s hand. The King, overwhelmed by his luck, agreed without a second thought. The foreign Prince and the Princess of Tandem were celebrated in a ball that very evening, and the Prince publicly showed his interest and affection.

On the seventh day the Princess of Tandem awoke with only one hand.

The King, outraged at his daughter’s misfortune, confronted the Prince, to which he replied, “I asked for the hand of your daughter and you gave me permission to take it. I have done no more and no less than I said I would.”

The King demanded and pleaded that the foreign Prince restore his daughter’s hand but the Prince would not be swayed.

On the eight day the King sent his squire to retrieve the Princess’s hand from the foreign Prince’s quarters while he and his friends ventured out for their morning stroll. The squire returned with the Prince at his back and a knife at his throat. The Prince, offended and angered, cut the squire’s throat and warned that the same fate would befall the Princess should the King continue to search for her missing hand.

On the ninth day the King acquiesced to his daughter’s fate and pleaded with the foreign Prince to leave, but Waterwell would leave for nothing. Save ordering his guards to kill the Prince and his friends, the King could think of nothing to persuade the Prince to move onto a different town.

On the tenth day the King ordered his guards to poison the foreign Prince and his friends at dinner, but the Prince would not eat a single piece of food, knowing, the King feared, that his food would kill him. When the plates and platters had been cleared the Prince stood up and declared, “The King has betrayed me. He has tried to poison my food and kill me, and in return I place a curse on his daughter. She may never leave these four walls, and if she does she will die.”

On the eleventh day the Prince’s bed was empty and he and his friends were gone, leaving the Princess of Tandem unable to leave the food hall of the castle. By day she wept and at nightfall she slept on blankets piled high to mask the hardness of the floor. The Princess, miserable and distraught from losing her hand, fell into a deep sleep.

The Princess didn’t wake until the seventeenth day, but when she rose she resolved to act. The Prince was no magician or sorcerer—he was just a Prince. He could not curse her. Her father was wrong, and she would show everyone that she was free to leave this room whenever she’d like.

The Princess of Tandem took one step over the threshold and then another and another until she was free of the castle and halfway through town. When she reached the bread merchant she purchased three loaves, waving off his baker’s concern. When she approached the trinket merchant she bought a ring with a blue stone that sparkled like the night sky. When she stood before the cloth merchant’s stall she fell like a stone in the ocean.

The Princess lay on the floor, unable to move or speak a word. Without knowing how she knew the curse had come over her, and that the Prince was no Prince after all, but a wicked sorcerer.

The King, upon hearing of his daughter’s condition had her returned to the castle and locked inside the food hall for good. She was dying, he knew, as her skin became paler and her heart beat slower with every passing hour.

On the nineteenth day the King had begged every God, Goddess, and deity he knew of, and none had answered. The Princess was sicker still, and close to death.

On the twentieth day the King looked into the night sky and begged anyone who happened to hear for help, and answer came in a voice from the darkness.

“I know of a way to cure your daughter,” whispered a soft voice.

The King promised that he would do anything. “But who are you?” he asked.

“I am The Lady Sky,” replied the voice. “I see all and hear all. I guard those whose destinies are written in the stars.”

“And my daughter?” the King asked. “Is her destiny amongst the stars?”

“Yes,” came the reply, “but not the cursed Princess. Your wife will bear another—a Queen. I will cure your dying child, and when your second daughter is born I will return to claim her. This is my price.”

The King considered The Lady Sky’s terms but could think of no other way to save his sick child, so he agreed.

The Princess was cured, and could again leave the food hall and wander the streets of Tandem. The King and Queen lived happily, their people regarding their daughter as a miracle. Several days later the Queen announced that she would have a second child, and though the King knew that they could not keep her, he said nothing to his wife, fearing she would die of misery.

The second daughter was born on a Tuesday, under skies red and orange, with the sun and the clouds as witness. The King and Queen held a great ball in honour of her birth, all the while the King worried about The Lady Sky returning to claim the child. He hid the new-born Princess in a dark wing of the castle, in a cradle of sacred wood to keep away malevolent forces.

But The Lady Sky saw all, and heard all, and was no malevolent force. As the royal family danced and rejoiced she came to claim the child she knew would grow to be the Earthen Queen of a new world.
As the child slept soundly, a blinding yellow light encased her. The willowen branches of her cradle held her up to the night, and the starless sky looked down upon the would-be Queen and took her for her own.

The Lady Sky fostered the child, teaching her the ways of the great Queens. She taught the second daughter how to preserve a planet, how to clear a clouded sky, how to calm a churning ocean, and when the girl had grown and was ready, the Lady Sky deposited her on a barren planet, as was her destiny.

From one edge of the horizon to the other was wasteland, and nowhere was there water, life, or hope. The Earthen Queen sat day and night with her palms pressed to the ground, determined not to despair, and little by little she convinced the planet to grow. Life began as a small bud and grew into a lush forest. Even as the planet grew around her, the Earthen Queen kept her hands to the earth and the Lady Sky’s message in her mind. She birthed a planet that would prosper and care for itself, that would never die.

In the West she sculpted cities from ice and magma, in the North she fashioned lands of water and air, in the East she crafted a vast kingdom of earth and fire, and lastly, in the South, she mothered a realm of Spirit.
Magic coursed from her fingers into the ground, flowing to each of the four corners of the new world. The sky above the Earthen Queen filled with the coursing colours of spirit and sparking fire, with raging air and soothing water, with glowing magma and glittering ice, and earth fell to the planet in showers of asteroids.

The Earthen Queen looked at what she had created, and for the first time in her three hundred years, she smiled. She made a vow to protect her planet for eternity, and named the planet so. Síoraí. Eternal.

When the Queen’s work was done, the Lady Sky proudly reclaimed the second daughter for her own. Though a woman had stood on the lush ground of Síoraí, the Earthen Queen was a sleeping babe in the safety of the Lady Sky’s embrace. Her destiny was fulfilled. She would remember nothing of her trials or her creations come the following day. The Lady Sky smiled fondly at the child and rewarded her with the only thing she could think to give her.

In the fortress town of Tandem, centuries before the creation of Síoraí, the King stood in the castle garden staring at the sky as he had done for each of the seven days since his second daughter had been taken. He spoke to the night sky, as he had done countless times before, but on this night he was greeted with a reply.

“Your second daughter is safe,” said The Lady Sky. She sleeps in her cradle of willowen branches, in the dark wing of your castle from which I took her.”

The King stared in shock. “You have returned her to me?”

“I have returned her to you, to her family. She has done much good, and gifted a dying land with life. I gift her with life of her own, and a family to care for her. Cherish well your second daughter, King of Tandem.”
“Thank you,” the King whispered, but the Lady was gone.

The King returned to his castle, running through the halls until he found his daughter. Upon seeing the Princess safe in her cradle, the King began to cry.

Much celebration was had the following week among the tiny kingdom of Tandem, and the King never let a stranger through the fortress wall again. The King, Queen, and their two daughters lived a long and happy life.

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