Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Elf and the Magnolia, part 4

Goldenrod had learned to climb just as well as his siblings had learned to fly, though nobody had taught him; climbing was something that came as natural to him as walking and breathing. So he had no trouble climbing down from his treetop home to venture out into the rest of the forest. It was the rest of the forest that he was afraid of.
            Goldenrod had never been on the forest floor before. But he heard the birds from the other trees, as well as his own siblings, talk about “spiders,” “foxes,” “rabbits,” “snakes,” and other terrible-sounding creatures that all dwelled on the forest floor. He imagined these creatures to be big, monstrous things that would attack him or trample him or snap him up in large, strong jaws. Maybe they only come out at night, he told himself. Most scary things only come out at night. It’ll be all right. I won’t run into any of them. With this thought firmly in mind, he continued on his way.
            Despite the horrid-sounding creatures that supposedly dwelled there, Goldenrod found the forest floor to be a beautiful thing; there were golden spots where the sun broke through the treetops and made it all the way down. There were wildflowers colored pink and white and yellow and red. There were big, shady leaves to sit under and soft patches of moss and grass to lie down in.
            But there weren’t any elves.
            Goldenrod was not discouraged. Just because there weren’t any elves around didn’t mean there weren’t any elves at all. After all, he was an elf, and his mother must have found him somewhere. As he walked on, Goldenrod tried to picture what a pretty young elf girl must look like, but since he was the only elf he knew, he could only picture a direct copy of himself with a high voice like those of his sisters. That won’t do, he thought. I don’t want to court myself! I want her to look like somebody different! He gave up on picturing another elf in his head.
            After he had walked for a long time, Goldenrod stopped to rest in one of the soft patches of grass. When he sat down, he heard a tiny rustling noise and caught a hint of movement out of the corner of his eye, and out of the grassy patch came the funniest looking creature he had ever seen. It had a round, black body that was low to the ground, and attached to that body were long, spindly legs that moved in a way that made Goldenrod laugh. He counted the legs and saw that there were eight of them, the same as the number of wide, glassy eyes on its face. Of course, this was one of the horrid-sounding creatures that Goldenrod dreaded, the “spider.” But it was so funny looking and gave Goldenrod such amusement to watch that he thought it must’ve been something else entirely.
            The spider turned its head towards Goldenod—and to do this, it had to turn its whole body, which further amused him. “Young man,” the spider scolded him, “don’t you know how rude it is to laugh at others?”
            Goldenrod stopped laughing. “I’m sorry,” he said, feeling ashamed for offending the creature. “It’s just that I’ve never seen anyone like you before, with your long legs and your eight big eyes and that round body. And I’ve never met anyone who’s had to turn her whole body just to turn her head!”
            “Where are you from, that you’ve never seen a spider before?” the spider asked.
            Goldenrod let out a gasp. “You’re a spider? But spiders are scary, and you’re not scary at all!”
            “How could you come to the conclusion that spiders are scary if you’ve never seen one until now?”
            “My brothers and sisters said they were horrible, scary things,” Goldenrod said. “But they were wrong! So perhaps they’re wrong about foxes, rabbits, and snakes too! Oh, I’m not afraid of the forest floor anymore! And it’s so beautiful here, too! But Miss Spider, do you know where I can find elves?”
           “An elf that doesn’t know where the elves are!” the spider exclaimed. “I find that much funnier than eight spindly legs and a round body! But look, I’m not laughing at you, because I don’t wish to be rude. I know exactly where you can find elves, and if you want to know, follow me.”  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Prince and the Desert Queen, part 1

The prince could see nothing but glistening gold sands all around him. He blinked his eyes, adjusting to the brightness, and thought over what a peculiar state of affairs this was. Just one moment ago, he had been out hunting in the forest; he was still holding his hunting bow at his side. He had been intending to hunt only foxes and rabbits, but just as he was aiming his bow for a shot at a particularly large fox with particularly vivid red fur, he was interrupted by the sight of a large peahen. The prince had only ever seen a peacock or a peahen in picture books. He had hunted in those woods since he was a young boy, and knew every furred and feathered creature that dwelled there and exactly when to expect to see them. He had never in his life encountered a peacock or a peahen.
            The prince had lowered his bow and studied the bird intently. It was a particularly beautiful example of a peahen; she was certainly much larger than those he had seen in pictures, though he could not be sure of the exact size of a normal peahen from pictures alone. Her feathers were the exact color of the winter’s first snow, as opposed to the stony grey feathers that are usual for a peahen. At her neck was a striking arrangement of feathers the color of real turquoise and emeralds. It was the sight of these feathers that prompted the prince to go after her.
            He wasn’t going to kill her; he would never kill a female and risk orphaning its child. He only wanted to get close enough to her to pluck off one of the turquoise colored feathers. He wished to take one home to his betrothed, the princess of the neighboring kingdom, who loved the turquoise color to the point where she was never seen without some form of it on her person. She could tie the feather to a cord and wear it around her neck, or else weave it through her hair or pin it to her dress. There were any number of things a princess could do with a feather as beautiful as that, and so the prince knew that he must get one for her.
            The prince retreated into the shadows of the trees to sneak up on the peahen. He knew all about sneaking up on animals, and though he had never dealt with a peahen before, he figured it could be no different than any other creature he might have to take by surprise. He would catch it by the neck, pluck off a turquoise feather, and let it go off on its way. But this peahen wasn’t going to allow herself to be captured, whether she was to be killed or not. She took off, running at a speed that he never imagined such a bird could be capable of. The prince gave chase, utilizing his fastest sprinting speed. He chased her off the hunting trail and into the brush. He made large leaps over the undergrowth, refusing to be slowed down by it. He chased the bird until his legs simply wouldn’t run anymore, and he fell to the ground.
The bird had disappeared, and the prince found himself in this desert. The first thing that came to mind was that the bird was perhaps a fairy creature, and this was its land. This thought was disconcerting—fairies were tricky and often outright malicious creatures that played cruel games with humans. Stories were passed around of fairies that stole babies and little children, usually girls. There were fairies who spirited away humans and sent them back home confused, disoriented, and without a name or any memories. There was even an old rumor that the nearby kingdom of Ellian had its throne usurped by a fairy creature, which managed to make itself look human enough to bear children with the queen, so that every member of the Ellian royal family was now tainted with fairy blood.
        If the prince had been spirited away by a fairy, he knew that his chances of returning home—or at least, returning home in a healthy state of mind—were now very slim. He remembered his betrothed back home and hoped that these particular fairies were willing to be generous with him. Then he began heading out into the desert. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Elf and the Magnolia, part 3

Goldenrod was perfectly content to forget all about being an elf, until his brothers and sisters began to discuss the topic of relationships. They had their wings for nearly a month now, and their flight was now just as graceful and streamlined as that of their mother. Surely, they felt, it was time to begin courting. They spent the day flying out to other trees where the other finches nested, and flying low down so as to attract the attention of the pretty young finches that lived there. At night, they stayed up chattering excitedly about these potential suitors, fawning over their features and quarreling over which ones were the most attractive, and discussing future marriage and children.
            Goldenrod was left out of these conversations, and whenever they were brought up, his siblings would give him quick pitying looks. They knew that he was an elf and could not court a finch, and neither he nor they knew where he was to find other elves. As he spent the nights sitting and listening to his siblings chatter and giggle about courting other finches, he began to realize how different he was from them. He was an elf. He would never be a finch, no matter what his mother said. He was an elf, and his family was full of finches, because they were not his real family. He had a real family at one point, full of elves just like him, with pink skin and downy yellow feathers on top of their heads. Maybe they were still out there, or maybe they were all gone, but they were his real family. These finches were not.
            This was a very distressing time for Goldenrod. He felt detached, in the way, and like he didn’t really belong. His siblings, though they only meant to comfort him, would treat him with undisguised pity during these rough times; patting his head and pinching his cheeks and shooting sad glances in his direction whenever they discussed courting. Goldenrod didn’t want comfort or pity.  He began avoiding his siblings, who were so busy trying to attract the pretty young finches from the other trees that they no longer found much time to play with him anyway. At night, he would leave the nest and climb up on a branch, where he’d sit and daydream about other elves and what his real family might’ve been like, until his mother called him to bed.
            Finally, on an afternoon when it became too much for him and when all of his siblings were out with their suitors, Goldenrod approached his mother and said, “Mama, I’m going to go out and find somebody to court.”
            The mother finch was filled with dread; had the day come when he had finally decided he wanted to leave her for other elves? But she knew she couldn’t say no to him. She knew how depressed he became whenever the subject of courting was brought up. “You may go,” she told him, “but you must come back to me by nightfall. If you don’t come back by nightfall, I will have to go out looking for you.”
         “I’ll be back by nightfall,” Goldenrod assured his mother.  “I promise.” Then he kissed her and went off on his way. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Sack Knight, part 10 (ending)

Upon entering the palace, Ignatius instantly found himself surrounded by all his old friends, comrades, and admirers, who covered him in embraces and kisses and lamented over his condition. They questioned him on where he had been, why he was dressed in a ruined potato sack, why he now walked with a limp, and what had happened to him to make him so dirty and so cut and bruised as he was. His answer to all of their questions was, “I am a pitiful knight, and I am to be executed,” and everyone was shocked at the very idea of the execution of their dear Sir Ignatius. He could not be executed, they said. Why, he was the most beloved and revered knight in Fair Alora! He was their hero! Surely, he must be mistaken. He could not have deserted. Someone or something must have stolen him away in the night, or perhaps he was bewitched, or he certainly had a good reason for taking off either way. Ignatius protested all of their claims, until he realized there was just no use and they just didn’t understand. He sighed mournfully as he was led to the washrooms, and the footservant questioned him about the starry white flower tied to his sack.
            “It is a hero’s medal I was given during my time away, for aiding a creek whose waters were in distress,” Ignatius told him.
            “Ah, Ignatius!” said the footservant. “Even when you are called away from Fair Alora, still you continue your heroic deeds!”
            “It was not a heroic deed,” Ignatius said, “and I was not called away. I took off without leave.”
            “You have earned a hero’s medal for it,” said the servant, “so clearly, it was a heroic deed!”
            Ignatius was bathed thoroughly, so that his pearl-pink complexion returned and his hair shone as gold as any sunbeam. He was given one of his satin and brocade outfits, and his hair was combed and tied back with golden tassels. The sack, reduced to only a lapel-piece containing the creek’s hero’s medal, was placed with all his many honors and medals for heroism and valiance. Ignatius looked at them as he was led down the hall to the king’s chamber, and he felt a sudden sense of delight and contentment, the way he had felt when he was first given the hero’s medal. But the feeling left him as he remembered what he had done, and the punishment that awaited him.
            Standing at the doorway of the king’s chamber were Ignatius’ nine comrades from the king’s guard: Elgon, Arwinn, Rothgar, Cecil, Ivan, Riven, Leron, and Elric. They were all smiling at him, even Elric, the only one whose envy and resentment ever turned to dislike. Ignatius did not smile back; he instead kept his eyes averted and fixed on the doorway in front of him.
            When Ignatius was led into the king’s chamber, he was surprised to see the red squirrel, sitting on the arm of the king’s sofa and talking quickly and ceaselessly into the king’s ear: “And so, your highness, I simply will not hear of you executing Sir Ignatius, not after the service he has done for myself, my family, and my children who are yet to come. He is a hero, through and through. And if he really must be punished, surely you can show him the kindness and mercy to give him a much lighter sentence than execution.”
            But the king shook his head as if to dismiss nonsense, and said, “Why, who ever gave you the idea that I would execute Sir Ignatius? I could never dream of doing such a thing, no matter how heavy a crime he may have committed. And so far, you have spoken to me only of acts of heroism, not of crime.”
            Ignatius finally spoke up: “Sir?”
            “Ignatius!” The joy in the king’s face at this moment was like none he had ever displayed before. He embraced his knight and heir, holding him as if he never would let go. Ignatius sighed, but this one was a sigh of love and contentment.
            “Sir,” Ignatius began, his head resting on the king’s shoulder, “I have...”
            “I already know of your adventures of the past three days, Ignatius,” the king interrupted. “Your red-furred friend from the forest has told me everything. And I don’t think I could ever be more proud of you than I am right now, but I know you will find a way!”
            “But I have committed one of the worst acts a knight can commit,” Ignatius said. “The act of…”
            “A good knight,” the king interrupted again, “displays bravery and heroism even outside the limits of his kingdom. Like with any other man, there will be times when a knight will fall into trouble and disgrace. It is the way he handles himself and the way he displays himself to others during these times that makes him good. Bravery, valiance, strength, chivalry, determination, and heroism, in times of good and bad, within the walls of the kingdom and out in the wide world—these are what make a good man a good knight.”
            Ignatius knew he was forgiven for everything. Not only forgiven, but revered for the way he had continued to display the qualities of a knight even when outside the watchful eyes of his kingdom. Ignatius had been a knight in an old potato sack in the same way he had been a knight in armor and finery—something that none of the other knights of Fair Alora could lay claim to. Ignatius never deserted again, and though there were times when he felt that he had done wrong, these were few and far between and he never again considered himself the worst knight. The squirrel and his wife, mother, and children were moved into the palace and made his close companions. He lived in happiness and with the ceaseless admiration of his peers, and accepted his eventual ascension to the throne with the grace expected of a great king. And the remains of the old potato sack, with the white starry flower still tied to the lapel, forever remained in the hall amongst all of Ignatius’ other medals and honors.  

The Sack Knight, part 9

The squirrel begged and pleaded with Ignatius to change his mind, but it was made up; he would return to Fair Alora, ask everyone to call off the search, admit to his desertion, and beg for the king to execute him as if he were any other deserter. Before his execution, he would request that Elric be named the king’s heir in his place. “After all,” he mused to himself, “it is Elric who gave me such a reality check in the first place. Elric is always the quickest to remind me of how ungrateful, over-emotional, absent-minded, and idiotic I am. He is always the first to reprimand me when I am acting a fool. Oh, imagine if Elric had seen the way I carried on about forgetting to tell the squirrel when to return! He would’ve never let me hear the end of that.” He deepened his voice in an imitation of Elric’s: “’My god, Ignatius, you are a clodpole if I have ever seen one! Look at you, carrying on like a spoiled child who didn’t get a sweet! You ought to be whipped like one, too!’” Elric knew how a good man was supposed to present himself. He would make a fine king someday.
            So Ignatius set off for his homeland, eating and drinking nothing along the way, for he didn’t feel it made very much sense to eat when he was just going to be killed anyway. The walk took him two days, and he had to go with a limp because of how he had destroyed his feet walking barefoot on the forest floor. By the time he finally reached Fair Alora, he was dizzy, weak, and in pain in almost every spot on his body. His matted hair was so caked with dirt that it had turned from gold to a dingy brown. His sack was completely threadbare, except for his right breast, where the hero’s medal given to him by the creek was still stuck fast. He was in the agony that he felt was perfectly fit for a traitor and a dead man.
            The moment he stepped within the city limits, he caught sight of Ivan, one of his comrades from the king’s guard. He tried to scuttle away so he wouldn’t be seen, but it was no use; Ivan caught sight of him and let out the most joyous cry a person could make, before running to his friend and catching him in a tight embrace. “Ignatius! Oh, dear Ignatius, my friend, my comrade! Where have you been? What has happened to you? Oh, look at you! You are in the sorriest state I’ve ever seen a person in!”
            Ignatius was surprised to see Ivan carrying on like this, because Ivan so often resented Ignatius for all the special treatment he was given by the king. “Please, Ivan,” Ignatius said, trying to push out of his embrace, “take me directly to the king, for I have committed one of the worst crimes a knight could commit: the crime of desertion. And for my crime, I am to be executed.”
            But Ivan either didn’t hear him or wouldn’t. He grabbed Ignatius by the hand and cried, “Come, Ignatius! We must let everyone know you have returned!” Ignatius didn’t protest, knowing that this was the only way he would be able to get to the king. He felt guilt and discomfort that just about crushed him as he mounted Ivan’s horse, as the two of them rode off through the village and Ivan shouted, “Sir Ignatius has returned! Sir Ignatius, the hero of the king’s guard, has returned!” It grew as the citizens flung open their doors and windows and cheered raucously as they passed. He heard the gasps and the mutterings as people saw the pitiful state he had returned in. He wanted to shout, “No! You are mistaken! I have deserted you, and no hero would desert his following!” But he knew he couldn’t be heard over the shouts and hollers of the crowd.
            They rode into the palace courtyard and around to the stables, and the courtiers and servants and pages and other knights turned their heads to look and shouted and cheered and applauded. Ignatius tried to look as small and unnoticeable as possible, but it was no use; even with mud on the sides of his face and in his pitiful, threadbare sack, he was noticed and he was revered. He wanted to leap off the horse and run far away, never to return, but figured that execution would be a much more appropriate fate for him.
            They reached the stables and dismounted, and Ivan led him into the palace.