Rebuilding

The pre-dawn wind was bitterly cold as we trundled the crates of fish to the co-op market by the docks. The small fry had already been distributed to the crew, and once the salable fish were delivered, Kazu went home to cook our breakfast.

gyokou 2

I hadn’t known Kazu before the disaster. After, we met while cleaning up the debris. We’d decided to pool our resources and buy one new boat with the insurance payment for our two destroyed old boats. Our crew were all seasoned local veterans and we were slowly rebuilding the livelihood we had lost. The lives we had lost — our parents, wives, children — we tried not to think about too much.

One night when we were somewhat drunk, he’d placed a hand on my thigh at the noodle shop. I didn’t move away. It had felt good to be touched again. When he hinted that he wanted more, I invited him back to my place, the temporary housing five doors down from his. It was a totally new experience for me but somewhere between the lust and pleasure, I realized it was exactly what I needed.

gyokou 1

Finished with the sales, I hurried home in the early morning light. The aroma of grilled fish and hot soup and rice greeted me. As we ate, I turned on the TV. The talk show panelists were discussing the progress of restoration in our area. I changed the channel.

Tired but with full bellies, I washed the dishes while he relaxed for a bit. Then he drew the curtains to block the sunlight and spread out our futon. I joined him a minute later, backing against his warmth.

“You wanna?” I asked.

“Nah. Not today.”

He held me tightly, though, and that was enough. I had everything I needed.

Sixteen

A/N: Written for Dreamspinner Press’s 10K Likes on Facebook celebration. 
Subject: first kiss
Word Limit: 500

~~~~~~~

“I’m sorry, Zach, I have to work late tonight,” Mom had told me over breakfast. “We have a teleconference with Hong Kong. If Nick wants to come over, you can order pizza.”

“Whatev,” I’d answered with my mouth full. I didn’t let on anything was wrong, even though today was my birthday. She’d forgotten. Again. You’d think the day she gave birth to her only child would be pretty memorable, right? Yeah, right. The last time she’d remembered to buy a cake was five years ago. I left for school and drifted through the rest of the day.

So. I’m sixteen now. Most kids would be excited about driving; me, I hadn’t even taken Driver’s Ed. What’s the point if you can’t afford a car? I worked part-time at the grocery store and had saved up for my Playstation, but it would be a long time before I’d be able to buy my own car. Seemed like an eternity.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait that long for Nick to arrive after school. As he parked his bike on the back porch, I was startled to see a gift bag hanging from his handlebar.

“Ta-da! Happy birthday!” he announced as he walked into the kitchen.

“You… remembered,” I said stupidly.

“Of course I did. It’s, like, the same day every year, man.”

Nick had been in my fourth grade class and we’d been buddies ever since. He got good grades and was more with it than I could ever hope to be. On a day like this, I was really glad to have an awesome friend like him.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” he teased, so I pulled out my present and tore off the tissue paper.

“Awesome! Resident Evil 6! We can play this tonight,” I said, totally thrilled.

“Happy ‘Sweet Sixteen,’” Nick said with a grin. “That is, if it’s true.”

“If what’s true?”

“Y’know, ‘Sweet sixteen, never been kissed’? You haven’t, have you?”

“Uh… no.”

I hated to admit it, but my love life was… nonexistent. Nick had been dating Brittney off and on since ninth grade, but there weren’t a lot of gay guys at school. Not anyone I’d care to date, anyway.

“Alright, then—here’s your other present,” Nick said, suddenly grabbing my shoulders and leaning in close. When he covered my mouth with his, I dropped the new game on the floor in surprise. He was gentle, almost careful, as he pulled at and played with my lips, but I hardly knew how to respond. My eyes had closed on their own, letting me focus on what he was doing, but it’s not like I kissed him back. I couldn’t.

When he backed off I was out of breath, my head spinning.

“I… I thought you liked girls…” was the first thing my shocked mind threw out.

Nick shrugged. “Doesn’t mean I don’t like guys.”

“Oh.”

Maybe this birthday wouldn’t be a total waste, after all.

Grammar Thief

A/N: Short story inspired by the above.
WARNING: Smut alert!


I hid in the shadows, waiting for a good mark, and spotted the gent in the cream-colored dinner jacket. I knew the Lord of the manor he’d just left had invited an assortment of foreigners for a dinner party tonight. He was probably hoping to walk back to his hotel, but I intended to relieve him of whatever valuable verbs, odd modifiers, and loose grammar he might have on him. It’s what I do: I’m English.

As luck would have it, he went down an alley where what few street lights there were had been damaged by the neighborhood boys throwing rocks at them. It would be pitch black tonight with no moon and thick clouds overhead. The only illumination in the whole alley came from the windows of a factory where there was someone still working inside, mending a machine. It was the ideal location for me to catch him up, treading noiselessly in my rubber-soled shoes and knocking him down to the pavement before he even knew I was there.

I had to give it to him, though, for keeping a cool head. He immediately flailed his arms about, trying to shake me off as he twisted around on the ground to face me. We tussled for a minute or two before I managed to pin him down with my left hand, but he grabbed my right wrist as I cocked it to punch him. I’d pegged him as a pansy but he was strong enough to hold me off. We were caught in an impasse, staring into each other’s eyes since we had landed right in the orange square of light cast from a factory window.

His bow tie had been knocked askew in the struggle but he still managed to look dandy as he gasped and tried, unsuccessfully, to wrench himself free.

“What are you?” I demanded, hoping to at least elicit a dangling participle. “French? Swedish?”

Non! Je suis Belge,” he replied indignantly, even as he panted for breath and fought to push me off.

“Ah! Belgian,” I repeated with a grin. “Haven’t had one of those in a long time… but since you’re speaking French, you must be one of those guys I owe for the great word, ‘Walloon’!”

Je ne parle pas Anglais,” he replied, redoubling his efforts to shake me off.

“What? You don’t speak no English?” I said in glee. “I’m taking that one for sure! Don’t worry, my friend – you have exactly what I’m looking for…” I removed my knee from his stomach where it had landed, straddled him firmly, and yanked my arm free from his grasp. Just as I reached to rifle through his pockets for more little gems, though, I felt a significant bulge in his trousers. It was growing right under my perineum, unmistakable in its texture and behaviour. The realization sent a thrill first up my spine and then back down, straight into my crotch. The guy was getting turned on by being manhandled! Which, in turn, was turning me on.

“You like it like this? Huh? You like it rough?” I taunted.

He flushed crimson in the wan light of the window and attempted to push me off with his hands again. I blocked them, thinking that the easiest way for him to get me off of his torso was to buck his hips, but of course he couldn’t do that without pressing his cock right up against mine. I grabbed at his wrists, catching one of them, and leaned in to whisper in his ear, making sure that my hot breath tickled the fine hairs in it.

“I’ll bet you like getting fucked by a man, don’t you? Is that what you want? You want me to fuck you, right here, out on the street?”

Non,” he protested, but it was feeble and unconvincing. Especially when his dick pressed even harder against my balls at the suggestion.

“Tell you what,” I said, using my free hand to unbuckle my own belt, “you keep pretending you don’t want this, if that’s how you want to do it, and I’ll just keep shoving my cock up your ass until you spill your French all over yourself. Then I’ll take what I want and you can drag your worn-out ass back to your hotel. Got it?”

This time his response was a mere whimper. The helplessness in that sound – as well as the way he did nothing to stop me, as though desperately embarrassed to admit his desire and yet desperately needing to be fucked – made my cock strain at my underwear. I pulled it out in a trice and then set to work on his clothes. His cummerbund was made of silk and its name came from Persia, so I tucked it into my pocket, then pushed his shirt up to bare his stomach. His belt was unremarkable, as was his underwear, but I paused when I pulled down his trousers and briefs to reveal his thick, long penis. I had never seen one so big, and I had seen a lot in my day.

“Crickey!” I exclaimed as I examined it with almost scientific interest. “No wonder you lifted me up with that…”

Such a massive manhood demanded anyone’s respect, so I wrapped both of my hands around it and stroked it, up and down, several times. The tip of it was drooling pre-cum before long.

“Not so fast, my little Walloon,” I chided, getting up onto my knees and pushing down his trousers even further. “I haven’t made good on my part of the bargain yet.”

I had to move over to one side of him before I could get his clothes completely off of his legs – he was no longer pretending that he didn’t want this, instead cooperating as I removed his shoes and socks to make things easier, even bending his knees and grabbing them himself. I spread his legs further apart and back against his body so that his now-naked ass was more visible. He made an amusingly incongruous picture since he was still wearing his dinner jacket above, and the pale globes of his ass below me filled me with strident need.

I wiped the pre-cum from his throbbing cock and smeared it around his anus with my fingers, sliding one, then two of them inside in quick succession. He gasped and flinched at the intrusion but made no move to escape. When I thrust the two digits further inside him, rough and demanding, he groaned and arched his back, scraping the dirty pavement with the back of his head. My own cock was aching for more attention than my one hand could give it, and I figured that if he liked it rough, that was preparation enough. I pulled out my fingers, stroking that sensitive spot one last time before positioning my penis at his hole.

Pushing in, I knew it had to hurt him, but his “Ahh! Ahhh!” only served to drive me wild. And at that point if he’d wanted me to stop, he could have kicked me with his legs and easily gotten away. Even as my movements became faster and harder, he never tried to escape from the onslaught of my cock. And as I thrust into him in a frenzy of lust, his huge male organ kept dripping with cum, bouncing between his stomach and mine, slathering the fluid on both his skin and my shirt. I felt the pressure within me building like a volcano; with several long, hard shoves, it erupted deep inside of him, transferring my lava-hot semen into the depths of his body as I trembled with pleasure and release.

It took me a moment to catch my breath, at which point I saw that he had also squirted cum all over himself. The sticky fluid lay in strings like so much sugar frosting drizzled over his belly.

“Hey,” I demanded, rubbing a finger through the mess, “what do you call this?”

He looked at me through half-lidded eyes, still panting from the exertion. “Foutre,” he finally managed.

“Fuck. That’s too hard to pronounce,” I grumbled, though not with rancor; I was too sated from the sex to be mad at him. I checked through the pockets of his dinner jacket for any other hidden treasures but found only a handkerchief. “Here. You need this more than I do,” I said as I slapped it into his hand. He looked at it, dazed, as though he didn’t quite know what to do with it. I stood up and put my spent cock away, brushing the dirt off my trouser knees.

Merde,” he sighed, finally wiping himself with the handkerchief.

“Not bad for a Walloon,” I told him with some satisfaction. I was turning to leave when a movement caught my eye:  there was a grizzly, sweaty bear of a man standing in the factory window. No doubt he was the mechanic who’d been working late. He was eyeing the Belgian on the ground hungrily, his mouth gaping with obvious want.

“Looks like you have another customer,” I told the guy – who still had his lower half exposed – and made my way back to the main street to look for more foreigners.

The Last Kiss

Never mind that what he said was true. Nobody humiliates me and gets away with it. I don’t get even — I go one better. He’d learn his lesson.

I knew he’d be at his usual hangout with his buddies, which made it easier to plan the sting. I told the Captain that I’d identify him with a kiss. We used to kiss all the time, instead of saying hello. This would be the last kiss.

With the officers in position behind me, I went in. He was there, all right, talking to his friends. When he looked up at me, I couldn’t meet his eyes, but it didn’t matter — I went up to him, said “Good evening” as casually as I could, and kissed his cheek.

In the silence that followed, I heard him sadly say, “Judas, you would betray me with a kiss?”


What happened after that was a blur. I tried to forget it all, to pretend that it didn’t matter. Then I heard his verdict — torture, then death by the cross.

I rushed to the temple. I couldn’t believe that the priests would murder him out of spite. I had forgotten that it had been my own petty malice which had sold him out, when he was the only person who had ever really understood me… who had ever loved me.

I burst into the temple, shrieking, “You can’t do this! He’s innocent!

“So what?” they sneered. I knew then that it was useless — they had sealed his fate. I threw down the silver they had paid me, the thirty coins that had bought his blood.

“Keep your filthy money!” I shouted, then ran out. I tried to outrun the demons in my mind, but it was no use. I made a noose, hoping to escape my guilt by death. But it was only the beginning of my eternal torment…

The Black Diamond

I glanced down at the brochure as the guide led us through the narrow, twisted corridors. We stopped every so often at rooms with special features, such as antique furniture, historic paintings, et cetera. I tried to mask my impatience, for it had been half an hour since the group had started the tour, and we seemed no closer to the center of the house. It was there, in the middle of the octagonal building, that the purpose for my visit lay. The legendary Black Diamond, my only object, was kept there.

According to the guide, the entire building had been built for the sole purpose of housing the Black Diamond. Its owner had acquired the jewel through questionable channels and suffered a nervous breakdown a few years before his death, a state from which he had never truly recovered. In his frenzied moments he had dreamed up the plan for this house, now commonly referred to as “The Maze,” and hired the builders. They had followed the plans without deviation and completed the bizarre structure in three years. Unfortunately, the day after its completion, the owner jumped out of the topmost window and fell to his death. His family then donated the house, as well as all of its contents, to the city, which preserved it as a museum.

The guide stopped at yet another room, this time to show us the intricate stained-glass windows. I noticed that these, and the rest of the windows we had seen so far, were unopenable and almost unbreakable, for they were reinforced with sturdy iron bars. Only a blowtorch would cut through them.

I had inspected the lock on the door also, for professional reasons. The bolt was strong but simple to pick. It would be much easier to break in through the door, especially since there was no sign of an alarm system. I thought that odd but was not about to complain. Slowly, the tour moved along.

We walked single file, since in some places the halls were only three feet wide. The ceilings also grew higher and lower randomly, and odd steps were interspersed along the way — five steps up, three steps down, then one step up again. I couldn’t resist asking the guide if there were a map of the house, but she replied that they hadn’t been able to put one together since the house had no definable floors.

Finally, the guide stopped before the door of what she called the “heart” of the house. As we entered, a hush fell over the other tourists, who had been oo-ing and ah-ing and making inane comments thus far. I was towards the back of the group, but as I entered I understood their silent reaction. The rooms and corridors had grown progressively smaller as we wound our way into the structure; here, however, the ceiling soared upwards like a cathedral, and the room seemed as wide as the house itself. It was eight-sided, just like the house’s exterior, and must have taken up most of the space on its level. But instead of spreading out to stretch our cramped limbs, we clustered near the doorway, our eyes focused on the glittering gem in the center.

From the windows far above, the midday sun was directed to the object on the pedestal. In a simple glass case, also octagonal, it sat regally as though it ruled the house and we were merely its servants. The light reflected from the diamond was undimmed, but the jewel itself swirled with smoky shadows, deepening to jet-black in places. If you stared at it too long, it looked as though the striations were moving, writhing and coiling like a serpent. We were all spellbound until the guide started speaking again.

She mentioned the rarity of black diamonds, since usually their color indicates impurities that weaken the structure. This one, however, had been tested to prove its hardness and had passed with “flying colors,” as she put it. When she gave an estimate of its market worth, most people gasped.

“Has it ever been stolen?” an elderly gentleman asked. I was glad he did, since I had wanted to ask that very question. The guide said no, it had never actually been stolen. The man then asked if there had been attempts to steal it. The guide answered that officially, there were none, but unofficially, there seemed to have been a great many.

The man would have let the subject end at that, but I could not resist inquiring as to why the attempts were not admitted officially. “Well, sir,” the guide replied, “it’s the oddest thing, but the police couldn’t call them attempted burglaries since none of the items in the house had been taken, or even moved.” I wondered at that, but assumed that the would-be burglars had never managed to gain entry. Perhaps that lock was more difficult to pick than I had estimated. The guide took us back to the entrance and ended the tour.


I re-examined the lock upon my departure and came to the same conclusion. I could not fathom how any self-respecting burglar had failed to get past that lock, but then, perhaps they had tried to get in the hard way — through the windows. I, on the other hand, foresaw no difficulty in obtaining the Black Diamond.

In case you are still wondering, yes, I am a burglar. A thief, a robber, a swindler, whatever you choose to call me. But I work just as hard at my profession as anybody else at theirs. It takes a lot of skill, patience, and persistence to become rich as a burglar. I have, and I have no qualms in saying that I am the best in my field — namely, gems and jewelry. I also have the connections which allow me to sell the items I steal, without which my endeavors would be pointless.


That night, after leisurely enjoying dinner at the hotel, albeit with the rest of my tour group, I retired at the usual time. Then, around eleven o’clock, I set out secretly with the tools of my trade. As I had assumed, the lock on the front door soon opened under my experienced hands.

I have another endowment in my favor: I have a precise, photographic memory. I had not only memorized the sequence of turns and ascents to get to the center room, but I also knew how each hallway, each landing, should look. It was only a matter of minutes to get there this second time, especially since I did not stop to admire the view at every bend.

There it was. Even at night, what light there was from the moon and stars were focused on the jewel, glancing off in eerie, bluish rays. The Black Diamond itself seemed to glow with ethereal iridescence. My eyes were playing tricks on me again, making me think, for a moment, that the stone’s swirling colors were shifting. Undaunted, I shook my head to clear it of the illusion and gave my full attention to the glass case that housed it.

Here again was a surprise, for I had expected at least a wired alarm system. Usually, for a piece of such value, the entire room would be protected by lasers, so their absence had come as my first surprise. But the octagonal glass case seemed to be just that and nothing more. I wondered if it had pressure-sensitive sensors at its base, but the velvet pedestal it sat upon showed no signs of such technology. I took a deep breath and decided to take the risk. I quickly removed the glass.

I had fully expected to be deafened by alarms, so the ensuing quiet was rather unnerving. In it I could hear the house creaking and moaning in the wind, its sighs sounding uncannily human, sending shivers up my spine. And yet, when I looked down upon my new acquisition, all my qualms were dispersed in the exultation of triumph. I boldly picked up the Black Diamond.

Its shape was a simple octagonal step-cut, much like the brilliant cut but with fewer facets in order to showcase the gem’s unusual color. Seen from directly above, it was a perfect octagon and also perfectly black. I carefully placed it in a hidden, inside pocket of my coat. With one last look around, I confirmed that there were no hidden cameras and replaced the glass case before I left the room.

I stepped out into the corridor and confidently wound my way down to the exit. I almost felt like whistling. This was an easy job. If all of my jobs were this easy, I would have been able to retire by now. As it was, the price of this gem was going to pay for my living expenses for the next five years, at least. I nearly danced down a set of stairs.

Then I stopped, petrified. I had subconsciously counted the steps as I descended. I turned around to check. There were four of them. And I knew, as plain as day, that I had not come across a set of four steps with the tour. It should have been five steps, right there. Had I miscounted, both on my way in and my way out? It seemed unlikely. And I had turned the corners correctly, I knew. I shook my head in somewhat of a melancholy mood. I must be getting old, I thought, to have miscounted the steps. But I had made a point of remembering the turns, so I wasn’t concerned in that regard. I continued my descent.

Suddenly, I came to a landing I could not recognize. At each staircase of any length, there were ornate railings, each with a uniquely carved pattern. This one was new to me. Its square posts were plain, and the rail itself, though made of wood as all the others, felt more rounded. I had to admit that I was lost.

It’s bad enough to be disoriented. It’s worse to become disoriented when you have been confident of your sense of direction all your life. But it’s the worst possible condition to be in when you are a burglar in a house you have just burgled.

However, I was not about to panic. I would simply retrace my steps back to the center room and try again. I must have missed a turn, or gone down the wrong branch, or not seen the right corridor. With such narrow halls and only my small flashlight to illuminate them, it was quite probable. I turned back, trying to follow my recent visual memory to the center room again.

I came to the corridor that curved around the center room and relaxed a little. I would clear my mind and start all over again. In such an odd house, appropriately nicknamed “The Maze,” nobody could be faulted for losing his way. I rounded a corner, already preparing to turn around and try again. The door to the center room should have been there. It wasn’t.

I stood there, startled, for a moment. Then I thought that perhaps the door was around the next bend and that this had been my mistake when I had first left the room. I walked past the next corner. The door was not there.

One further. Still no door. The next corner. No door. Another. Nothing. Yet another. Only a blank wall, staring back at me. I went past the next two corners and still found no trace of the door. However, around the last bend, I came face-to-face with a dead end. Since I had also counted eight corridors, I figured that I had completely circled the room. Perhaps the door was hidden, I thought, so I retraced my steps, knocking on the walls with my fist to detect it. Still, I found nothing.

I was puzzled, but then I realized that the door was not so important — to find the exit from this house was. I had left the lock on the front door, hanging as it had been but not locked (of course), so if some overzealous policeman noticed it, I could still be caught in the act. I hurried my steps, trying to remember the turns I had taken with the guide. Although I could not recognize anything, I told myself that the dim lighting was playing tricks on my eyes and continued my way down.

I thought I would recognize the ground level, at least, since it had contained the most rooms and the most doors. However, the longer I walked, the fewer doors I passed. After a while, I found myself in a section of the house that had no doors. I reassured myself that I would soon come to the more crowded area, that I would soon be walking outside in the cool night air. The house was musty and smelled of mildew, which was not surprising, considering its lack of ventilation. As I had observed earlier, its windows were not designed to open.

I turned one corner, then another, then another, until I was afraid I would lose count, when suddenly, my path was barred by a wall. I don’t mind admitting that I was rather frustrated. My stomach was churning angrily as I walked back the way I had come. How many dead ends did this accursed house have?

But I quickly realized that there must be a great many. Almost every way I went, I ran into a dead end. Soon I was picking my way randomly, giving up any pretense of following my memory. I had found out, quite obviously and to my great distress, how poorly it had served me.

The problem with walking aimlessly about, though, especially in a maze, is that you can never be sure whether you have gone that way before or not. I became quite convinced that if I were not running into the same dead end every time, that all of the dead ends had been made to look the same — even to the grain of the wood. Finally, out of curiosity, I took a small screw out of a pocket (I always keep such things on my person, since I never know when an odd screw or bolt will come in handy, in my line of business) and placed it on the floor in front of the dead end. Then I ran down the corridors with abandon. The next five times, I came to the same dead end, although I had taken a different route away from it each time.

Panting hard from my exertions, I tried to clear my head enough to think. It took all of my self-discipline to hold back the rising tide of panic. The house was cleverly built, I thought. There must be only one way to get to the entrance, and all the other ways had been built to lead back to here. I simply have to try all the alternate routes until I find the entrance.

I started away from the dead end again, this time more methodically. I started by taking every branch to the right, counting the turns it took to get back to the dead end, then turning left at the last one, then the one before it, progressively until I would end up taking every branch to the left. I worked this way for at least two hours and finally thought I had tried every possible route. I still ended up back at the same spot.

I was exhausted from walking and running. I tried to think if I had overlooked any alternate routes but could think of none. I am nothing if not thorough. The world, or the world I could see, began to spin, and the roiling tumult churning in my stomach finally broke loose, releasing itself in a long, wailing scream. I could not stop it. Then I began to run wildly through the house again.

The narrow corridors seemed to close in on me from every side, and the ceiling joined forces with it. I was trapped, being buried alive, squeezed to death by this abominable building. The house seemed not so much a construction of wood and metal as a malevolent entity bent on causing my destruction. I fell, then flailed my arms at my unseen tormentor, the feeble beams of my flashlight like an extension of my soul — trying to find some crack, some pinhole through which to escape.

I continued to run, screaming, heedless of how many times I tripped or fell. Every last shred of logic had abandoned me, leaving me with only an animalistic instinct to try to escape. To run, run, run from the evil that pursued me. I ran around a corner and slammed into the dead end.

To my surprise and relief, the wall of the dead end fell over, revealing an even narrower corridor with a steep staircase leading up. I scrambled up the steps, sobbing hysterically. At the top of the stairs I came to a door, which was unlocked. Behind it was a small room, with only one skylight window and an antique chest-of-drawers. I felt a cool breeze and saw with joy that the window in the ceiling was open, though just a crack. I scrabbled at the drawers in the chest, its peeling paint catching under my fingernails, and used the partially opened drawers as steps to climb my way to the top of the dresser. Then, shoving with all my might, I was able to open the window further, gulping in draughts of fresh air. I heaved myself through the small opening, kicking the dresser over but escaping to the roof, which suddenly seemed to lurch, sliding out from under my feet…


The next day, a tourist’s dead body was found on the street. The police called it a suicide, since everything in the house was intact, and the Black Diamond lay undisturbed in its glass case.

 

The Barefoot Princess

Once upon a time, there was a princess who liked to go barefoot. Naturally, her parents and attendants tried to discourage this un-princess-like behavior.

“Put on your shoes! You’re going to catch your death of cold!” the Queen scolded.

“Please, Princess, you’ll get us in trouble!” the chamber maids begged.

“Darling, don’t you like the red slippers I had made for you? They match your dress and are ever so pretty on your tiny tootsies,” the King wheedled.

But nothing anyone said made her want to wear her shoes. When important visitors came to the castle, the Queen had to order the guards to hold her down while other guards tied her shoes on. Only the royal guards could do this, since she kicked with a most un-princess-like ferocity and the chamber maids could not move quickly enough in full armor.

Even with all this fuss, however, the Princess’s various shoes were found discarded in the usual nooks and crannies around the castle — the red dancing shoes in the moat, the pink slippers with ribbons up the chimney, the black riding boots in the Lord Chancellor’s file cabinet. Almost as soon as they had been put on, the Princess would be glimpsed running in the garden, deliberately avoiding the stepping stones so she could squish mud between her toes.


One day the Princess finished lowering the bucket into the well, with her silver sandals inside, and saw a great commotion at the front gate. The visitor (a distant cousin of the king of the country next-door) had arrived early, and he had brought some of his hunting dogs so the King could choose one to his liking as a gift. Since the guards had not known that he was bringing his dogs, they were scrambling to set up a makeshift kennel and were tripping on the dogs’ tails and leashes in the process. The dogs were happy to be let out of the carriage, so they were yapping and howling (especially when they were stepped on by the over-tasked guards) and making a terrific din. The Princess realized that the gate was unguarded — it was the perfect moment for running away outside of the castle!

She crept behind the shrubbery as far as she could, then dashed. One guard was just coming across the drawbridge, having returned from his leave of absence, and saw the Princess pattering towards him. He tried to intercept her to grab her, but the Princess cocked her fist and swung with all her strength. Fortunately, being still a small girl, all her strength was not significant; but unfortunately, being still a small girl, her punch landed in a significant area below the belt, making the poor soldier crumple with a whimper. Heedless, the Princess ran out into the city.

Having never been on the city streets before — at least, not outside of a carriage — the Princess narrowly dodged being trampled upon by several cart-oxen as she darted out from cluttered alleyways into main thoroughfares. In fact, she once startled a donkey so badly that it sat down in the middle of the street, causing a lengthy traffic jam. But the Princess hardly noticed, or cared. She was too engrossed in savoring her new-found freedom, soaking in the sights and sounds of the city.

As she was watching with wide eyes the garrulous exchange of a woman haggling with an oil merchant, she felt a sharp jab in her back. “OW!” She turned to scowl at the source of the pain and was surprised to find a scowl just as ferocious as her own. It was on a smudgy face at about the same level as hers, belonging to a boy whose tattered clothes looked as though they had been dragged backwards through a chimney (which, in fact, they very well could have been). Fists on his hips, the boy exuded hostility from every unwashed pore.

“Who’re you?” he demanded, then added, without waiting for a reply, “This is MY begging corner. Go find yerself another!”

“I don’t want your corner,” the Princess replied with a haughty sniff. “I don’t need to beg — I’m a princess!”

The boy’s scowl gave way to astonishment, then contorted into a laugh. “Yer not jest a beggar, yer teched in the head!” he bawled, as though the humor of the situation physically pained him.

“I am not teched in the head,” she shot back angrily, though she only vaguely construed what it meant, “and I am too a princess!”

“Oh-ho! I jest bet you are! What sorta princess has muddy toes?” he jeered.

The Princess would have answered, except she didn’t have an answer. In fact, his question had made her remember what her mother, the Queen, had always said: “No princess in her right mind would ever be caught without her shoes on!”

She gaped, disconcerted, for a moment. When the boy knew no retort was forthcoming, he laughed even louder and, to call whatever attention he could to the confounded Princess, started shouting, “Make way fer the Barefoot Princess! Her royal highness is come to beg on our humble corner! Bow down to the Beggar Princess!” Gaining the interest of people nearby, he started up a chant: “Barefoot Princess, Beggar Princess, lost her shoes and lost her mind!

Within seconds there were other street urchins crowding around her, joining the chant and pointing at her filthy feet. One of them yelled, “Her dress is too clean fer beggin’!” and threw a clod of dirt (or worse) at her. The rest joined in, and those of them nearest her tried to wipe their grimy hands on her dress, thereby tearing it in several places.

The Princess, surrounded by so many filthy, grabbing hands and shouting, leering faces, was stunned for a minute. Then she tried to dodge them, this way and that, until someone caught a handful of her hair and yanked. The pain snapped her out of her stupor, and the Princess decided right then, right there, to throw a royal tantrum. She flailed her arms and stomped the ground with her tiny bare feet, screaming, “I AM A PRINCESS! GET AWAY FROM ME OR I’LL HAVE YOU THROWN IN THE DUNGEONS! DON’T YOU DARE PULL MY HAIR AGAIN! AND STOP TOUCHING ME WITH YOUR FILTHY HANDS!”

The children around her started backing away, more from her furious fists than her threats. Some of the older citizens who were looking on, unable to decipher what she was shrieking, thought that she really was a poster child for a mental institution and began discussing which one she ought to be taken to. As none of them volunteered to restrain the little banshee, it was a moot point. However, even the street urchins caught their mood from the words they overheard and, fearing the girl really was a dangerous lunatic, most of them fled with only a few more clumps of refuse thrown in her direction. A few of the bravest, including the boy who had started the whole commotion, tossed bits of rotten cabbage from a nearby vegetable stall, cheering each other whenever a piece came near her open mouth. For the Princess was in the middle of an all-out fit (like the time the Queen forbad her to eat any more strawberry pie after she’d had three quarters) and was on the ground on her back, kicking and beating the air in every direction and screaming with hardly a pause for breath.

Of course, such carrying-on requires much exertion, and before long even the Princess was too tired to scream anymore. She lay panting on the stone pavement, her eyes closed, too exhausted to move. She felt oddly alone and realized that at the castle, even when she was throwing a tantrum, the maids would try to distract her by bringing her favorite toys and sweets, usually to replace whatever she couldn’t have or do. And when there were visitors and she was held down by the royal guards to have shoes forced onto her feet, the guards would try to persuade her to wear them of her own volition. Here, nobody had told her to stop screaming, or to sit up, or to put on her shoes. Nobody had spoken to her at all, except the boy who had made fun of her. Even the adults quickly resumed their business, glad to ignore the responsibility of having her committed. For the first time in her life, she was truly alone. And also for the first time in her life, she felt tears spilling out uncontrollably, and for good reason.

Having screamed herself hoarse, the Princess could only weep silently. She lay on the pavement until it grew dark and dozed, awakening to a street completely deserted except for some garbage and herself. She sat up, stiff and sore, and her empty stomach howled in protest, which also made her aware of her extreme thirst. Her tongue could afford no relief to her parched, chapped lips, and she thought longingly of sweet fruit juices and pies and jelly sandwiches. She decided to go home.

The Princess stood up, thinking of all she would drink and eat, and started walking along the road. She followed the road straight on until her feet began to hurt. Her tiny, unshod feet were unused to walking on hard stone. Then, when she sat to rest them, she abruptly realized that she did not know where she was. She only knew that she had never passed this way before. In all her life, she had never been so frightened! She wanted to cry, but her voice was gone and her head already thudding, so there was nothing for her to do except stand up and keep walking. She often had to sit and rest, napping and dreaming that the whole situation was a nightmare, only to awaken to its brutal reality. Once she shed more tears and tried to soothe her dry lips with them, but was maddened when they stung her cracked skin. Finally, she huddled in a somewhat clean corner and slept.


She slept through the rumbling of the street vendors’ carts. She slept through the earliest wave of shoppers, mostly maids and servants sent out to buy fresh produce for breakfast. What rudely terminated her slumber was a long stick that poked her, held by one of the street urchins from the previous day.

Beggar Princess, lost her shoes and lost her mind!” it bellowed, then took off running. She rubbed her swollen, salty eyes. Her blackened feet still hurt, although somewhat rested, but her even more painful hunger and now desperate thirst forced her on. She wandered aimlessly until she was drawn by the sounds of the morning market.

The market was in full swing, with local housewives out trading gossip and selecting the day’s groceries. She again avoided being run over by shopping carts and trampled upon by the skin of her teeth, staggering befuddled through the crowd. But she stopped dead in front of one stall. It had ripe melons piled artistically high, with one sliced open to assure the discriminating consumer of its ripeness. Although her mouth was too dehydrated to water, the Princess could almost taste the sweet dew displayed so temptingly. Her grubby hands reached out, without thinking, for the piece of melon.

Hey now! None of that, you little thief!

The bearded man glowering down at her had caught both her wrists in an iron grip.

The Princess tried to say something, but her throat was too dry. The merchant’s scowling face frightened her and, tired beyond her limits, she started to cry. Not a tantrum, or a sham to get what she wanted, but unstoppable tears that shook her frame without a sound. The man released one of her hands to scratch his head.

“Well, now,” he muttered, “I know them’s crocodile tears, but she’s a devil of a’ actor, that’s fer sure.”

An old man walked up to the stall and looked at the Princess, then at the merchant, then back at the Princess.

“Zedek, I didn’t know you had a daughter,” he finally said.

“I don’t! This thief just tried to snatch one of my melons. As if I look like a charitable organization,” he grumbled.

“Well,” the old man pointed out, “you can’t hold on to her all day.”

“Of course not! I have a business to run.” The merchant scratched his head again, perplexed.

“Do you mean to hand her over to the authorities?”

“Why, yes! Yes, of course, that’s what I’ll do!”

“Do you have proof that she stole your melon?”

“Proof? I saw her with my own eyes!”

“Stealing your melon?”

“Yes, she was reaching for it, so I grabbed her.”

“But she didn’t actually touch it?”

“No, I caught her before she laid her grubby hands on it.”

“So she didn’t actually touch it…” The old man slowly shook his head. “Zedek, I’m afraid you don’t have a case. They won’t lock her up unless she actually picked up a melon and walked away from your stall.”

The merchant looked confused. “What are you talking about? If I hadn’t stopped her, she would’a ran off with that piece right there!”

“That’s only what you think she would have done. How do you know she wasn’t going to thump one to see if it were ripe?”

The merchant turned purple, thinking furiously. “B-but,” he sputtered, “she don’t gots no money!”

“It doesn’t look like she does, no, but how can you be sure?”

Under the old man’s calm gaze, Zedek paled and scratched his head with more vigor. “Well, she… but… but, it’s so obvious!”

“I know it seems obvious, to you and to me, but the authorities always want proof. And Zedek, when have you ever known them to be reasonable?”

“Well… I… no, I guess not.” He looked at the Princess, a hint of resignation in his face. “So, there’s nothing I can do?”

“I’m afraid not,” the old man answered. “But look at it this way: if you hadn’t caught her, she would have spoiled one of your wares and you would have lost the money it was worth, even if you could have gotten her locked up. This way, even though you have to set her free, you didn’t lose anything.”

A satisfied smile crept into the merchant’s features. “You’re right! I didn’t lose a thing.” He turned to the Princess and said, not unkindly, “Now you! Don’t go nabbing things no more, or next time you could be in big trouble. Go on!”

He released the Princess, who did not comprehend the situation. As she stood there, tears continuing down her cheeks, the old man bent to look into her face. “Now then,” he said, “let’s get you cleaned up.” He gently took her hand and led her further into the marketplace to the center square, where the community water fountain was. The Princess’s tears gradually subsided as they walked, so that by the time they reached the fountain she was only sobbing. Women filling their buckets or doing their laundry there looked up when the old man approached and made way for them; but at the sight of water the Princess broke free from him and, plunging her face into the nearest pool, drank and drank like a thirsty horse. She didn’t even think of all her pretty cups and glasses at the palace — she’d never tasted water so good, so refreshing, or so wet, in all her life.

When she finally had her fill, one of the women (with whom the old man had been talking) took a rag from her pile, rubbed a little soap onto it, told the Princess, “Now let’s just see what kind of face you got under all that mud,” and proceeded to scrub her face quite thoroughly and, to the Princess’s mind, none too gently. “Well! It is a little child after all!” she laughed as the Princess’s skin emerged. Next came her hands and arms, then her legs, then her feet, which stung from all the cuts they had gotten from walking on the stone pavement for so long. They were still sore and tired, too, and the water felt deliciously cool. The woman made her sit on the edge of one pool (which let the water run out and was used for rinsing laundry) with her feet soaking in the mild stream. The Princess was so exhausted that she didn’t even kick and splash about, which ordinarily she would have done.

“Now what are you going to do with her?” the woman asked the old man.

“I suppose I should take her back to her parents,” he replied.

The woman shook her head. “Doesn’t look like she got decent parents, or why would she be out on the street in such a state?”

“You’re probably right, but we should at least ask her.” He walked over to the pool and sat down next to her. “Child, what is your name? Where do you live?”

The Princess was about to answer that she was the Princess and lived in the castle, but then she remembered what had happened the day before. Nobody had believed her (after all, what princess would be caught without any shoes?) and worse, everybody (that she could see, anyway) had been frightfully cruel to her. Not daring to say anything true and not knowing what else to say, she fell silent, gazing at her toes.

The old man sighed. “I thought as much. How would you like to come live with my wife and me?”

The Princess looked up into the old man’s eyes. They were filled with warmth and kindness — something she would not have noticed before. Slowly, almost shyly, she nodded.

“Well then,” he said, “let’s go home.”


The old man’s home turned out to be a small room in a large stone building, with one window in the wall and a fireplace in the corner which served as both furnace and kitchen. When they walked in, an old woman (the old man’s wife) was stirring a pot in the fireplace.

“Did you get any greens, my dear?” she asked without looking up.

“Yes, my dear, the greengrocer was especially generous today,” he answered, “and a good thing, too, since we have company.”

Startled, she looked up, saw the Princess, and dropped the wooden spoon with a little cry of surprise. “Well!” she gasped. “Well now, let me take a look at you! My, my, what a state your clothes are in,” she murmured, kneeling down in front of the Princess and pushing back some of her disheveled hair to see her face. “What a darling!” she exclaimed, a smile brightening her wrinkles. “Wherever did you find such a darling? And look, such pretty hair!” Even as she spoke, she had reached for her own comb and started untangling the Princess’s locks.

“My dear,” her husband reminded, “you may fuss over her pretty hair as much as you want, but right now I think she would like something to eat.”

“Why, bless me, of course she would!”

Without further ado, she washed the greens, chopped them, and stirred them into the pot. Soon all three were sitting by the table (the Princess on the churning stool, since there were only two chairs) eating hot porridge. The Princess thought she had never tasted anything quite so delicious as that watery bowl of porridge. She was hungry for more, but even she could see that the pot was empty, and still being a bit shy of the old woman, she did not say a word.

After breakfast the old man went back to the fountain to fetch some water while his wife finished combing the Princess’s hair. They heated the water with the last of their firewood and the old woman gave her a bath. She was dressed in the old man’s other shirt (which came down to her ankles) and pronounced a perfect darling by both of them. Since she did not dare tell them her real name, they decided “Darling” would do just fine. And so, settled into her new family, the Princess (or Darling) started her new life.


Every day the old man found odd jobs to do around town, since he was handy at fixing things, whether of wood or stone or metal. This, combined with his wife’s bit of knitting that they sold at market, comprised their meager income. The wood they used for fire had to be gathered from the forest beyond the town walls, and the Princess — or Darling — often went with the old woman to help find some and carry it back home. She now called them “Grandfather” and “Grandmother,” and was eager to earn their praise. When they said she was such a help to them that they didn’t know how they had gotten along without her, she glowed with pleasure, not realizing that her labor hardly made up for her board and keep.

She quickly got over her shyness and fell back into the habit of prattling every thought that entered her head. Mercifully, there were not many of those, and because her new lifestyle was much different from her old, she had a great many questions to ask about everything. In fact, if she remembered everything the old couple told her, she might have become very wise and knowledgeable; as it was she learned a few useful things, such as how to churn butter without spilling the cream, how to knit (rather poorly, for her mind tended to wander), and how to make porridge. Porridge was the staple of their diet. Darling thought at first that they could not eat meat and other things because they were old, but later realized that it was because meat and other things were expensive, much too expensive for the old couple to afford — especially, though they did not say it, with an additional mouth to feed.

So, she continued on in her state of bliss, not knowing, not caring, as long as there was something to put in her stomach at the end of each day. She often awoke late at night, either thirsty or the reverse, always to find them both working (she on her knitting and he on some small repair) in the dim firelight, but they told her they didn’t need as much sleep because they were old, and she believed them.


Meanwhile her parents, the King and Queen, had issued orders throughout the kingdom for their soldiers to search for the missing Princess, with even a handsome sum of gold coins offered as a reward. At first they were frantic with worry, but as time passed and no word was heard on Her Truant Highness (for nobody recognized the barefoot urchin as the Princess) they began to give her up for lost — for good. And the chambermaids and royal guards (and the Lord Chancellor) could not help but notice that life at the castle was much more quiet and orderly since the Princess had left.


One day Darling came home after fetching some water at the fountain and found the old couple whispering and giggling conspiratorially. She saw, to her surprise, that there was a bit of fish (which was less expensive than meat) in their porridge. As they sat around the table — Darling in the new chair the old man had made — eating the special porridge, the old woman winked at her and said they had splurged today. Darling did not know what “splurged” meant, but it tasted delicious. Then, after dinner was done and they had finished cleaning up, the old man cleared his throat.

“Come sit by the fire, Darling,” he said, pulling her chair up to the fireplace. She obeyed, thinking she was going to be taught a new style of knitting. The old woman went to the cupboard and took something out, but hid it behind her back as she walked towards them.

“We would have gotten them sooner, if we could have,” she confessed, “but at least you’ll have them in time for winter.”

She held out what she had hidden for Darling to see. It was a small pair of shoes.

Darling looked at the shoes, then looked at the old woman, the old man, and the old man’s shoes and the old woman’s shoes. Both of their pairs were worn and scuffed, and on the bottoms, where she couldn’t see, she knew they had been repaired many times. She looked at the little pair held out to her, which were only very slightly used. She took them and, without a word, she put them on. But tears slipped down her cheeks. She finally realized that they had put off buying new shoes for themselves in order to buy hers. It even began to occur to her that this was why they had been working so hard, late into the night. She knew by now, without asking, that shoes were expensive.

“Well? How do they feel?” the old man asked, his expression eager.

Instead of answering, Darling walked over to him and hugged him as tightly as she could — which, perhaps, was the best answer of all. She hugged the old woman very tightly, too. Then she looked at her shoes again. She pursed her lips and thought very hard.

“Now that I have shoes, I can be a Princess again,” she thought. “But I don’t want to leave Grandmother and Grandfather… they wouldn’t know what to do without me! Papa and Mama have lots of money, so they don’t need me to work for them.” She squinted her eyes and thought even harder. “But maybe if I go back to being a Princess, I could give Grandfather and Grandmother my Princess shoes, and they could sell them. Then they could buy new shoes for themselves!”

Looking determinedly up at the old couple, who were still waiting for her to say something (for she was usually never this quiet), she declared, “You have to come with me!”

She grabbed a hand each of the old couple and started dragging them to the door.

“But Darling, it’s late! It’s your bedtime.”

“Wherever are you going? It’s dark outside!”

“Oh, I can find my way,” she replied, still tugging (for she did know the streets of the city by now). “I can’t sleep yet, anyway. Come on!

She released their hands and dashed outside. They reluctantly followed, bewildered by her behavior, but before they had a chance to speak she was back, hurrying them along.

When they finally came in sight of the castle gate, Darling darted across the drawbridge and was confronted by the sentry. “Halt! What goes there?”

“Let me through! I am the Princess, and I’ve brought Grandmother and Grandfather to give them my shoes!”

The sentry stooped to look at the Princess’s face, holding his lantern close. The old couple arrived, panting, just as he yelped and instinctively jumped back — for, as it happened, this was the guard the Princess had felled the day of her escape. When he started shouting for the Captain, the old couple thought their Darling had done something to get them all arrested. Shocked, they watched as she marched across the grounds to the main entrance, from which the royal guards were pouring out; then deciding that they couldn’t let their little Darling go to her fate alone, they trudged after her. Much to their surprise, the guards let out a cheer and hustled all three of them into the castle. Even more wondrous was the sight of the King and Queen, both bursting into tears and running to welcome Darling with hugs and kisses, then hugging each other and the nearby guards out of sheer delight.

“Our Princess! Our darling Princess is home! She’s safe and sound!” they cried.

Only then did the old couple realize the truth. They attempted to apologize for keeping the Princess so long, but the King would not hear of it, so overjoyed was he, and instead he ordered the reward for finding the Princess to be brought and presented to the couple. They stared in disbelief at the large bag of gold coins thrust into their hands, as did the Princess, who hadn’t thought that her Papa would have (naturally) offered a reward.

“But I was going to give them my shoes…” she faltered.

“What on earth,” asked the King, “would they do with your tiny shoes?”

“I thought they could sell them and buy new shoes for themselves.”

The couple suddenly started to weep, but the old man managed to smile through his tears. “With all this gold, we can buy all the new shoes we want.”

“You can keep your own shoes, which must be much nicer than those,” added his wife.

“But I like these,” the Princess insisted. “I don’t need the others.”

The Queen had burst into fresh tears when she realized that her daughter was actually wearing shoes. Dabbing her eyes with a royal handkerchief, she laughed, sighed, and told the Princess, “Then you may give your other shoes to children who don’t have any. As long as you promise,” she added, trying to look stern (which is a hard thing to do when you’re crying and laughing and very glad to see that your little girl is alive and well and wearing shoes), “to never run away ever again!”

The Princess promised. And she even got so used to wearing shoes that she continued to wear them, even after those ones were completely worn out and she only kept them in a pretty box to look at. And the old couple — who were now rich — built a house right next to the castle, so their Darling Princess could run over to visit them whenever she liked.

 

Treasure

It had been twenty years since my family had moved away, but I was in town again. I traveled a lot now, working for a sales/marketing firm. My meetings were over, so before flying back I decided to visit the house of my childhood.

I surprised myself with how well I remembered the streets. I’d bought a map, just in case, but often a familiar landmark would transport me back to the third grade, when I used to watch the same scenery from the back seat of the family car.

Yes, there it was ‒ I turned onto a residential street with a dead-end sign. The familiar ranch house was near the end. Something was missing, though. Except for a short stump, the front yard was sadly empty. The weeping willow tree I used to climb was gone.

There was a sign showing that the house was for sale. As I parked the rental car on the street, conjuring up old phantoms, a car pulled into the driveway. The driver put a “SOLD” sign above the realtor’s and headed for the door. Impulsively, I jumped out and ran after him.

“Excuse me, I used to live in this house. Are you the real estate agent?”

“Yes,” he said, turning. “I’m afraid you’re too late ‒ we just closed on the deal…”

“That’s all right ‒ I just happened to be in town, and was wondering if you could show me around a bit.”

“Sure,” he nodded, opening the door.

The carpet was new, and the walls had a new coat of paint, too. The slightest noise echoed since there was hardly any furniture. “The last owners already moved to Florida,” the agent explained. “It took us a few months to find a buyer.”

I walked through the house feeling like a stranger. Actually, it was the house that had turned into a foreign place. Even my old room seemed different, although it hadn’t been changed much. It simply smelled different.

Walking out the door, something triggered my memory. “Wait,” I said, “can I check out the bathroom before we go?”

“You need to use it?”

“No, I think there might be something… just a sec.”

The laundry chute was still inside the cabinet under the sink. I got down on my knees and reached behind it, my tongue sticking out in concentration. Finally, I retrieved a small wooden chest.

“What’s that?”

I opened it to show him my childhood treasures ‒ two blue-striped marbles, a yo-yo with a tangled string, a Matchbox Corvette that had lost most of its red paint, and a plastic soldier that had made the ultimate sacrifice for my imaginary country. I picked him out, fondly.

“I put him to rest here, but forgot to pack him when we moved.”

The agent smiled. “He must be pretty special.”

I nodded and carefully carried the box outside. I had the most important piece of the house now.

Ravan’s Tower

Once, and not so very long ago, there was a sorcerer named Ravan. He lived in a curious rock that protruded from the gently rolling hills of the forest, pointing straight up into the sky like a challenge to the heavens, with an octagonal structure at the summit. The building was made of gleaming white marble and had a steeply pointed roof that gave the entire rock a sharp, needle-like appearance. Some said Ravan had built it by magic, and others said he had made the entire rock to come out of the earth at his bidding and that was why it was at such odds with the surrounding landscape. Both could very well have been true, but nobody had ever dared ask Ravan himself. He did not leave his tower often, and even on the rare occasions that he ventured into the nearby village, the people were too frightened to speak to him. Many scurried into their houses and shut their windows when he approached, although careful not to draw his attention to themselves.

The one man in the village who did not react to his presence was the blacksmith, Gidon. He greeted the sorcerer as he would any other customer and did not hesitate to look him in the eye. Ravan usually had business with the blacksmith when he came to the village, and he would either give directions as to the peculiar contraptions he needed or would pick up the completed products. He always paid for his purchases in gold, which was rare in the village, but Gidon made jewelry out of it and traded it for clothes and food with the village women. His own wife had died long before, leaving him with a son, Edon, who now helped him in the smithy.

One day a shadow fell on the open door, and the dark-mantled sorcerer stepped in with a leather pouch in his hand. Gidon wiped his blackened hands on his apron and stood up. “I need for you to make me a mirror,” Ravan began while untying the straps of the pouch. “Not just a polished piece of metal, but a proper one with smooth glass on the surface. You will make it out of silver. It must be at least this big.” Edon watched from his corner as the sorcerer laid fragments of a shattered mirror on the table. “If you need more materials for the glass, I will provide it, as well as the silver.”

“This is a lady’s looking-glass,” Gidon grunted. “Do you want the new one engraved with these patterns, too?”

“Yes. I want your finest work. It is not for my use, as everything else I have had you make, but for my daughter. I would not have entrusted this to you, but she must have another as quickly as possible. You shall be paid less for every day you take to complete it, but if it is not done well you shall be paid nothing at all.”

Gidon only asked, “How much for five days?” and began negotiating the price. Edon had already stopped listening, for his mind was reeling from the revelation ‒ Ravan had a daughter! He knew the whole village would be shocked to hear this, for he fully intended to tell them the news as soon as Ravan’s figure had disappeared into the forest, past the last house in the village proper.

Edon was dazed with the discovery even after their customer had left, but Gidon resumed his work on the horseshoes for their previous customer. Soon after, however, Edon found a pretext to leave the smithy and headed to the well where the womenfolk were gathering.

Some of the women were still superstitiously making the sign to ward off evil, facing the way Ravan had left, as Edon approached the well. Their usually cheerful chatter had turned to hushed mutterings, and a few even cast dark looks at the smithy, though their expression quickly changed when they saw Edon.

“What did he want this time? More pots for brewing poisons?” spat one woman.

“No,” Edon replied slowly, “he wanted a mirror.”

“A mirror!” the women echoed, surprised. “What would he do with a mirror?” asked one.

“It’s not for him,” Edon said, then paused for effect. “It’s for his daughter.”

Hearing the outcry that ensued, some of the men in the village looked out of their shops, then were drawn into the group now excitedly plying Edon with questions. Nobody had ever heard of Ravan having a daughter; nobody had heard of his having a wife. A silver mirror was certainly an extravagant thing, they all agreed. Perhaps she was very vain, some said, and looked at her reflection all day. Perhaps she was very beautiful, others suggested. Amid the hubbub, nobody noticed Corrine, the oldest woman of the village, hobbling up to the well on her cane.

“How old is his daughter? She cannot be very old, for Ravan is not an old man,” one said.

“How do you know that?” Corrine asked, surprising them. “I was born in this village and have lived here all of my eighty-two years, but Ravan has not changed since the first time I saw him, when I was four.”

“Is he immortal?” gasped the butcher. Corrine shook her head.

“I do not know what magic he possesses,” she replied, “but I do remember hearing, when I was just a young girl, that he had stolen a beautiful maiden from a distant land and had hidden her away in his tower.”

“Did someone see her?” a farmer’s wife asked.

“It was a long time ago,” Corrine sighed, “but I think it was the woodcutter… yes, it was the woodcutter, Vorik, who happened to be near Ravan’s tower at dusk and caught a glimpse of the maiden. He saw a light in the tower, far too bright for a fire, and thought a star was falling to the earth. When it did not move, he looked closely ‒ for he had good eyes, Vorik did ‒ and saw a figure in a blue dress, with golden hair as long as she was tall. It was only a glimpse, mind you, for she soon turned and went back into the tower, but he swore to his dying day that the light had been coming from her.”

“Is it possible that Ravan had captured a star-spirit?” the weaver’s apprentice wondered.

“It is possible,” Corrine answered sagely, “but not long after that a traveling minstrel came to this village ‒ or rather, he stopped by on his way to town ‒ and told us rumors of a sorcerer that had stolen a maiden with long, golden hair, the daughter of a rich man who was spending everything he had to find her. Then someone ran to fetch Vorik, and when he told the minstrel what he had seen, everybody realized that the sorcerer was none other than Ravan! The minstrel promised to tell the maiden’s father and lead him here, but we never saw him again.”

“He must have been caught by Ravan and turned into stone!” cried the baker’s wife.

“He probably took the father’s reward and ran,” the butcher retorted.

“Her father never came here, but what could he have done if he had?” Corrine continued. “Perhaps he gave up when he realized she could not be delivered from so powerful a sorcerer. But doubtless, this maiden was the mother of Ravan’s daughter.”


Edon could not concentrate on his work the rest of the day, with thoughts about Ravan’s stolen wife and daughter swirling in his mind. His father seemed unruffled by the whole business, but after they had eaten their supper, Gidon went back to the workplace and told Edon to pile the wood high and pump the bellows. Late as it was, he started the work for Ravan’s mirror. By the time he set aside his tools for the night, Edon had been struggling to keep his eyes open for an hour.

The next day Gidon arose as early as he usually did and continued shaping the mirror. Edon stifled many yawns in the course of the day, then realized, to his dismay, that Gidon intended to work late into the night again. He slapped his face with cold water to stay awake that evening and no longer bothered to stifle his yawns.

By noon of the third day, most of the work was done. All that remained were the embellishments, which Gidon could do alone, so he told Edon to get some rest. No sooner had he fallen asleep, he thought, than Gidon was shaking him awake, but the sun was slanting to the west. “Get up,” his father ordered, “and pack our supper.”

“What?” Edon mumbled, rubbing his eyes.

“If we hurry, we can go to Ravan’s tower before the sun sets. I will go borrow the horses from the innkeeper. Hurry! He will pay us more if we deliver it to him today.”

Edon stumbled up and packed their bread and cheese in a pouch. His sleepiness was soon changed to excitement at the thought of going to Ravan’s tower. “Would the sorcerer let us in?” he wondered. “What amazing magical things he must keep in his tower! And maybe, we will be able to see his daughter!” Edon had last seen the tower when he was a child and had gone out with a group of curious children who, like him, were fascinated with the sorcerer.

They hurried along the darkening forest path, which was surprisingly clear of weeds and fallen branches despite its lack of habitual travelers. Gidon snatched bites of his bread as they rode, but Edon was too excited ‒ and far too uncomfortable on the jostling horse ‒ to eat. His thoughts raced as he watched Ravan’s tower grow closer, becoming less distinct in the dusk but still a looming black shadow against the rich indigo of the sky.

Just as the sun fell completely over the horizon and the colors around them grew several shades darker, they turned down the fork which led to the tower. Edon felt a prickling on the back of his neck, for he had never dared come this close to the sorcerer’s lair. Gidon slowed his horse as they approached, but Edon’s continued at a quick trot until it nearly collided with the rock wall, where it reared up and deposited Edon on the ground behind its rump. Winded, Edon tried to stand as Gidon drew up and lit a torch. In the wan light he saw that the path ran directly up to the rock pillar, as though it continued through it uninterrupted.

“Ravan!” Gidon called. “I have brought your mirror!”

Never one to waste words, Gidon then lapsed into silence. They did not have long to wait. No sooner had Edon grabbed the reins of his horse than the sorcerer appeared, walking through the rock like he would a dense fog.

“You are early. Show me the mirror,” Ravan demanded.

Gidon pulled it out of a leather bag, still wrapped in a clean cloth he had bought from the weaver, and handed it to Ravan, who critically inspected the smoothness of the glass and intricacy of the embellishments. Edon, who had not seen it finished, watched curiously. Had he been more experienced in his father’s craft, he would have realized that it was Gidon’s finest work ‒ the best to be made with the blacksmith’s limited tools.

Ravan pursed his lips as he repeatedly turned the mirror over in his hands.

“It will do,” he finally said. He reached into his robe and pulled out his money bag, then counted the gold coins into Gidon’s hand. Edon stared hard at the rock when the sorcerer turned and disappeared into it, then carefully stepped closer until he could touch it. It held firm, as any ordinary rock would.

“Come, it’s late,” his father grunted, kicking his mount into a canter with the torch held high.

Edon followed, but could not help glancing back at the tower now and again, when the trees were sparse enough to see through. Then, as the last hues of sunset faded from the sky, he thought he saw a light begin to glow at the top of Ravan’s tower. He turned around and squinted so often that he lagged behind Gidon, so far that he could barely make out the torch moving ahead, but in the absence of the firelight he could more easily see the growing light in the tower. As his horse ambled along the path, he came to a dense part of the forest where he could not see even the sky overhead, and before long he grew restless from being unable to observe the tower.

“I’ll just take a quick look from a vantage point,” he said to himself, hastily winding the reins on a branch. “Just to make certain that it’s coming from the tower, and isn’t a star.” He clambered up the tree with the thickest trunk, going as high as he dared on the progressively smaller limbs. When he turned to take stock of his view, he nearly lost his balance for dizziness, being higher than most of the treetops. Beyond the dark sea of trees, the sorcerer’s tower was a sharp fang thrust into the sky now filling with sparkling stars. Then, at its pinnacle, Edon saw a light burst forth in silvery splendor.

He watched, breathtaken, as the light slowly moved about. Even at this distance he could make out that it was a human form, and by its light he saw that the uppermost level of Ravan’s tower was an open porch, with no walls between the pillars. The maiden (for he was now sure that it was she) seemed to be looking at the emerging stars, starting with the early eastern constellations and moving to the west. When the last ones shone clearly in the westernmost sky, she disappeared. Edon was left in the utter darkness of a moonless night.

Saddened, he began his descent, groping blindly for footholds. He had not gone long, however, when his foot broke through a small branch and pulled the rest of his body along. He crashed through the tree, tearing his hands in desperate attempts to grab, being bruised by limbs rushing by, and losing all sense of direction except the principle one: down. Before he could brace himself, he landed on the ground with a hard thud. Vaguely, he heard the horse screaming and galloping away. He groaned in pain at the stars swirling before his eyes.

It was some time before he gingerly sat up to check himself over, relieved to find no broken bones. “I could have killed myself,” he pondered, shuddering. As he dragged himself to his feet, his hands encountered a soft, warm fuzz. Startled, he recoiled, then cautiously examined it. It was a large bird of some sort, still alive, but too frightened even to screech. He could feel it trembling. “Poor bird,” he sighed, “I must have fallen right through your nest.” He started on his long road home, but after a few steps he heard a tiny peep. He stopped, undecided, and heard another weak cry. “All right,” he muttered, returning to pick it up. “You’ll probably die anyway, but if you do, at least you can be our dinner.”

He continued to talk to the bird as he groped his way home, mostly to keep himself from falling asleep on his feet and stumbling, which he did several times anyhow. The bird did not struggle or respond to his grumblings. When Edon finally entered the village, he saw no trace of the horses or his father, but as he passed by the inn he heard sounds of revelry coming from within and guessed where at least part of Ravan’s gold was being spent. Too sleepy and tired to think of joining Gidon for a bite of supper, Edon dragged himself into the house and, still holding the bird, lay on his bed and was asleep instantly.


He was awakened by the pain of Gidon washing his cuts. No amount of protest could persuade him from desisting, so Edon resigned himself, amazed at the number of scratches and bruises that covered his body. They were now noticeably sore, having had ample time to scab and swell. Attempting to sit up, he found he was stiff as well.

“Stay here,” Gidon ordered and left after his simple treatment was complete. Edon realized that it was past noon and that he was ravenously hungry. His father surprised him by returning with a bowl of porridge and a large hunk of bread, which he ate with fervor.

“Where did you get that eaglet?” Gidon asked.

“What eaglet?” Edon asked back, his mouth half full.

“The eaglet you were sleeping with.”

Edon thought a moment before he understood. “Oh! I fell through its nest. I didn’t know it was an eaglet.”

“How did you fall through its nest? The horse couldn’t have thrown you that high.”

“I climbed a tree. I saw Ravan’s daughter! It was just as Corrine said, she was bright like a star, and she moved around the top of the tower for a while, then disappeared. I saw it with my own eyes, Father!”

Gidon regarded his son silently. “Sleep today,” he said, then went out.


Both Edon and the eaglet recovered in a few days under the care (such as it was) of Gidon. Edon was surprised that his father actually bought meat for the bird to eat, instead of butchering it for their own dinner. When asked, Gidon only grunted, “No good eating on a bird of prey.” He even constructed a large metal cage in which to keep it. When Edon was well enough to rejoin him in the smithy, they made a light, sturdy chain to tether the bird, so it was able to flop about outside while they worked. Miraculously, Edon had not broken any of the eaglet’s bones in dashing it to the ground, and within a few weeks it molted into a fine specimen of its kind. The village children often came to gaze at it, standing just out of reach of his chain; however, they need not have feared him, for after learning that these small humans brought offerings of dead mice, bits of lard, and the like, the eagle grew quite tame, inasmuch as he would flap to the limits of his chain, almost to their feet, and calmly secure every morsel. Yet there was nothing of the beggar about him ‒ no groveling for alms, no humble gratitude, could be detected in his demeanor. Rather, he accepted these gifts as a monarch would his subjects’ taxes, as a reasonable rendering of what was due him. Even the youngest of his admirers approached with reverence, hushed by the majesty of his erect head and piercing eye.

The intelligent bird understood quite well that Edon and Gidon were the primary sources of its food. It innately sensed that Gidon was a creature to be respected, as an equal. Edon spoke to it soothingly, with a fondness in his voice that communicated as clearly as words, and gradually the eagle condescended to let him stroke its feathers. Before long it would fly and perch on his arm when he whistled. Somewhere in the unfathomable depths of the bird’s mind, he acceded that Edon was his friend.

Before long the eagle learned to fly ‒ at first in short hops, then more boldly testing the limits of its wings and tether. At Edon’s request, Gidon added more length to the chain, so that the bird was capable not only of flying from one perch to another but also of entangling the chain around trees and whatever else chanced to be in its way. Every evening Edon found the bird impatiently waiting to be freed of the chain, which by then would have only a few spans of loose length, the rest being hopelessly wound and draped throughout the neighborhood. First he would shut the bird in its cage, then pull one end of the chain until it lay coiled neatly at his feet, ready for the next day.

Part of the problem lay in that the eagle, now more accustomed to life in the village, would swoop down upon any mice or rabbits in sight and procure itself a tasty snack. Such maneuvers, with an unbreakable cord in an area with many protuberances, were bound to end as they did. But thinking the eagle’s predisposition to hunt could be made useful, one day Gidon took it and his son and the eagle, with a newly-made addition to the chain, to an open meadow nearby. With Edon holding the end of the chain, which was coiled in a knot, they released the bird to the sky. It flew near the ground for a while, then, finding that it was not restricted (or much less so than usual), it soared.

Even the light chain, a fine example of Gidon’s workmanship, weighed a good amount with such considerable length; however, the eagle did not seem to notice it at all. Only when he flew to its highest limit, where the humans below squinted to see him, did he realize he was still their captive. His native wildness chafed at the clamp on his leg, and he screeched aloud at the indignity. He strained, he struggled ‒ and he rose even higher, dragging the leaden weight of Edon across the ground beneath.

Gidon watched with a calculating eye as the eagle lifted Edon a few feet. Edon held on to the chain with all the strength of his one hand, for it was looped around his other wrist and now pulled tight with the tension of his weight. The eagle flew on for some distance before tiring, then landed with an indignant glare at his ball and chain. Gidon walked up to Edon, whose wrist, where the chain had strangled it, was growing swollen and purple. Ignoring Edon’s cries for mercy, he moved it in all directions and nodded, saying only, “No broken bones.” He then went to the eagle. It squawked and beat its wings, warding him away, but was too tired to resist for long. Gidon pinned the wings down by straddling the creature, and examined its talons. “Hm,” he said, putting it back in its cage, and (after retrieving Edon) returned to the smithy.

He entered the house that night with a strange metal harness. Edon watched, his hand in a bucket of cold water, as his father put the harness on the eagle. The bird was still sulky, but did not fight him ‒ perhaps remembering the humiliation of being sat upon. When fitted, the harness resembled a hanging net of chains. “Sit there,” he ordered Edon. Edon realized that there was a rude seat fashioned out of metal, which the bird would (in theory) carry under it.

“If it could carry your weight on just one leg, it should be able to fly easily with this, since it distributes the weight over its back and legs. These chains here are for pulling its wings down, to direct it to go where you want it to. Of course, it will take some time for it to learn what you expect of it. You can attach a bag of meat here with which to reward it.”

Amazed, Edon asked, “Why did you make this?”

Gidon stroked the bird gently and started taking off the harness before answering.

“I always wanted to fly.”


For several weeks, the smithy was empty in the afternoons. Edon and Gidon took the eagle out to the meadow to train it. At first it was uncomfortable in the bulky harness and tried to shake it off, but the bird learned that those attempts only entangled the chains around its neck. When it grew accustomed enough to the hindrance that it was able to catch a rabbit, Gidon told his son to sit in the seat. By this time the eagle had grown even larger, but with Edon’s added weight, it could not get off the ground. Gidon then adjusted the harness so that Edon could run. The morning after the changes were made, they left early for the field and Gidon helped belt the two into the contraption. Even the eagle seemed to catch their excitement, and as Edon started running from one end of the field, it beat its wings and strained against the weight. When Edon could not go any faster, he kicked the earth with all his might, and they were airborne.

The sense of soaring brought a whoop of triumph from Edon, causing the eagle to fly higher. Gidon watched on in silence but with an unmistakable smile. He himself was too heavy for the bird, he knew, but it was his skill that had accomplished this. He returned to the smithy to resume his work, which had not gone neglected while he was absent in the afternoons, for he had worked in the evenings as well. Edon arrived much later, having exhausted the eagle to its limits and ready to give it his own portion of the noonday meal.

“Father, it was wonderful!” he rambled, “It was amazing to look down from so high!”

“Well,” Gidon interjected, “feed it as much as you like. It needs to be strong enough to pay for its own food.”

“What do you mean?”

“It can give rides to children. The fees we’ll charge will cover its cost.”


The novelty of flying brought most of the villagers out to watch and pay for their children’s turns. Some of the adults expressed their desire to ride as well, and those who were deemed light enough by Gidon were permitted, for a higher fee, with Edon limiting the number of larger passengers each day so that the eagle would not tire. The young girls of the village sewed loose pantaloons in order to run and fly with decorum. Among them, Edon soon became a favorite.

However, even their pretty smiles could not distract Edon’s thoughts from the shining maiden he had seen in Ravan’s tower. As he held the eagle’s tether, waiting for it to finish a course and return with the customer, he would gaze at the protruding peak of the sorcerer’s abode. After everyone qualified had ridden at least once, the crowds at the meadow diminished, until only children hoping for a free ride or wanting to watch the eagle gathered around it, leaving Edon ample time to wonder about the mysterious maiden. Gidon expected him to return to the smithy when the flying business was slow, but he often came home at dinnertime with empty pockets. Gidon knew that his son lacked the discipline to become a smith and had hoped this new venture would enable him to earn a living on his own. “Perhaps,” he suggested one day, “you should set up this business in town where there are more customers, and the people can better afford to spend money on entertainment.”

Edon’s hand with his spoon paused in mid-air. He swallowed. “Do you really think that’s necessary?”

“We’ve run out of customers here. Of course there are still some who come occasionally, but it’s a poor business that can’t even pay for the bird’s food. If you took it to town, you could charge more and have more customers. If you can teach it to do tricks, you could show performances for a fee and not tire the bird as much.”

“I-I’ll see what I can do,” Edon stammered.

Half-heartedly, Edon commenced teaching the bird tricks. He knew that once his father had a notion, he would not be dissuaded. Thoughts of leaving the village to work in the town, alone and as a man, did not appeal to Edon, so it was not long before his training of the bird lapsed into staring off as usual, more often as not at Ravan’s tower. The eagle, knowing that it had to accomplish some task before it would get another morsel from the feed bag, fluttered about Edon expectantly. Finally roused from his reverie about the maiden and having the presence of the bird juxtaposed on his thoughts, Edon had an idea. A wild idea, to be sure, but with no one to advise against it, Edon determined to carry out his plan. If he were to leave the village soon, he had little time to execute it.

That night, after Gidon’s snores began to echo through the house, Edon crept out with the eagle to the meadow. The bird was irritated at being disturbed, then confused at having the harness put on. With some difficulty Edon lashed himself into the seat and started running. Despite the darkness, in which the eagle was nearly blind, it obediently flew, and soon they were skimming over the forest. Edon carefully guided it towards the dim outline of the tower.

“If only I could have left earlier, at dusk, when she shone the last time,” Edon thought, wondering what he was going to do when he reached the tower. The eagle had grown strong from carrying customers every day, and Edon was confident that it could take him there. But what then? “I wish she would come out again,” he said aloud.

As though in answer, a light arose in the tower. He was close enough now to see that the shining maiden had ascended stairs in the middle of the floor to emerge on the roofed porch. She stepped to the edge of the tower nearest him, and he coaxed the eagle to rise to her level, his heart pounding.

Edon steered the eagle to fly between the pillars, but as they drew near it balked at the bright light of the maiden and swerved upwards to avoid her. Edon forced it to circle back and descend into the terrace. This time, the maiden retreated to the center of the room, and the roof kept the eagle from being blinded by her light until they were already inside. Edon hit the floor running, stumbled, and collapsed in a heap with the eagle. As he tried to extricate himself from the harness, he heard her footsteps approach.

“Who are you? Why have you come here?” she asked, in a voice like a myriad of bells.

“I wanted to see you,” Edon answered, breathlessly.

“You could have seen me from afar when I stand here.”

“I know. I did. But I wanted to see you close, to meet you.”

He had managed to crawl out of the chains and stand. He saw that she was wearing a white robe and that, indeed, the light was emanating from her body, piercing through her garment like water. He could not see her face for the light, but she seemed puzzled at his words.

“Why?”

“I-I don’t know. Just curious, I guess.” He swallowed, then blurted out, “Are you Ravan’s daughter?”

“Daughter? No, I’m his prisoner. He stole me from my father, many years ago, and cast a spell on me. He has trapped me here by enchanting me to become a reflection while the sun is in the sky.”

“A reflection?”

“Yes.” She sadly gestured with her hands. “I thought at first that the magic worked through the mirror he keeps me in during the day. Some time ago I found a chance to break the mirror, hoping to escape my prison, but I still turned into a reflection when the sun rose.” She sighed. “He kept me in quicksilver, but I grew weaker every day. He finally found another mirror like the one I had broken. See?” She indicated a mirror hanging from her sash. “He lets me keep it now, for he knows I will not try to break it again.”

“My father made that mirror,” Edon said, with some pride.

“Oh! Your father? Is he a sorcerer, too?”

“No, just a blacksmith. He made this harness for the eagle, so I could fly. I found the eagle when I climbed a tree to look at you.”

“Oh,” the maiden murmured, contemplatively. After a pause, she ventured, “Will it carry me?”

“Of course. We sell rides to people all the time. I don’t know if you can steer it, though, since it can’t see in the dark.”

“I was wondering,” she began slowly, “if it could carry both of us away from here. To let me escape. The outside of this tower is too steep to climb, and I cannot dissolve the rock at the bottom.”

“You really want to leave?”

“Oh, yes! Wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t know,” Edon replied. “I think it would be rather exciting to live with a sorcerer.”

The maiden shook her head. “Perhaps another sorcerer would be more interesting, but Ravan is dull company. He wants me to marry him, but I would rather jump off this cliff!”

“Oh!” Edon thought a moment. “I think the eagle will be able to carry us both, since we’ll just be going down to the ground. Even if we don’t reach the meadow, we can walk to the village.”

“Really? You would do this for me?” Edon nodded. “You realize that if Ravan found out, he would cast a spell on you, too?”

“I suppose so,” he answered, “but it’s worth the risk, to set you free ‒ since you don’t like being here. You can sit in the harness and I’ll hang onto these chains, and once we’re in the air, I’ll hook my feet there.”

With growing excitement, he helped her into the seat. Wrapping his arms securely around the chains and holding the eagle aloft in their usual position, he ran from one end of the terrace to the other, then kicked. They dipped as they left the tower, but the eagle managed to steady its flight by beating its wings faster. The maiden let out a shriek of joy and, turning back for a last look at the tower, shrieked again.

“He’s found us!”

Edon glanced back, too, and saw a lamp being dashed to the floor of the porch as a sinister shadow moved towards them. If it were Ravan, he knew that the sorcerer could not possibly miss them with the maiden shining as she did. Thinking (illogically) that her luminescence could be hidden by another layer of cloth, he struggled to remove his tunic and upset the eagle’s balance so that it jerked down to the left. The motion, however, saved their lives, as it caused them to narrowly miss a bolt of blue lightning. The streak of light crackled and burst in a small explosion. The eagle shied away from the sound and light, veering off course just as another bolt ripped through the air. Both Edon and the maiden clutched at the chains of the harness as they were jolted, one of which was for steering the eagle. As the bird dove again and a third bolt of blue streaked past, Edon caught a glimpse of the dark shadow behind them, blocking out a larger portion of the stars with its sweeping wings ‒ the sorcerer had turned himself into a bird and was drawing nearer.

The next thunderbolt did not miss. Edon felt himself wrapped in a bright, blue shock that completely blinded him for a minute. When it faded, he was panting for breath, trembling with fright. But the maiden gave such a piercing cry that his heart lurched even more.

“My mirror! My mirror!” she half-screamed, half-sobbed. “He’s destroyed my mirror!”

Edon could not see the mirror where it had hung from her sash, entangled as they were in the harness, so he looked back at their hunter instead. To his surprise, he saw the enormous bird that was the sorcerer floundering, flying erratically, and ‒ inexplicably ‒ smoking. “Look! What’s Ravan doing?” he asked, curious despite their predicament. The maiden turned around, still distracted over her mirror, but catching Edon’s wonderment as she saw the spectacle.

“He’s falling!”

“Oh! Look at his left wing ‒ it’s on fire!”

It was true. The cause of the smoke must have been a smoldering fire which, fanned by the motion of the wing, had now ignited. The fowl form of the sorcerer grew weaker as they watched, the wing-strokes slowing until they finally stopped and he plunged into the depths of the forest. They could hear the faint noises of him crashing through the branches, then all was still. Speechless from their ordeal, they glided on in silence to the meadow, where the eagle, exhausted, set them down. Edon unfastened himself and the maiden from the harness, then led the way back to the village.

“I wonder,” the girl started, after they had walked awhile.

“What?”

“Why Ravan didn’t kill us. Actually, I think he meant to…”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it was so odd, the way he fell… as though he’d been hurt. I know he couldn’t have used up all his magic powers with those lightning bolts. I’m wondering…”

“…Yes?”

“I think he meant to hit us, but not my mirror. He stopped so suddenly… Maybe, the lightning reflected off my mirror, back at Ravan. That would explain why he burst into flames.”

Edon thought a moment. “I suppose so. I wonder if he’s dead, or just hurt.”

“I hope he’s dead,” she sighed. “He was a terrible man. I hope he doesn’t come looking for me. He would do terrible things to you, too, for helping me escape.”

Though the thought unsettled Edon, he said nothing. When they reached the village, he quietly let her into his house. “You can sleep in my bed tonight,” he said. “I’ll sleep on the floor.”

She smiled. “Don’t worry. I never sleep at night any more. Go to bed, and I’ll stay down here.” Tired from the excitement and naturally thoughtless, Edon was easily persuaded. It never crossed his mind that the maiden would turn into a reflection in the morning ‒ or, lacking even a substitute mirror, that she might disappear altogether.

Not long after he had drifted off to sleep, however, both he and his father were startled awake by a sharp cry. Hurrying down, Gidon groped in the darkness for the tinderbox. When he had lit the lamp, he was shocked to see the maiden ‒ as was Edon. She was no longer shining.

“My light went out!” she cried.

Gidon demanded an explanation, and as Edon recounted the events of the night, the maiden gradually regained her composure. At the end of the tale, Gidon sat silently staring at her. Then she smiled at them both, with joy in her face as bright as any star. “I think,” she remarked, contentedly, “that my enchantment has been broken.” She walked to the entrance and threw the door open. The first rays of dawn shone in and touched the tears on her face.

 

Metamorphosis

Chasing the stag into the forest, Cedric knew he was entering forbidden land but, having caught no prey in three days, he was desperate. His captain often bellowed about wasting food on useless archers, even though their rations were already meagre at best. Cedric readied a bow as he pushed deeper into the forest.

He approached a clearing and saw with surprise that the stag was standing there, next to a maiden. Wondering why the stag did not fear her, Cedric watched them.

“Come out!” a voice commanded, and he found himself stumbling, unwillingly, into the clearing. The maiden turned and fixed violet eyes on him. Invisible hands forced him to his knees as he stared at the maiden with his mouth agape.

She was more beautiful than anything else he had ever seen. Her golden hair floated in the air like gossamer, and her strange eyes pierced through him like a cold fire, leaving his thoughts numb.

“The penalty of entering this forest is death. Surely you know that,” she spoke. “Why then did you trespass upon færie land?”

Cedric could not think of an answer. He could not think at all.

“Call the Council,” she told the stag, which bounded deeper into the forest to do her bidding. She stretched out her arms ‒ or what would have been arms on a human, for from her shoulders grew two pairs of translucent wings, like those of a dragonfly. She flew and perched in a nearby tree, her purple eyes still fixed on Cedric.

Soon the air hummed with the fluttering of many wings as the færie folk gathered around their prisoner. When they were all seated in the grass or the trees, his captor spoke.

“This human was found trespassing. By our laws, he should be executed. What form of death he will be given is to be decided by this Council.”

“Wait, my Queen Alaria,” came another voice, belonging to a white-haired woman. The færies turned to her in surprise. “Our laws say that such a human must not be permitted to return to his people, lest he tell them of us and they attack our realm. We have taken the lives of many humans that wandered here, but there is one other way in which the law may be fulfilled.”

“It is as you say,” Alaria conceded. “Our laws command that either the human be put to death, or he agree to become one of us.”

The old woman turned to Cedric. “If you should choose to become one of us, you will also be made invisible to human eyes. Do you wish to abide by our laws, or will you forfeit your life?”

Cedric tried to speak, stuttered, then managed to whisper, “I… I wish to… to live with you.” He gazed again at Alaria, the Færie Queen.

“Very well,” the woman said. “My Queen, I will care for this human.”

“As you wish,” Alaria acknowledged. “This Council is dismissed.”


The færie woman, Rechal, gave Cedric a potion that made him sleep. When he awoke, his arms had become wings. Rechal patiently taught him how to fly with his new limbs until he could make his way around the village.

The færies were hard workers, and Cedric was also expected to do his share for the village. Although they had no need for hunters ‒ and indeed, he could not have hunted at all with his wings ‒ Rechal taught him which berries were edible and how to collect them in baskets made of leaves by beating the branches with his new limbs.

From before dawn until noon, Cedric gathered berries. Every day, he took the ripest and sweetest of them to Queen Alaria’s dwelling place and left them at her door. When she walked among her people, he lingered at the edge of the færies that thronged her, hoping for a careless glance cast his way. Yet to her he was still a human, only permitted to live with her people. Rechal was saddened, knowing that Cedric loved the Queen in vain, but could do nothing.


One day as Cedric was gathering berries, he heard human voices nearby. Although he was invisible, he hid in the bushes as two of his fellow hunters came into sight. He gazed longingly at their hands, remembering what it had felt like to have them himself.

“We shouldn’t be in this forest. It’s enchanted!”

“Enchanted? Surely you don’t believe such old wives’ tales!”

“Don’t you remember Cedric? It’s been three summers since he vanished, but he wasn’t eaten by wolves, for there was no trace of his clothes. I tell you, this place is enchanted!”

Though not convinced, the other hunter agreed to turn back.

On his way back to the færie village, Cedric stopped to drink from a pond and, as he did so, saw his reflection on the clear surface. His ears had grown pointed like a færie’s, his eyes were a strange purple colour, and his wings fluttered as he held them out of the way. With a hollow feeling in his heart, he realized that despite his appearance, he was still human.

When he returned, he found the færies astir with excitement. He asked a young færie what the commotion was about.

“Haven’t you heard? Queen Alaria has chosen Trellor to be her husband and Regent. Everyone is bringing gifts for the celebration!”

Cedric added a basket of berries to the gifts piling in front of the Queen’s dwelling place, then left the rest of them by Rechal’s door. Nobody noticed him as he flew away.


The hunter that did not believe in enchantments ventured alone into the forest the next day. He wandered for a long time without seeing any of the woodland creatures, for they had all gathered to celebrate the Færie Queen’s marriage. However, when he came to the pond, he found Cedric’s body ‒ dead, drowned, but human once again.

The Metropolitan Museum

I decided to spend the holidays alone so I could work on my paintings, but the problem is, you’re always inspired when you don’t have the time to put it on canvas, and when you DO have the time, the inspiration has left. Sort of like writers’ block, I guess. When you get like that, you can end up ruining what started out as a good picture, so I decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum, hoping to catch some inspiration from other artists.

I went in the morning, while it was still empty, and was standing in front of a painting of dynamic black strokes by an obscure artist, when a little girl came up beside me and stood staring at it, too. I couldn’t help looking at her ‒ she was adorable, wearing a red velvet frock and matching beret, with white stockings and shiny black shoes. She looked up at me and asked, “What is it?”

I realized that she was referring to the painting and turned to read the title: “It’s called ‘Dogs Barking at Midnight’.”

“Oh,” she said, then added, “It’s very good.”

I nearly laughed at the way she said it, so grown-up like, but thought that if SHE were to draw dogs barking, it could very well look like that ‒ she couldn’t have been much older than five. “Where’s your Mommy?” I asked.

“Oh, she’s getting ready. We’re going to go to Grandma’s.”

“Shouldn’t you be helping her?”

“It’s all right. I’m already packed, see?” She walked over to a violin case on the floor just behind us and picked it up. “I have everything right here.”

“Oh,” I replied. Her mother is somewhere else in the museum, I thought.

“I brought some presents for my friends,” the girl went on, “but I need a big person to help me. Will you?”

“Um, sure,” I answered, wondering what she meant.

She trudged off, violin case in hand, and called over her shoulder, “They aren’t very far.”

I caught up to her easily enough, just as she stopped in front of a model of an Egyptian sarcophagus. Kneeling on the floor to open her violin case, she pulled out a shiny red alarm clock, the kind that has two bells on top and looks like Mickey Mouse.

“Could you put this up on the table?” she asked, offering me the clock with one hand and pointing to the stand on which the sarcophagus rested.

“You want me to put this here?”

“Uh-huh. The Pharaoh won’t know when to get up if he doesn’t know what time it is.” She deposited the clock into the hand that I’d automatically put out, then picked up her case and started walking further down the corridor. I hesitated, then set the clock on the stand as she’d requested. I figured the curator could remove it later.

She stopped next by a statue, a graceful angel that was balanced on only one foot. This time she brought out a red sock and a red scarf. “It gets cold in here at night,” she explained, very seriously, “and I don’t want her to fall to pieces from shivering.”

Hoping that there were no hidden cameras, I placed the scarf around the angel’s neck while the girl gently pulled the sock onto the one free-standing foot. “There,” she said, surveying our work with satisfaction. “Now she won’t be cold. And I have a present for you, too,” she added, opening the violin case again. Inside was a beautiful red paintbrush, which she handed to me solemnly.

“Th-thank you,” I said, and I meant it.

“I think I’ll go home now,” she said, shutting her now-empty violin case. “We’re going to Grandma’s soon, you know.”

I nodded and watched her skip down the hall, swinging her little case.

“Merry Christmas!” I called after her.

She turned around and, with a smile that sparkled like stars, shouted, “Merry Christmas!” then skipped past a corner, disappearing from my view.


The next time I visited the Metropolitan Museum, the clock, sock, and scarf were all gone, just as I’d expected. But I came across a painting called “Going to Grandma’s.” The mother is packing suitcases, while through a window you can see the father starting up the car, and, in a corner ‒ waiting patiently ‒ stands a little girl in a red frock and matching beret, holding a violin case.

So now, whenever I have a lack of inspiration, all I have to do is hold the red paintbrush, and remember.

 

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 298 other followers