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I woke this morning and couldn’t get this out of my head. Something that happened years ago but has stayed with me as a shining memory. As the day has unfolded it has become like a patience puzzle, endlessly opening its lotus leaves to reveal more complexities and hidden things.
This story started as something simple; an idea to make a walk more interesting one day. It became dreamlike in the afternoon sun, distanced over time and memory until it returned fuzzy, browning at the edges and hinting only at peripheral feelings of the days we spent together in the sunshine.
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02/04/2013 | Categories: Books, Children's, Fantasy, Journeys, Life, Magical, Nature, Shorts | Tags: Children's, Fantasy, images, indie writing, Journeys, Magical, Nature, renewal, Seasons, Short Stories, writers, writing | Leave a comment
This malady went on for many months. The word spread around the kingdom that the King was sad. People were disheartened and uncertainty of the future grew. The Royal grain stores were infested with beetles causing a bigger blow. Rumours of enemies gathering on the border spread and people became wary of strangers. All was not well in the kingdom and it fell to the Grand Vizier to resolve the issue. He sent for Doctors and Alchemists, Philosophers and Oracles, Priests and Magicians from the far corners of the world. None of them could improve the mood of the King who had taken to sitting in his room by the fire, complaining of his aging joints. All he could think of was how he had failed his people.
The grand Vizier met with the King’s staff, his footmen, his waiter, his servants, his cooks and even the stable boy. The footmen told of how the King had loved to hear the singing of the men in the fields during harvest. The waiter named the king’s favourite book, the servants spoke of the flowers by the side of his bed and the cooks told of his favourite meal. All were tried and none of them helped with anything but to remind the King of how far he had fallen. He sank deeper into his lament. The stable boy not having much contact with the King had no ideas about what would improve his mood. He did however know of someone who might.
“In the village where I was born is a path that leads up the side of the mountain. At the top of the path is a cave where it is rumoured lives the wisest mouse in the world. For a small token he will answer even the most difficult of questions. My Grandmother told me how one winter when the crops had failed and the village was starving, the mouse showed us where we could find food that saved us.” The stable boy looked down at his feet as the servants whispered to each other and some giggled quietly. The Grand Vizier however banged his staff of duty against the tiles of the palace floor sending everyone to attention.
“Young man, Do you know how to find this mouse?”
“I could be there and return within the day my Lord.”
“Then take your token and entreat this mouse to tell us how the King can be happy again.”
The stable boy bowed. He prepared a horse and, stopping by the Royal kitchens, he set off to find the cave of the wise mouse. Riding as fast as he could, he arrived in the early afternoon and made his way into the cave. It was dark in the cave and the boy lit a torch to see the way. Cobwebs hung from the cave roof and here and there he heard to timeless dripping of water. After a while, he reached the back of the cave many small holes ran in and out of the back wall. In the centre of the dusty floor was a small flat rock where the Stable boy bent and placed his offering, a small piece of strong cheese. Backing away, he sat down to wait.
After half an hour, the strong smell of the cheese finally reached the nose of one of the many mice that lived in the caves. It made its way out into the cave from its tiny hole in the wall. Wary of the torch the stable boy held, it edged towards the rock where the cheese sat. The boy gave a start. The mouse backed up a little; aware that it was not alone. The boy sat perfectly still and watched the mouse as it explored this new object with its nose. The boy leaned in and whispered, “Wise mouse of the cave, many years ago you saved my village from famine. I have come to ask your advice again. Our King is taken by a sadness and we cannot make him happy again. How can the King be happy again? Please help us wise mouse.”
The mouse looked at the boy for a second. It sat motionless looking into his eyes. Then as quick as it could, it grabbed the cheese in its teeth and ran back across the cave to find its hole. As it climbed to enter the hole, it dislodged a small rock which fell down the wall of the cave and rolled to land at the boy’s feet. He picked it up and examined it, confused by what had just happened. There was nothing remarkable about the rock. It was smooth and hard like all of the other rocks in the cave. The stable boy thought that perhaps there was some message the mouse was trying to tell him but, as he was only a stable boy, it did not reveal itself to him. He decided to ask the elders of the village if they could explain the meaning of the rock.
None in the village had ever known that beyond the back of the caves were the cellars of the monastery in the valley beyond. Mice had lived inside the cellar for many years and over time extended their territory into the caves. When the first villagers had visited the caves many years ago, they had marvelled at what could sustain a mouse in such a damp and dark cave. The tradition of providing food for it started soon after. Stories started about the wisdom of the mouse, how its solitary life had been filled with contemplation and meditation. The elders would disappear into the caves and emerge with advice to help the village in times of hardship. The truth was that there were many mice in the caves quite happily feeding off the food cellars of the monks in the valley beyond and most of the time, the elders already knew what would help the village.
When the stable boy presented the rock to the them, they looked at the rock, they rolled the rock across the ground, they shook the rock, they smelled it and tasted it. Eventually after looking at each other and nodding, the Eldest of the elders rose and approached him. “We all agree that the wise mouse of the cave is sending a message to your King. It is saying that the rock is like the Kingdom strong and hard, solid and firm. Like this rock the King is strong and can carry this kingdom easily in his pocket.” The Elder placed the rock in the stable boy’s hand and sat down again. The stable boy thought about this. He wondered at the wisdom of the mouse to say so much with such a simple gesture. He vowed that he would return to the cave one more time to ask for more of the wisdom before returning to consult with the Grand Vizier. That way he would be sure that he could help to save his King from sadness.
He climbed the path to the cave, entered again, lighting his torch and proceeded to find the wall of holes. Again he left his offering of cheese on the rock and moved back to wait for his wisdom. Another mouse soon caught the smell of the cheese. It had been gnawing its way through a sack of rice when it caught a hint of something delicious. Having tired of eating the monks’ rice, it attempted to remove itself from the sack, but became ensnared in a section of hessian. Frantically it squeaked and pulled, trying to remove its hind leg from the small square of sack cloth it had acquired. The cloth came free of the sack but stayed with the mouse as it made its way through the honey comb of holes towards the smell of the strong cheese.
This time the Stable boy did not jump when the mouse appeared. He sat quietly and waited for the mouse to move towards him. As it approached, He whispered, “Great and wise mouse. Thank you for your wisdom, it will help greatly to improve my master’s health and bring him out of his malaise. I ask one more time, in the hope of serving my King to the best of my abilities, how else can I help to make my King happy.”
The mouse stopped at the sound of the boy’s voice. It turned to gnaw at the sack cloth caught on its hind leg and managed to remove it. Quickly, it leaped at the cheese, grabbed it and scampered back to the holes in the wall. The boy reached down and gathered the sack cloth. It was rough and uneven, frayed at the edges and had a smell of dampness. Again he took it to the elders of the village who once more examined it in great detail. Finally, the second eldest of the Elders stood up and approached him. “We all agree that the wise mouse of the cave is sending a second message to your King. It is showing him how his Kingdom is woven together as strongly as this piece of sack cloth. Each strand of the Kingdom is woven with the others. Even the King is woven into his Kingdom and as he unravels, so does everything else. The King must see that when he is happy, his people are happy.”
He thanked the Elders for their translation. He wrapped the sack cloth around the rock and placed it into his pocket. Again the wisdom of the mouse astounded him. It was so profound and succinct, beyond the likes of which he the simple stable boy could reach. Glancing at the low sun dipping between the mountains at the entrance to the valley he now stood in, he resolved one last time to visit the mouse and ask for its final wisdom before setting off on the long journey back to the palace. Quickly he climbed the path to the cave and lighting the torch, he went inside. Again he offered more of the strong smelling cheese upon the small rock and waited for the mouse to appear.
While he waited, he did not notice that the cave had been visited since he had left by other mice. Here and there were tiny paw prints in the dust of the cave floor. Several other mice had also been attracted to the smell of the cheese he had brought before and realising they were too late had returned, all except one who sat in the corner of the cave now gnawing on a piece of string it had brought from the cellars of the monks. It was very excited when it saw the boy return and place more of the incredibly good smelling cheese on the rock where it had smelt the other food. Forgetting the piece of string in its teeth, it ran forwards towards the cheese. Suddenly aware of the boy sitting quite close still, it squeaked, dropped the string, grabbed the cheese and ran away.
The boy was astounded. He took this as a sign that the patience of the wise mouse had reached its limits and he vowed that, as he took the last message of string, he would not return again to speak with it. He bowed and shouted his thanks into the darkness of the cave before leaving to consult the elders. On the other side of the walls, a lone monk, inspecting the wine barrels in the cellar, could have sworn he heard a ghostly voice thanking him for his wisdom. He returned to his chores that day loading the barrels to go to the palace and feeling a sense of accomplishment and happiness. It spread throughout the monastery that day.
Meanwhile the boy, taking the string to the elders, waited for their interpretation. They examined the string; it wasn’t very long and was chewed at one end. Finally, after much discussion, the third eldest of the elders stood and approached the stable boy as the sun began to set. “This string represents the time we have. It doesn’t matter how long it is, just that we have it. We should not look to measure our lives but to accept that they have a length and enjoy them for being there. Our lives are as long as a piece of string.” The boy thanked the elders again for their translation, expressing what a service they had done for the kingdom. Tying the string around the sack cloth which held the rock, he placed it in his pocket, climbed onto his horse and rode back towards the Palace of the King.
He rode through the evening and arrived back at the palace late after darkness had fallen. The Grand Vizier greeted him and gave him food as the boy related to him everything he had experienced that day. When he was rested he was ushered quickly to the Kings chambers. He was very tired and a little nervous but he knew that he had to present his findings for the good of the Kingdom. The King was in his great chair by the fire when the Vizier announced the arrival of the boy. He was drinking a wine that had arrived from a monastery at the edge of the kingdom that morning. It had a wonderful taste and went particularly well with the strong cheese from the Royal kitchens. It had made the King sleepy in the evening. Now he dozed by the fireside and was amused when the Vizier explained what the boy had done.
The stable boy entered the Kings chambers, he was tired and afraid. How could he a stable boy possibly help a King? He dropped to his knees in front of the King and, looking nervously at the Grand Vizier, announced, “Your Majesty, I have consulted with the great wise mouse that lives in the caves by my Village to find a solution to your malady. It has given me three things to pass to you each with a wisdom for you to hear.” The boy presented the parcel containing the rock to the King and explained the meaning of each object. The King listened carefully to his words; indeed this was a truly wise mouse to understand the thoughts of a King. If it was the wine or the words, no one ever knew to be sure but all will agree that the thing that changed the mood of the King that day was the arrival in the room of a small visitor.
As the Vizier, the stable boy and the King discussed the parcel and the wisdom of mice, a mouse which had stowed away in a crate of wine on a cart from a monastery had found its way up to the Kings quarters. It was warm in the room and the mouse was happy. It could smell a very strong cheese, something it had smelled earlier that day. Climbing up the leg of a table it could not believe its luck when it came across a huge plate full of the delicious smelling cheese. While the men talked, the mouse ate the cheese until the King happened to reach across to take another piece from the plate. The mouse saw the king’s hand and panicked; it squeaked a shrill warning to itself and jumped off the table. As it hurried away it sent a small piece of cheese flying through the air to land in the Kings shocked and open mouth.
The Vizier and the stable boy jumped up immediately and tried to find the mouse while the King now chewing on a piece of unexpected cheese sat in his chair with a curious expression on his face. In the moments before the mouse had left, he had seen it eating the cheese. He thought about the mouse in the cave, content to live only on what others brought for it to eat. And yet this mouse had travelled many miles to see the King himself and offer him a taste of its own happiness. The King could only smile at this. How could a mouse be happy and a King be sad. He thought about its other gifts; the strength of his Kingdom, the connection with his people, the importance of today and all the other days together. He saw the foolishness of his ways. He began to chuckle. The Vizier and the stable boy both stopped what they were doing.
“The King is laughing!” went the cry in the palace. The King feeling very relaxed and ready for bed went to sleep that night with a smile on his face. The stable boy was given a guest chamber in the palace and he too slept with a smile on his face. The Vizier carried himself as a only a Vizier does, but on occasion was noticed to close his eyes and smile before he too retired to sleep. The news filled the Kingdom. It spread around like fire in a dry gale until, by morning, every household in the Kingdom knew that the King was laughing. And when the King awoke that morning; when he flung back the curtains to greet the day with a smile in his heart, he found his whole Kingdom standing and smiling back at him.
25/03/2013 | Categories: Animals, Children's, Contemplation, Fantasy, Journeys, Magical, Nature, Political, Shorts, Uncategorized | Tags: Animals, Children's, indie writing, Magical, Nature, old age, Political, Short Stories, writers, writing | Leave a comment
As the star glowed red and warm it looked down upon the girl their eyes met. It saw wonder and youth, questions and curiosities, a whole lifetime of adventures to be taken. With it’s final breathe it shrank down and died, scattering it’s dust across the universe, covering the girls lips and her cheeks with beauty, filling her heart with life and her eyes with light, filling her lungs with music and her mind with thoughts.
The next day she sat with her father in his workshop and watched him make his hats. He made hats for ladies, hats for men, caps for children. She sat down beside him, and taking up needles and wool she started to knit. With nothing but wool she played and weaved until she had finished a beautiful hat simple and elegant, noble and humble all at the same same. She stood and presented the hat to her father.
The hat maker admired his daughter’s work. Never before had she entered his workshop. All she found interesting were the games that other children played in the streets outside. He turned the hat in his hands wondering at where she could have learned to make something so skillfully. Carefully he raised the hat to his head and found himself marvelling at the comfort of the lining. Indeed if he had know better he would have said that the hat had simply vanished as he placed it upon his head, so comfortable was the fit.
As he stood looking down into the eyes of his daughter, his thoughts raced. He saw a whole shop filled with the finest hats all lined with this new method that his daughter had perfected in the space of an afternoon. He saw visions of machines, inventions new chemical processes all improving, refining and enhancing the experience the hat wearer would recieve. His mind was racing. He couldn’t stop it. His hands began to shake and slowly he was able to raise them to his head and with a gasp remove the wonderful hat.
Excitedly, nervously he started to babble. Wide eyed he took his daughter’s shoulders, drew her towards him and hugged her. Tomorrow they would order all the things they needed. They were going into business. From that day on, they would be famous! They ate an evening meal together, and sat down around the fire to tell stories. The hat maker told the story of her mother and the little girl told the story of her dream.
“Last night, I dreamt I was drifting through the universe. It was peaceful and quiet. There were many stars and they were singing. They were sad because an old wise star had died but they were singing how the old start would make new stars.” The Hat maker reached out to stroke his daughter’s hair to find that she was very warm.
They went to bed and in the morning he woke to find her weak and tired with a fever. He tried everything he could think of to bring her temperature down but by lunch time he had called the doctor. The doctor, a family friend was concerned. There was nothing he could do and after several hours of powders and remedies, he finally gave up and told the hat maker to keep her cool and give her lots of fluids. The look in his eyes told the hat maker that he should fear the worst. There was nothing more that could be done.
When the evening finally came, The girl was close to death. Her skin was pale but with every passing minute, her eyes burned brighter and brighter. As her father sat by her bed, she reached up to touch his cheek and smiled. Although her touch burned as the poker from the fire he did not brush it aside instead smiling back into her eyes; hoping that perhaps whatever illness possessed her was finally lessening it’s grip. She pointed to the window and her father, thinking it would be cooler there lifted her in his arms and carried her to the open ledge. Now she was as light as a feather and steam was rising from her nightgown in the cool air.
Reaching up the girl kissed her father on the other cheek which burnt hotter than charcoal, his tears cooled the spot and he held his daughter tightly but she whispered, “Please. Father you must let go.” As he started to release his grip, he was shocked to find that his daughter no longer seemed to weigh anything in his arms. Shocked he stepped back to see her floating in front of him now her eyes burned with the light of the midday sun.
“Father do not cry, for this is not my end but my beginning.” With these words she rose through the open window becoming brighter and brighter. She rose into the sky shining brighter and brighter until finally she stopped in place, a tiny point amongst the other bright needle tips.
The hat maker could not sleep. He sat at the open window though the dark night, staring into space, searching for the star that was his daughter. The next morning, when the doctor came to visit, he could not explain what had happened to his daughter. He could only look up at the window and touch the marks upon his cheeks. As the doctor treated his marks, he wondered how his friend had disposed of his daughter’s body. He wondered if there was a risk that the disease she had suffered would appear again in others. While he worked, he looked down and saw by the fire the amazing and wonderful hat that the girl had made the day before…