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Very Short Tales

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I thought that I would share some small tales from my stockpile of things that never made it into a longer tale. Every now and then I come across one that I like, but don't really have a place to use it!

 

This first one is called

 

A Little Love Story

 

An old man and his wife of many years sit on a rough bench outside the door to their home. It is a rough cabin, just one large room with a large attic. The furniture is rough but sturdy and clean from daily scrubbing as is the rest of the home. Everything in their home they built or made themselves, right to the small flute the old man plays as the old woman mends his rough, homespun shirt.

 

It is just the two of them now; their son has long since married and moved away. Occasionally they walk the two day’s journey to see him and his family, but now it is unlikely that they will ever do so again.

 

To look at them it would be hard, nay impossible to believe that they ever were young and beautiful or strong and handsome; but once upon a time they were just that.

 

Once upon a time she had abundant dark hair, thick and curling to her knees when it was unbound. Her dark eyes were full of fun and her red lips smiled often and when she thought of what her life would be like, she knew without a doubt that she would be as rich as a queen, and as happy as any woman could ever be. To her the future was as bright as new minted gold; all things were possible. Her merry laughter made the grumpiest person smile.

 

The entire village loved her, and though many a handsome well-to-do young man wanted her for his wife, her eyes saw only him. When asked, she vowed to all that she would only marry the handsome young man with the easy smile that charmed all who saw him. She had always known who her one true love was.

 

Once upon a time he was handsome, tall and strong, with a smile to melt the hardest heart, but no matter how many beautiful girls danced with him, or tried to kiss him, he only saw her. She filled his dreams and he vowed to all that he would wed only her.

 

Everyone knew that theirs was a story of true and eternal love, indeed.

He worked hard, and built this small house for her with his own hands, swearing that it was only the beginning of the fine mansion he would build for her; vowing that she would life a life of ease and luxury. Her father was pleased, and gave him her hand in marriage. She did not care; she would have lived in a mud hut, if only she could be with him.

 

One beautiful spring day and they were married and the entire village celebrated. They lived blissfully for the first year, and the following spring they were blessed with a child.

 

It is a sad but true fact of life that for a man or woman to truly know what happiness is, a person must understand sorrow and pain. Their infant son did not live for more than a day. Heartbroken, they buried their child and tried to go on with their life.

 

During the next five years they buried three more children, and only the love she had for her husband kept her going. In his arms she found solace, and peace. His steadfast love and support carried her through those dark days, and though she was not the merry girl she once had been, she was still a good-natured, loving wife.

 

The good old king died, and his son became king, and his rule was not as kind or as benevolent as his father’s rule had been. He taxed the people cruelly and their life became hard, but still their home was their haven. Each night they fell asleep in each other’s arms and in the morning they woke happy in the knowledge that they would share that day with their one true love.

 

One spring the brash young king’s men took her husband to fight in a war in a land far away. Though she feared that he would be lost to her, he came home, wounded and with a limp that he never lost, but alive and still strong in his love for her. His smile had grown somewhat sadder while he was away, but he still melted her heart whenever he smiled at her, which he did at every opportunity.

 

At long last they were blessed with a healthy boy, and not only did he survive, he thrived in the sunshine of his parent’s love. And their days passed, turning into years. The king’s taxman saw to it that they never grew rich, but he could never steal their true wealth. The boy grew to be a strong, handsome lad and one day he married, leaving his parents somewhat lonely but happy for their son. And still time passed.

 

In middle age the woman was still striking, strong and nice to look at, though she had grown somewhat stout. Her laugh was jolly, and her smile still as free as it had always been and she was known by all to be a good and generous woman. When good advice was needed the village sought her out, and her wisdom never failed them; she was as a mother to them all.

 

The man was still strong, and had need somewhat for a straw-hat when working as his hair was growing thinner with the years. The younger men admired his strength and respectfully heeded his wisdom, honoring him by emulating his quiet hardworking demeanor.

 

Each night they kept each other warm and every morning they woke happy, knowing that they would spend it working together in the little kingdom that was their home.

 

The river of time flowed gently but inexorably. The old woman’s hair became thin and white, and her smile lacked all the teeth she once had, but the old man still saw the most beautiful girl in the world. The old man’s pate became as bald as an egg, and his scraggly beard became white as snow. He too lacked some teeth, but when she looked at him she saw the one boy in the world who made her heart skip a beat; the boy for whom she would have done anything to have for her own.

 

An old man and his wife of many years sit on a rough bench outside the door to their home. When they sit on the rough bench beside their door, they are rich. Their home is finer than any castle ever known, and their lives more blessed. Every promise the man ever made to his wife was kept, if not in the manner that he once had planned, though he has only just recently come to understand that. Every dream she ever had came true, though she too only realized it as she became an old woman.

 

The Goddess of Hearth and Home looks on them, and smiles. One day soon, they will be young and strong, and merry and free again. One day soon they will rise from the bench hand in hand and walk into the sunlight, together forever and always, leaving old shells behind, no longer needed.

 

One day, soon.

 

______________

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Oh gosh, I love this! It just made me feel very calm and warm and reminiscent. :love:

 

And it's so, so incredibly nice to see a story like this, where true love wins over all trials. Those two deserve to be happy ^_^

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Amazing Connie! This story is great! How love helped this couple overcome every obstacle in their way it's amazing. Even though rare, love and stories like this still exist and still are real on our world.

 

Keep writting, your stories and your skills are great!

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Thanks everyone. This next story is quite different. It is called

 

The Old Miracle Cure

 

Down in the basement Don Campbell cheerfully helped as his wife’s Grandfather brewed his ‘spring tonic’. He tolerated the old man, but good lord the old fool told some tall tales. He claimed many things, all of them unbelievable, but in the months that Don had been married into this family he had discovered that a number of the old man’s fantasies were unfortunately quite based in reality. ‘Don’t think about the beast…forget the old man’s beast….’ He constantly had to force that memory down. What a heck of a night that was! Oh well, they had finally fed it a sheep, so it was all good.

 

“We sort of started calling this ‘The Old Miracle Cure’, because it really does fix up what ails us Stuarts,” said Pap.

 

“Now take the lid off that barrel over there in the corner and carefully put this stone in bottom of it. Don’t move the barrel, just take the lid off, and remove the liner.” Pap smiled as a rainbow shot out of the barrel, playing across the ceiling.

 

Don just stood there with the lid in his hand, saying, “Well I did not expect that.”

 

“What were you expecting?” asked Pap. “Don’t drop the stone in, place it carefully.”

 

“Oh, I dunno. A snake maybe, since we’re brewing up your snake oil?” Don leaned over and carefully placed the rock in the bottom. “I see why you don’t want the stone dropped in. This is a crock, not a barrel.”

 

“Yup, you are right,” said Pap, grinning hugely.

 

“Well, I am assuming there is a story attached to this, so why don’t you spill the beans? I have a suspicion that I am not going to want to believe it, but give it your all. I really am interested in hearing this tale.” Don took the bowl of dried herbs that Pap handed him and sniffed it suspiciously.

 

“What? Do you think I would put something illegal in this?” Pap looked a bit outraged.

 

“Just checking. I am a suspicious man by nature,” replied Don as he emptied the herbs over the stone. “You have a reputation as one who really embraced the hippy movement. I’ve seen the movie with those shots of you at Woodstock and all. You and your sisters were dancing, somewhat uninhibitedly.” The movie had several shots of Pap and his sisters sprinkled all through it, young and long-haired.

 

“My sister Muffy collected these. You know how she feels about drugs,” said Pap. “Sheesh! You really are the limit!” He looked around for his wooden paddle to stir the mixture with. “Woodstock... now that was a great party. It seemed like too long of a trip to just jump in the car and go on, but Buffy’s old Volkswagen Van made the trip cross-country from Seattle just fine. We made almost the same journey in eight days that took five months when we first came out here. We found that to be quite amazing.”

 

“Huh. Woodstock is a part of history I never really knew about. But you were going to tell me a different lie…I mean ‘story’,” said Don. “Is this stuff a grain mash?” he was lugging a kettle of smelly mush off the hot plate and dumping it over the herbs.

 

“Yes. It’s sort of like beer at this point, but it is an oat, rye and buckwheat mash.” Pap took a paddle and smooshed the mess around a bit. “All of the ingredients are grown here on the island and usually readily available.” He poured a small jug of honey into the mixture and stirred it again.

 

“Now we fill it with this clean boiling water, give it a good stir and let it steep for several days. It needs to ferment a bit.” Pap sat on a stool and prepared to tell his tale.

 

“So, here’s what happened. You know that I am much older than I look¸ right? Well, we actually came out here right after the war; the Revolutionary war, that is.” Don glared at him and Pap shrugged, saying “Well, you did ask. Don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the answers.”

 

“Anyway, back when we first arrived here, my twin brother and I were off hunting to feed the family. We were young, about eighteen. The islands were still technically Spanish territory, but we adventurers were having none of that. We had built our selves a cottage near our father’s farm, and while we were newly independent of our sisters’ care we took care to provide for them and father, as they were often occupied with other tasks.”

 

‘Don’t think about the beast…don’t think about the beast…’ Don’s brain ran in circles trying to avoid thinking about his wife’s aunt’s other tasks. Pap did not notice his shudder, and continued speaking.

 

“Although we are twins we are fraternal twins. And we were close, as close as brothers could ever be.”

 

“So there we were, we had found a beautiful spring, with the purest water and we were enjoying the day. It was quite nice, the summer rain had fallen early in the morning and the sun was sparkling on the leaves. The day warmed up to the point that we swam in the spring for quite a long while that day. It actually was not for many years that we understood the truth about the spring, and that was by accident. The fountain of youth, and it is located here on our island…” He stopped, seeing Don roll his eyes in exasperation.

 

Shrugging again, Pap continued his tale. “We stopped to eat our midday bread and cheese, and while we were sitting there, we heard a sound that sounded like snoring coming from behind a shrub.”

 

“Liam went over to see what the noise was, and came tiptoeing back,” continued Pap. Suddenly, he was back in the damp, beautiful woods. The memory of how happy he had always been in Liam’s company was as sharp as glass. Don could see that he was reliving the day.

 

Levi continued with his story, lost in his memories of Liam laughing, with his dark locks and wicked good looks.

 

“…Oh ho, my brother, you won’t believe this,” Liam said gleefully. Going back around the shrub we saw…a tiny little man sleeping with his head on a jug. There in the clearing opposite to him stood a large crock with a rainbow flowing out of it, arching into the sky. A stopper lay on the ground next to it.

 

“That is just the thing for our needs,” I said to Liam. “I think we should salvage it!”

 

“As we salvage shipwrecks?” joked Liam.

 

“Exactly as we salvage those who make unfortunate landings on our rocks,” I laughed. That was a winter activity; many a storm brought some poor unfortunate ship to her demise on our shores. All the Islanders would turn out to salvage each wreck, saving the cargo and saving lives if any still lived. “The little man obviously has no use for it, or he would be awake guarding it. I can think of many uses for it. Pickles for one thing!”

 

“Yes, I think that is perfect! We have found our new pickle crock!” Liam agreed, sizing it up. And so we looked inside the crock and it was full of gold. “What of this gold, Brother?”

 

“I would not pick his pockets, we are not thieves,” I said, “Although he sleeps so deeply he would never feel it.” My brother laughed, but his gaze did linger on the gold.

 

“Well, we had no need of gold, at least I didn’t. We made or bartered for ever thing we needed, and there was no place to spend gold if we had it. And so we pulled the sacks out of our pack that we used for carrying game, and poured the gold into the sacks. We left them in the place of the crock.

 

“What sorts of pickles will our rainbow crock make for us I wonder?” asked my brother.

 

“The best pickles, I am sure!” I replied, thinking happily of future meals.

 

“We must get this away from here whilst he slumbers,” I said to Liam. “If he is what I think he is we must hide this and never move it again, because in the moment we do, he will know it, and we will never get to eat our rainbow pickles.”

 

“We started off for home, and soon Liam slowed, and soon he stopped walking altogether.

 

“I want the gold,” he said.

 

“Why? What need have we of gold?” I asked.

 

“I want it,” he repeated, and I could see by his eyes that he was not going to be persuaded to leave it.

 

“I think that is a bad notion, my brother,” I told him, “’It is bad luck to steal gold from the likes of him. He will hound you to the gates of hell. Besides you have no use for it.”

 

“You just want it for yourself,” he shouted.

 

“No,’ I tried to tell him, but he shouted at me to take my stupid crock, the gold was what mattered. Then he took off running back the way we came.

 

“I figured I had best get myself away from there, because the little man would be after the crock in no time. And the rainbow that came out when the stopper was off meant it was something special, I just knew it. I was already making plans for it.

 

“I knew I didn’t have time to take it all the way home, but I had long known about this cave. It was a place I had used as a child to hide from Liam when he was in one of his moods, and my sisters who watched our every move unless we were hunting game to fill the pot.

 

“And so I brought it on down here, and hid it away. The door from the basement is where the original entrance was. You had to crawl on your belly to get in, but I knew I had to hide the thing quickly, so I just pushed it in ahead of me and as fast as I could I swept clean this rock ledge and put the crock on this flat spot. I have never moved it since that day, because the little man would know immediately. While I did not know it at the time, I have since discovered that his sort of people have a peculiar affinity with the dimensional fabric of this universe. He knows the sound of every subatomic particle in that crock. They will ring if you move it, and he will pop out of a corner and be off with it in a heartbeat.

 

“I had planned to tell Liam where it was, but he was a bit obsessive about some things and he was now obsessed with the gold. He had argued with the little man, and he had lost. He was unhappy to have been bested by an ‘illiterate Irishman’, and then demanded to know where the crock was. At that moment I did not like his demeanor and I was not disposed to share my place of refuge with him, so I told him I had broken it falling down. I was covered with dirt so he had no reason to doubt my word.

 

“I don’t really care for pickles any way,” he said. It never occurred to Liam that the crock was worth more than the gold, so it was nothing to him. And so the cave and the crock within it were the first secret I ever kept from him.

 

“I realize now that it was that very moment when I withheld my secret from him…that is where it all began. He knew that I was hiding something from him, but did not know what. He sensed my lack of faith in him and it hurt him.”

 

Don looked at Pap, who had stopped talking and was staring at the rainbow.

 

“Pickles? You stole his crock for PICKLES?” Don was incredulous. “I’ve heard some wacky excuses in my day, but Geez! Pickles!”

 

“It was a simpler time, and we didn’t steal it. We salvaged it,” said Pap patiently. “There is a difference.” He stood thinking and looking at the wall for a few moments; lost in his memories, while Don cleaned up around the crock, and then said, “We were very isolated out here, and there was little here that we did not build with our own hands. Pickles are a fine treat in the dark of winter when the sun never shines, and storms never stop. We really enjoyed savory treats.”

 

“Why is it so valuable?’ asked Don, hating to break into Pap’s reverie. “The crock, I mean?”

“Well, in itself a fine Irish crock was worth its weight in gold as they were very expensive to bring all the way from Ireland, and they were useful for all manner of things. While many ships passed our islands on their way to the mainland few stopped, at least not voluntarily. And if you have ever seen a shipwreck, crockery often does not survive the landing. But this particular crock: if you put a gold coin in it, it multiplies until the crock is full.”

 

“I have used it for that when I needed money, but it is what it does to the water that is important. There is something about it that changes what you put into it. Even without a stone from the special spring, just steeping water in the crock makes the water special.”

 

Don must have looked skeptical, because Pap said, “Trust me. In two days you will see what it does for me and Buffy and Muffy. And when it has had three weeks to steep - even if it doesn’t do magic for you, it will do you good. Then you will see a miracle, at least for me and my sisters. You might benefit too. If you do, that bodes well for you with the water from the spring.” He closed up the basement, and they walked upstairs. “You too might live to be an old liar!”

 

Pap sat in his rocking chair, and immediately fell asleep, or at least it looked like he was sleeping. The old man was such an old faker, it was hard to tell.

 

Don decided to go work on patching the roof, but all he could think about was rainbow pickles. It really had been a simpler time.

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:D I Like pickles too. Heh I love the way Don has so much doubt in Pap. :D Really shows how simpler things were that time. :goodjob:

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Thank you Sana. This next one is a grown-up version of a fairy tale I wrote for my children. I hope you like it.

 

Once Upon A Time

 

Once upon a time there was beautiful castle in a verdant valley. The king and queen who lived in the castle ruled over a land of plenty and all the people were happy.

 

One fine summer day the queen was blessed with a child, a boy and throughout the land the people celebrated. Now they knew that the good king would have a son to follow in his footsteps, a prince who would be as kind and wise a king as his father. The king named his son Julian, and surrounded Julian with the finest education and training all his childhood. After all, it would never do for the future king to grow up an ignorant lout.

 

As the boy grew he had many tutors to teach him all the things a good king must know. He learned geometry and algebra, foreign languages, astronomy and even learned to play the lute as well as any bard. He also studied history and anatomy, astronomy and philosophy; all his tutors said his logic was impeccable. The prince also learned all the martial arts, such as sword fighting, and how to properly swing a mace. He was quite good at staying on his horse when jousting, and he was a good sport when he did get knocked off. Everyone loved him who knew him, and were glad that so good a prince would one day be their king.

 

Despite all the education that the Julian was given, he often felt that something was missing in his very full life. As he reached the age of adulthood, his father decided that it was time for him to have a wife, and continue in the family business. And so he and the queen held many lavish balls, inviting the young and comely daughters of all the nobility and even the more well-to-do commoners were invited to bring their daughters. The prince, however felt that he was still too young to marry, and none of the prospective brides who were paraded by him made him change his mind. He was simply bored out of his skull at the thought of it all.

 

As the weary social round went on night after night he began feeling trapped. None of the prospective brides wanted to know him as simply Julian; they all wanted to be seen with Prince Julian. He hated the whole thing, feeling rather like the saddle must feel on the prize stallion; important, yes, but not that big of a deal.

 

Prince Julian looked into the mirror one day and asked himself what sort of advice he would give to a subject who came to him with a problem such as his. He had no answer for himself. “I’ve seen nothing of the world. How can I rule a country if I know nothing of the people or the way they live? I need to see what I will be ruling over in order to understand how to rule it well.”

 

At last he made use of his impeccable logic and saddling his horse Errol, he rode out of the castle one night in search of knowledge and adventure, having left a note for his parents containing a well written apology, promising to return by the end of the year. As the queen read it, even through her tears she could find no grammatical errors, and the king could not fault his son’s logic.

 

And so Prince Julian found himself entering the small town of Lerching Bridge. As he rode through the cobblestone street he saw the market where the farmers brought their produce and livestock.

 

He passed the street vendors selling baskets and flowers and hats. As dusk fell and the vendors packed up their wares and departed for their homes, he realized that he was quite hungry. Soon he found an inn, The Broken Wheel, and he gladly led his horse into the stable.

 

Taft, the innkeeper told him that a room for himself was a silver, and a stall in the stable for Errol would be two coppers. He gladly paid up and went inside for a bowl of stew and a pint of ale, which also cost him three coppers. But the stew was good and the bed not too bad. As he rode out of town the next day he once again used his superior logic and came to the conclusion that he would only be able to stay at inns once in a while. He did have money, but he did not wish to spend it on something that would not last. So he stopped in the market and purchased a bedroll, a ground-cloth and some food to take with him and pots to cook it in.

 

Thus it was that Prince Julian spent the summer sleeping under hedges and roaming the countryside. He began to take odd jobs for the local farmers, for meals and a dry place to sleep.

 

In this fashion he traveled over the entire kingdom, finally ending up in the farthest corner of the wild woods on the last faint road that he had yet to travel upon. In this part of the world there were few people, and fewer towns, but he decided to travel to the border town so that he could say that he had been to each town that he ruled.

 

As summer turned into fall he realized that he still had not found what he was looking for. Oh yes, he had met most of the people he would be ruling over, and he had helped each of them in various ways by cutting wood, or racking hay but still he was missing something.

 

One misty fall morning he sat by a lake, his campfire sparking fitfully, not wishing to burn too readily. “The wood is too wet. If I can’t get the fire to burn better I will not be able to cook my bacon, and I will have no tea for breakfast,” and so saying, he began to look for dry wood.

 

As he searched he began to hear the sound of voices coming from further in the wood. Try as he might, he could not find the source of the voices, though they had sounded so clear to him.

 

When he at last returned to his camp he found an old woman seated at his campfire, which was merrily burning as if it had always wanted to. “Good morning, Mother,” he said respectfully. “Will you share breakfast with me? I’ve plenty for two.”

 

The old woman nodded, and he quickly set about preparing the meal. “How are you called, Mother?” he asked. “I am called Julian, and my horse there is Errol.”

 

“I am Alys,” answered the old woman. “What brings you to these woods, if I may ask?”

 

“I just followed the path,” replied Julian. “I have taken nearly every path in the country, and this one was one I had not yet been on.”

 

“What are you looking for?” Alys’s old eyes were bright and curious. “Young men your age are rare indeed in these parts.”

 

“I don’t know what I am looking for, but I will know it when I see it,” Julian replied. He handed her a tin cup of fragrant hot tea which she accepted gratefully. “I have seen much of this country and met many good people.”

 

The morning passed and they shared a breakfast of toasted bread and fried bacon. Julian cheerfully answered questions and in turn asked questions of his own. At last they rose, and Mother Alys bade him farewell.

 

As she disappeared into the woods, Julian broke camp and he and Errol began following the path once again. After they had gone only a small distance down the path Julian once again heard the sound of people talking, or more accurately, women talking. Try as he might he could not distinguish what they were saying, but he did feel that it would be quite rude to leave the path to eavesdrop upon them, and so he kept to the path and soon the voices faded.

 

When the evening came he and Errol made camp on the edge of a grassy meadow that made Errol very happy, though of course he could not say so. But Julian had come to know his horse’s moods, and he could tell that Errol was happy. He made a rough lean-to and built a campfire to roast the pheasant that had invited himself to dinner and sat watching the flames.

 

“I have not found what I am looking for, though I have been everywhere in this country. I will soon have to return, and I still don’t know everything about this country, nor have I found a bride. I would be a poor ruler if I can’t find a bride. The most important job of a king is to beget an heir, so if I cannot find a bride that I can love, then I suppose I will just have to just line them up, blind-fold myself and pick one. At least I have met most of my subjects, and I know for myself how they live, and what is important to them.”

 

As Julian sat there thinking a cloaked figure stepped into the firelight. The hood fell back and he could see that it was a woman of about the same age as his mother. “Good evening, young sir,” she said. “May I share your fire tonight as we have fortuitously met on this path?”

 

“Of course, lady,” He immediately stood and bowed respectfully, as one should always do for a respected woman who has attained middle age. “Would you care to share this meal with me? There is more than enough for two. Would your horse like to share some of Errol’s grain?”

 

“Nay, good sir, I have no horse, but yes, thank you, I am hungry.” She set her pack down and began to layout her bedroll opposite his across the fire while he finished preparing the dinner. “I am called Rila,” the lady told him. “How are you called, sir?”

 

“I am Julian, and the large four-legged creature is Errol. Please, lady, allow me to sleep over there, and you must sleep in this shelter,” he replied and served her a cup of good herb tea. After a moment she nodded and thanked him and helped to move his things.

 

Later, having shared the well roasted pheasant between them they talked. “Which direction are you going, lady Rila? I would be happy to escort you,” Julian courteously offered.

 

“Oh, that will not be necessary. I am nearly there, tomorrow evening will see me home” Rila replied. After much small talk Rila went to her bedroll, while Julian kept watch a while longer.

 

As he sat there he thought about his guest. “I did not hear her come to the fire, and Errol did not either. She walks very quietly.” He stirred the fire with a long stick. “I did not hear Mother Alys this morning while I was looking for firewood either.” As he looked into the flames he thought that it was odd that two women should be walking on a path as rural as this one was. “Tomorrow I will ask her if all is well in the neighborhood, since two women on the road alone is quite unusual.”

 

When he woke in the morning Rila had already started the fire, and was heating water for tea. “I will just share some of my bread and cheese with you for breakfast and then I will be on my way,” she said cheerfully as she bustled about, toasting bread and slicing cheese.

 

“I thank you, that would be nice,” Julian said as he rolled up his bed roll. “Is all well in this neighborhood? It is unusual to see any people at all on this road, and I have seen two yesterday; you and one other.”

 

“No, Sir Julian,” Rila replied slowly, “All is not completely well but it is nothing to worry yourself over. All will be well soon; it is simply the way of things.”

 

“Is it highwaymen?” Rila shook her head. Julian persisted, “Are you bothered by marauding beasts?” Again Rila shook her head, this time saying, “Nay good sir, we have no troubles of a violent nature. It is only that we have an abundance of marriageable girls and no young men, because of the …um…you know.”

 

Julian looked at her, and wondered what the ‘you know’ could be if it was not of a violent nature. “Ah. You have suffered an epidemic that took your young men?”

 

Rila just looked at the fire, and then nodded. “Yes, it is an epidemic of sorts, but not an illness, exactly.”

 

“What has happened? If I can be of assistance I would be happy to help,” Julian offered. However, Rila did not wish to continue the conversation, and thanking him she turn away and began walking toward the way he and Errol had come the previous evening.

 

Feeling much confusion Julian and Errol walked toward the border town and Julian decided that they would stay at the inn and enjoy some of the comforts that night. As the afternoon waned toward evening they walked in though the gates of the town of Destry.

 

As they passed through the gates the old man standing guard said “’Tis well that ye made it in afore dark, young man. The gates close at sundown and they don’t open again until sunup no matter what.”

 

“Why is that?” asked Julian, curiously. “Is all well here in this town? Is there aught I can do to help?” He and Errol stood, waiting to hear the answer.

 

“Nay, good fellow, ‘tis just that my old bones cannot guard as well as they once could, and the gates do their job well.” replied the old man. “All will be well soon. It’s just the way of things.” The old man directed Julian to the only inn, and advised him to “avoid the chops, as they tend to be a might tough.” He was not disposed to conversation after that, and resumed staring down the road out of town.

 

“I thank you for your advice regarding dinner, Good-man.” Julian and Errol started down the cobbled street, more confused than enlightened and as usual talking to Errol. “What could be wrong here that they would have to close the gates at sundown?” Errol just flicked his ears and snorted. He didn’t know, but it smelled funny in this town. Of course all towns smelled funny to Errol.

 

The innkeeper came out to greet Julian and beckoned to his daughter of about twelve years of age to take Errol to the stable. “Mind you curry him well, and give him a good mash, Cissy.”

“Yes, Papa.” The girl led Errol away and Julian followed the innkeeper who introduced himself as Paddy.

 

Paddy’s wife Morai led him up to the best room in the inn, and personally started the fire in the fireplace “just to take the chill off, good sir.”

 

Down in the common room there were many men who could have been his father or grandfather, but no men of his own age. “Good innkeeper, where are the young men of your village? Do they abstain from ale?” Julian felt that he could only ask; the worst that could happen was that he would get no answer.

 

Paddy smiled nervously, and looked at Morai. “Ah, you have hit the nail on the head, sir. They are all tea-totalers, more’s the pity. Have you tasted your chicken stew? Morai outdid herself tonight, yes she did,” Paddy nervously wiped a drop of ale off the bar.

 

That night Julian sat on the edge of his bed, and looked into the darkness. “Something is not right here, and yet it is not wrong or the people would be more concerned and would accept my help. But if I am to be their king I must know what is going on in Destry. I must know what they mean when they say ‘it is just the way of things.’ The way of what things, I wonder.”

 

The next morning Julian paused in the common room just long enough to partake of a quick breakfast and then he collected Errol, and they were off, traveling the road that was really only a path that led to the border. No town lay there, but he had a notion to see the kaystone that marked the border just to say he had done so. And so it was that in the early afternoon Julian and Errol saw the kaystone and turned back toward Destry.

 

They traveled until late evening, just before sundown, and stopped near a grove of oak trees, where they made camp in the shelter of the old trees. There was plenty of sweet grass along the path for Errol, and a stream nearby with fat trout that practically leapt into the frying pan as trout will often do at sunset.

 

As the stars came out and the waxing crescent moon rose Julian settled down to eat his dinner. A cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows, and when the hood fell back he could see that his guest was a young man of about his own age. “Welcome to my fire,” Julian said to the pleasant looking young man. “I would be pleased to share my meal with you; there is more than enough for two.”

 

“Thank you kindly, sir knight. I would be grateful to share your meal,” He paused and looked up at the moon, somewhat sadly. “I have gone many long days with no meat or fish.”

 

“Ah…I have heard of people who partake only of vegetables and grains. I understand that it is not that easy to abstain from meat or fish. I would not be happy as a vegan either, friend.” The young man looked startled, but quickly nodded. Julian continued, “My name is Julian, and my horse is called Errol.”

 

“My name…” the young man paused, “was Finn. Yes, it was Finn.” Julian served him a tin plate of broiled trout, and Finn thanked him, and they ate their meal in silence. Finn inhaled the smoky scent of the tender broiled fish deeply and sighed. Each morsel he savored, as if he would never have the chance to have a broiled fish again and he wanted to remember it. At last he finished his meal, and thanked Julian.

 

He stood up as if to continue on his journey, but Julian said, “I pray, good Finn, stay and talk a while. You are the first young man I have met in these parts. I have been told that an epidemic took them, and then I have been told that they avoid the tavern as they are all tea-totalers and avoid drink. I sense that there is a kernel of truth in these assertions, but there is much that has not been told to me that I should know. Please, good Finn, tell me what you know of this shortage of young men in this area.” As Julian looked across the fire at Finn, a trick of the light played about his head and the branches behind him gave him the look of antlers, briefly.

 

“I can stay only a brief time, Sir Julian, though I would gladly tarry longer. I will tell you of my story, such as I know of it; though I must warn you my memory is not what it once was.” Finn looks at the moon, and sits again, gazing into the flames.

 

“I guess that an epidemic has taken us, though we are not ill in the conventional sense of the word. And it is true that we no longer drink ale, nor do we eat flesh but seldom.”

 

His eyes grew far away, and Julian could see that he was struggling to find the memory. “It started when Bili the Smith killed the doe. He was never a good shot, and he was often hasty. He loosed his arrow thinking that he had espied a young buck, but he was wrong, so wrong. Not only had he killed a doe, but he had killed one of The Huntress’s own court. As we gathered around the poor doe she changed back into her human form and died in Bili’s arms.” Finn looked at the moon again, and said. “My time is short, I must go to Mari, for I would see her before returning to the… others.”

 

Julian sat back, pondering what Finn had told him. “I honor and respect Liana, the Goddess of the Hunt, as do all people of good sense. She must have been wroth at the loss of one of her own court.”

 

“Yes, wroth as only a deity can be. She wanted to take Bili’s life in repayment, but we prevailed on her wisdom and convinced her that he was guilty of murder through stupidity, not malice. We pleaded for her mercy, admitting that he had done wrong. We begged her to let us share in his punishment and at last she relented. She declared that she would not take Bili’s life, but that she would require one year of service from all of the young men of Destry. Each month we are granted one night to return to our wives and girlfriends, and I must go now, Mari is waiting. The time has passed slowly but we have nearly paid the price in full. Soon we will be free to resume our lives. The price will have been paid, and the Huntress will honor her promise.”

 

He stood and wrapped his cloak around him. “Again I thank you for your courtesy, but now I must go.” And so saying, Finn stood and stepped into the darkness. As he passed from the light Julian could definitely see the shadow of antlers on his head, as if they were there but not there.

 

Julian sat gazing into the fire, stirring it with a long stick; thinking of all that Finn had told him. He felt the air move next to him and looking over he saw a young woman sitting next to him.

 

She was dressed in a hunting dress with a divided skirt and soft boots, a dress that could have been worn by any woman of his court when riding to the hunt. A bow rested by her knee, and a full quiver was slung across her back.

 

“And what do you think of my justice, Prince?” the young lady asked, looking deeply into his eyes as if she would read his soul.

 

“My Lady Liana, who am I to question the justice of a goddess, especially in her own wood? The real question is this – what do you think of your justice? If you are satisfied then that is what matters, not whether or not a mortal prince of limited experience is satisfied.” As always Julian spoke honestly; he really did not know how to lie. “Your dearly loved friend was taken from you in a terrible accident that was the fault of a rash, careless young man. Your first thought in your anguish was to kill him, to avenge your loved one. But his friends persuaded you to find some redeeming thing in him, and they, in turn, valued him so much that they were willing to share in his punishment and sacrifice a year of their lives to atone for his crime of ignorance. Are you now satisfied with this turn of events? Have they honored their part of the bargain?”

 

Liana nodded, “Your logic is impeccable. I am satisfied. And I will confess that in the fullness of time when they return to their wives and lovers I will miss them, even Bili.” She watched the moon as it sailed overhead, obviously thinking of something.

 

“Prince Julian you have shown each stranger that you come across great courtesy, and generosity. Why is this?” Liana looked at him curiously. “Each stranger could have been an enemy stalking you, planning to rob or murder you. Do you not know this?”

 

“Lady, were I to be attacked I would defend myself. But I would not start a conversation with my sword; that is no way to find common ground.” Julian looked at the woman who sat next to him. “I will one day rule this country. My tasks will include meeting many envoys from foreign nations. I would not greet them with a bared sword; that would advance my people in the eyes of the world not at all. Conversely I would not greet one of my people with less than the courtesy due to them. Without my people I am a prince of nothing.”

 

Liana sat quietly, pondering what Julian had said. “Rule well, Prince Julian,” and so saying, she stood as if to leave, but she bent and kissed him on the lips. Then she walked into the shadows while he watched her depart, all bemused.

 

A month later Prince Julian and Errol rode back into the stables at the castle, to the cheers of the stable-hands. A servant ran to tell his parents, who dropped what they were doing to come down to greet him. That night he told them of his adventures, and then after a fine meal he slept in his own bed, feeling good that he had been able to know the real people in his country, but sad that he had not found a woman that he could love.

 

The following week a grand ball was held, and all the eligible young women in the kingdom from the highest to the lowest were invited, and Prince Julian did the only sensible thing he could think of. He put the names of every maiden in a large bowl. His butler stirred it and mixed it. Remembering the kiss that the Huntress had given him he sighed, and reached into the bowl and drew out the lucky girl’s name. Her name was Riane and she was the comely daughter of a well-to-do squire from the farthest corner of the kingdom. Although he had met her father and spent a night in his barn, Julian had no memory of the daughter, but that was not surprising.

 

After drawing her name, he gave the slip of paper to his parents, who made the announcement. The lucky girl was quickly rushed away to be fitted for her wedding dress, and the plans for the wedding went into high gear and once again Julian drifted into the background, as useful as a any groom is during such an event.

 

Somehow during all the preparations he never really had the chance to talk to her, though she seemed pleasant enough during the brief moments that they did meet at parties.

 

The wedding was held in the castle garden and following the wedding a giant party was held, during which the bride and groom toasted each other, and were in turn toasted many times.

 

Finally they were led to the rooms that would be their own, each to their own dressing-room. His valet undressed him and prepared him for bed, and her maid undressed her and prepared her for bed. Then they discretely left and the Prince entered his bedroom to actually meet his bride.

 

One candle burned, lending a dim, flickering light to the large room. Riane sat on a chair looking out the window at the moon, and all the celebrating people looking quite nervous. She turned toward the door as he entered, closing the door behind him. For a moment he thought he saw the shadow of antlers near her head; a trick of the shadows in the flickering candle-light.

 

He crossed to the window and he too looked out at the moon and then down on the people who celebrated his wedding. “They are pleased for us, are they not?” she asked him, looking up at him. “I wish I knew you better. I always thought I would marry a man that I loved.”

 

“I always thought that too,” replied Julian honestly. “I knew that I would have to marry, but somehow I always thought that I would fall in love and then marry.” He looked at his bride, seeing her for the first time as a real person, and realized that she was probably quite frightened. Her eyes were uncertain and fearful, feelings that he too felt and could not completely hide.

 

“We have obligations to family and to the kingdom,” he said kindly. “But I am feeling quite awkward and embarrassed right now. I would like to simply talk for a while and get to know one another first.”

 

She looked surprised, and her smile lit up her face. “I would like that too.”

 

As the evening progressed they discovered that they were not so very different from each other after all. She was well able to read and do accounts; she rode and hunted, she was trained to run a home efficiently, and economically, but like him she had found her true enjoyment in reading and learning and traveling. And as they learned about each other they found an easy friendship and an attraction there that grew between them. They enjoyed the same jokes, and laughed a great deal, enjoying each other’s company

 

Toward midnight he kissed her tentatively, and a thrill ran through him as she leaned into him, turning the tentative kiss into a much more passionate thing; a thing of wonder and mystery.

 

When dawn came they lay tangled in the sheets and in each other’s arms. She had fallen in love with a truly good man, something she had vowed she would never do. A herd of deer passed the castle, running in the light of the dawn. The Huntress smiled and held her husband closely.

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Yeah! Great job Connie! ;) I loved this story too so sweet! :D Are you going to write another one soon? Looking forward to it! :goodjob:

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Thank you, everyone. I do have another story for this thread, but I need to edit it and it may be a few days because I have a deadline to meet with a sci-fi thing that goes out the door on monday, so I am not in the right frame of mind right now. In a few days this will be updated. Thanks again!

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This story was originally written in 1985 using my Electric typewriter that I was so proud to own. I wrote in my kitchen to the sounds of my youngest daughter enthusiastically beating on the pots and pans with wooden spoons.

 

 

 

October Sky

 

It had been the coldest October that I could remember. Rafts of ice floated up and down the lake; blown by the winds, breaking up and re-forming as if dancing a ballet. The leaves had been off the trees since the end of September; as if they could not fall fast enough.

 

My evenings were wonderful; the sun drifted its way behind the hills as the wind died off to nothing. The lake became a mirror reflecting the pink-blue-purple-gold of the sky and the deep green of the evergreen forested hills. It was a green so deep that it appeared to be black.

 

I would sit at my frozen picnic table with a steaming mug of coffee in my frozen hands, watching the snow-geese and the western grebes. Only the voices of the loons and the geese pierced the blanket of peace that I had wrapped about myself.

 

When the colors had faded and I could no longer feel my fingers I would go back into the house and stoke up the fire; still in the thrall of the lake’s spell. Then I would pick up a brush and enter my world of canvas and color.

 

On the first day that I saw the naked trees stark against the incredible sky I knew that I had to somehow capture the power that I felt upon looking at them. Attempt followed attempt and soon the house was littered with almost; the bones of the trees were right but the essence of the sky was missing.

 

Each night I worked longer and more feverishly until one day I realized that I had to back off and gain some perspective.

 

And so it was that in the small hours before dawn one morning I put away the brushes and paints, and covered the canvasses. I fell into my bed so exhausted that I could not sleep; my head filled with the loons and the trees and their sky.

 

At last, knowing that it was futile to try to sleep I rose from my bed. Wrapping a blanket about myself I walked out to my small sitting room to watch the trees greeting the pale dawn.

 

The air felt strange, alive and crystalline; the trees beckoned to me. I could feel them calling me to come out and greet the sun with them. I walked in the frozen grass, until I was in the orchard among the trees at the shore of the lake. Looking west at the hills I felt my brain tingling. Gradually I realized that the ground was vibrating beneath my feet, and had been for a while; shaking as if a giant walked nearby. As I became aware of the vibrations beneath my feet a rumbling began to penetrate the crystalline air, shattering the peace I had surrounded myself in.

 

Huddling in my blanket my eyes were drawn to the north and there, emerging from the mist I saw Machines; great, huge, and monstrous machines that I had no words to describe. They came slowly and inexorably down the middle of my lake. The waters rolled and boiled around them as they passed me by; paying me less attention than they did the trees. The ice floes broke and tipped crazily, riding the waves that danced about the giant treads.

 

They continued south, grinding through the swamp; going I knew not where and coming from where I could not imagine. As they came the waters grew; waves began splashing at my feet and then my knees. Suddenly realizing that I was in trouble, I found my feet and ran for the house. Still the waters followed me; still the machines came rolling down from the north.

 

As the waters rose, my house began swaying, creaking and groaning under the water’s assault. I fell to my knees, praying to the God that I did not believe in, but he heard me not at all. Then the dishes and furniture began flying everywhere, careening off paintings and walls. Looking though my shattered windows I saw the incredible sky spinning around as a child’s top spins.

 

I covered my head, and Screamed my prayer, but the only answer I received was the sure and profound sound of breaking glass and furniture shattering. In the moment that I believed that it would never stop, the floor I clung to gave a great lurch and the sounds of breaking glass and furniture stuttered into silence. Throwing back my blanket, determined to get out of the wreckage while I could I saw the last of the machines going south into the broken swamp; the trail they blazed a great scar that would never heal.

 

I surveyed the damage with stunned eyes. I began to laugh, so hard that it hurt, and falling to my knees I laughed until I could not breathe.

 

My house was perched on a hill that had been perhaps fifty feet behind it before. Everything I owned was now in full view of anyone who might choose to make a leisurely visit to the back of beyond. Ever item of clothing, every bit of dish broken or whole everything was dangling from the branches of the broken trees, and splayed everywhere.

 

The sky hung pink-blue-purple-golden and unchanged while the trees made lewd gestures with my possessions.

 

The silence deafened me. Stepping through the rubble I gathered my canvasses, paints and brushes. Miraculously my easel was untouched and so I did the only thing I could think of; and I painted.

 

I painted the pathetic wreck of my house reflected in the perfection of the lake and the hills.

 

I painted the obscene trees against the incredible sky.

 

And then I painted those awesome machines as they paraded past me, not realizing that I was there and not caring.

 

When I was done, three paintings leaned against my ruined fireplace. I found my bed, and righted it. Crawling into it I finally fell asleep.

 

When my eyes opened I felt severely disoriented. I was in my bedroom, and looking about myself I could see no signs of the previous day’s events. In disbelief, I went to the kitchen and found all to be there. No broken dishes, no broken furniture. I began laughing, doubling over with relief. “Idiot,” I muttered. “What a crazy dream.”

 

Making a cup of coffee, I went to sit by the window in the sitting room.

 

As I passed the fireplace I froze. Three pictures leaned against the uninjured fireplace.

 

One was of obscene trees decorated with my personal possessions, silhouetted against an incredible sky.

 

In the second picture my sad house perched askew on the hill; broken and sad beneath the incredible sky.

 

And the third picture was a terrifying image of gigantic, grotesque machines tearing up my lake, plowing through the swamp with the waters roiling wildly about the monstrous treads.

 

The power of the paintings was incredible.

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Wow breathtaking. Was it a dream, an ilusion or reality? No way of fiding out, either way those paintings stand there.

Amazing work connie!

 

Ps- My dad used to own an electric typewritter when i was a kid. I used to spend hours and hours playing with it. I never wrote anything decent, but i was a kid anyway.

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Yes I agree with Night Melody! I was just wow-ed by it!!!

The power of the paintings was incredible.

Your writing skill is incredible! I mean Wow...! I just couldn't think of anything else other than wow! xD Sure there is awesome, amazing but really it all comes down too...wow...! I enjoyed reading this Connie and so did my mom! Thumbs up from both of us! :goodjob:

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Wow...just wow...Those are some great stories there. I got hooked up on reading until the end. The first story is probably my favorite. It reminds me of this totally beautiful saying :

 

"I do not love her because she looks good, but she looks good because I love her"

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