storytime: take two

21 Feb

Some of our favorite people from New York were in town this weekend. While we were out and about exploring (ok, eating) in the city most of the time, we did have a lovely and relaxing evening by the fire one night. It reminded me very much of our previous “story time night” by the fire and then I realized that I HAD NOT POSTED story number two: “A Strange Day in July” (by Tim)! Yikes! I know you’ve all been impatiently waiting day after day, night after night for the second installment of story time. All I can say is I’m sorry. (And here it is…)

 

He threw with all his might, but the third stone kept skipping back.

“A STRANGE DAY IN JULY”

In a much older, more mysterious, time, there were two kingdoms, Feuermore, and Odgemore.  Each kingdom had its own great city of the same name.  And the cities of Feuermore and Odgemore lay on opposite sides of a river that separated the two kingdoms.

The people of Odgemore could look across and see the great capital city Feuermore, and vice-versa.  And while they were never hostile, the people of each kingdom, and their leaders, were never friends.  It was as if the great river flowed not with water, but with a constant stream of unease and distrust, though faint, but which forever separated the two great kingdoms.

It so happened that on one dark, still morning, a cry rang out from the castle of Odgemore.  It was discovered that a little girl was missing.  That little girl, was the daughter of the king and queen, and the princess of Odgemore.  Servants scoured the castle, couriers were sent out into the city announcing the horrible news.  The citizens turned their city inside out in search of the little princess, for they loved her as if she were their own daughter.  The outer kingdom too was searched.  But she was gone.

The king and queen, hysterical with grief and panic, believed that the only explanation was that their daughter was kidnapped and taken across the river to Feuermore. Their counselors and generals, and indeed all the people of Odgemore, harbored that same suspicion.  The did not know much about the kingdom across the river.  But they did know that Feuermore, like them, had mighty defenses.  They would have to be bold, for the princess was the future of their kingdom. And so they prepared for war.

That evening, the soldiers of Odgemore hurried to prepare the batteries and batteries of cannons, which lined the parapets along the river.  Odgemore’s cannons had never before been fired at their neighbors in Fuermore.  But as the sun went down, the cannons were all being trained upon the great city across the river.

At dusk, Odgemore’s war horns rang out.  And just as the men finished their final preparations, a great stillness came over the river and a chill rippled through the air.  Suddenly a thick, foggy, mist poured down the river.  The fog stretched from one bank to the other and as high as the eye could see. It was as if a tidal wave of thick, icy cotton had rolled down the river and wedged itself between the two cities.

Now unable to see their enemies on the other side, the soldiers of Odgemore looked to their generals.  Uneasy but undeterred, the generals ordered the attack.

The cannons rang out like a kind of thunder storm like that land had never heard.  The earth shook and the sky shivered as the army of Odgemore fired blindly through the fog.  They fired and fired.  They would not allow these unknown foreigners to steal away the pride and the future of their kingdom.

Then after the first volleys, the army prepared for the counter attack.  They knew of Feuermore’s great cannons, and they knew a reprisal was only minutes away.  Any men not reloading the cannons were ordered below the parapets.  Likewise, the people of Odgemore prepared for the worst.  They boarded up their homes and businesses and took to their cellars and basements.  The army and people of Odgemore waited with their teeth clenched, for the terrible whistles of incoming cannonballs from across the white misty expanse.  But there was only silence.

Feuermore would not defend itself.  “Or maybe we have destroyed their cannons,” thought the soldiers of Odgemore.  “Now we may invade and recapture the princess without so great a risk.”  After many, many more volleys of cannon fire at Feuermore, the bravest soldiers departed by boat across the river, disappearing into the mist.  The generals and the people of Odegmore waited for word that the men had captured the city and found the princess.  They waited for hours.  Then hours became days.  And in all that time, the mist never lifted.  More men were sent.  But none returned.

It was maddening.  No soldiers were returning from Feurermore, there was no word of success, and yet not a single cannonball was fired upon Odgemore.  Enraged and desperate, hoping to bring Feuermore to its knees, the generals continued to send barrage after barrage of cannon fire through the mist.

*            *            *

The scene in Feuermore was more tragic than anyone in Odgemore could have imagined.  When the war horns rang out from Odgemore, the queen of Feuermore sent carrier pigeons through the fog to request a summit.  For she and her advisors could not understand why Odgemore would make war against them. While they knew little of Odgemore, they knew that it had never before attacked them, and they believed a meeting could resolve whatever crisis was about to befall them.

But it was too late.  For the fog had descended upon the river.  And it was a strange fog. You see, things could pass through this fog, but only in one direction—from Odgemore to Feuermore.  But anything travelling through the fog from Feuermore to Odgemore simply vanished.  And so it was with the pigeons.  And so it was with the envoys the queen sent to barter for peace as the cannonballs began falling in the city of Feuermore.  And even when Feuermore, desperate to defend itself, began firing its own cannons back at Odgemore, those cannonballs never landed.  Because they too disappeared into the fog.

*            *            *

The soldiers from Odgemore landing on the banks of Feuermore came upon a city in ruins.  These soldiers who came as invaders quickly found themselves under attack from their own homeland—from the volleys still careening from across the river.  Some soldiers, realizing that even if the princess were in Feuermore, she could not have survived the barrage, turned their boats around and headed back to Odgemore.  But of course they were lost in the fog and were never seen again.

However, a small number of soldiers stayed and beheld the devastation.  Soldiers from Feuermore, seeing the men, quickly shepherded them into tunnels beneath the city.  They were old tunnels, which had been the quarries that long ago provided the stones for the city of Feurermore.  The same stones, which were now quickly becoming the crumbled remains of the broken city above the tunnels.

In the tunnels, the soldiers of Odgemore saw the masses of citizens, huddled under ground, taking cover from the constant rain of cannon fire.  The men were put in make-shift cells and given food to eat.  They asked a soldier from Feuermore why Feuermore never responded with cannon fire of their own.  The young man, looked at them, baffled, as if they were joking, and shook his head.

After some time, the captured soldiers from Odgemore were released.  The men saw what their own country’s heedless destruction had done to the people of Feuermore.  Coming to realize, as all the people of Odgemore had, that they could not go back across the river, they joined the people and helped expand the underground city so that those who fled to the countryside could come back to their jobs and their businesses and live and work in safety.

*            *            *

Months and years passed.  The wise sages in Odgemore counseled the king and queen to relent in their attacks.  They saw that the people’s needs were no longer being met because the focus had so much been turned away from the people and toward the invisible kingdom across the river.  But the blind fury of Odgemore only grew, and the cannon attacks continued on a daily basis.  Even children of Odgemore would go the river and hurl stones across at their invisible enemy.  But the fog never lifted.

In Feuermore, after many years, the Queen of Feuermore had passed, and her son and his wife governed the kingdom from the now bustling underground city of tunnels.  The city and its citizens were back to a robust way of life, but they very much missed the open-air markets, and grassy parks of their old city.  Parents constantly worried that their children would wander above and be hurt; or worse.  A faint pall of fear and sorrow hung perpetually over the people of Feuermore.

One day, a young boy stole away from the tunnels to explore the banks of the river.  This young boy was the son of the new king and queen and he, like his father, was an adventurous sort.  The boy jumped from stone to stone along the riverbank.  He had a long stick, which he poked down into the water—he imagined that there were mer-people living below who might grab the other end.  After a moment of holding the stick in the water, he was startled by a ripple and a splash just in front of where his stick entered the water.  At first he thought it might be a mermaid or merman.  Then another splash.  This time he saw what made the splash.  It was a stone.  The boy had been warned many times that, like the cannonballs that fell above their city, stones and arrows and other dangerous things could come flying from across the river, and that he should be careful.  The second stone splashed even closer to the boy.

At that very moment, another little boy standing on the shore of the river in Odgemore picked up a third stone.  His friends taunted him to throw it even further than he had thrown the first two.  They hollered how the cowards in Feuermore deserved a nice knock in the head.  The boy wound up and chucked the stone into the mist.

A moment later, the stone came skipping back across the water.  The boys were stunned.   In all their lives, nothing had ever passed across the river to the shores of Odgemore. It was as if they had seen ice catch fire, or a bird flying upside down.  And suddenly, like a ghost, the stone came back to them.  The boy didn’t know what else to do.  He picked up the stone and threw it back across the river.  It came back.  The stone came back across the water, skipping in the most perfect way, almost as if it had legs and it was running across the water with great, long strides.  The boy’s friends became wary and retreated from the riverside.  The boy was growing at once both fearful and defiant.  He threw with all his might … but the third stone kept skipping back.

The boy began to tremble with fear but also excitement.  As he bent down to pick up the stone to throw it back once more, he noticed something he hadn’t noticed before.  The stone was flat on one side and rough on the other.  On the flat side, someone had etched a word: WHY?

By now, as you might have guessed, it was the young prince who skipping the rock back across the river to Odgemore.  And he etched a question that had plagued him his whole life.  And indeed the very same question plagued every man, woman, and child in Feuermore from the day Odgemore sent its first cannonball crashing into their lives—why?  Why were the armies of Odgemore ceaselessly beleaguering their kingdom?

The boy in Odgemore stared in wonder at the word etched on the stone.  And he himself wondered why.  Why his people, since before he was born, bombarded the other side of a river that he could not see.  Why he and his friends did the same thing with stones.  And why nothing ever came back.

At least not until that very moment.

And that was the astonishing thing.  So astonishing, that the boy set off from the river bank, through the city, and up to the gate of the castle of Odgemore.  He sprinted through Odgemore without stopping or yielding.  He ran up to one of the guards, and breathlessly showed him the stone, and exclaimed how it had skipped from across the river.

The guard’s eyes widened, and the boy was hurried into the castle, up wide stone staircases, and into the royal war room, where the King and Queen and their advisors spent their days and nights.

Learning that this boy witnessed something coming through the fog from the other side of the river, the king and queen and their cohort frantically gathered around the boy.  He held out his hand.  In it, was the stone, about the same size as the boy’s own palm.

The royals, advisors, and others in the room all strained to read the word etched on the stone.  The king was the first to make it out.

“Why?” he whispered.

There was a tense stillness in the room.  Not even the dusk stirred at that moment.  For the King and Queen, and all of the adults in the room, became aware.  For the first time since that mysterious and tragic night that their daughter disappeared, they became aware of the humanity of their neighbors across the river.

The King and Queen each collapsed to their knees.  No such regret had ever been felt in the world, and no greater remorse has been felt since.  For they did not know why.  And they could not fathom what they had done.

After a moment, the Queen lifted up her head and looked to her master General.  “Stop the campaign at once,” she ordered.  Stand down all the cannons, and all other weapons.  Prepare the boats, and prepare the army for a rescue mission.  Tell your men that the King and I will be leading them, and tell them they may never come home.

*            *            *

The King and Queen stood in the lead boat, watching, as the army loaded into boats, which were lined up as far as the eye could see up and down the coast of Odgemore.

By this time, word had spread of the stone.  Civilians—citizens and farmers—also gathered at the riverside, squeezing into boats.  Indeed all of the people of Odgemore flocked in droves to the river, some even intending to swim across the river.  They didn’t quite know what they were going to do, but they all knew the same unbearable remorse as the Queen and King.  And they were going to go to Feuermore and do whatever they could to undo what they had done, knowing full well that there was no coming back through the fog.

Just as the whole host from Odgemore began to shove off their moorings, lead by the King and Queen, they realized that their boats would not break free from the shore.  They all pushed and pushed, and the boats would edge closer and closer to the water’s edge, but their boats would not release from the shore out onto the water.  And as they pushed, the most astonishing thing happened.  The fog over the river began to thin.  It started as a glow, with more and more of the sunlight passing down through the thinning fog, which became brighter and brighter.  The fog began to part like pieces of cotton being pulled apart.  And the people looked out on the water, for they could now see out to where the middle of river was.

But there was no more river.

As the fog parted, they realized that the river was gone and a tract of dry land stood where the river once flowed.  The King and Queen and the people of Odgemore jumped out of their boats and began running toward Feuermore.  As they neared the other side, they saw that Feuermore was nothing more than crumbled stones.  And they saw that the people of Feuermore were all out standing along where their bank of the river had been, waiting and watching.  For the bombing had stopped.  They all had come out of the tunnels to see the strange things that were happening.

As the people of the two kingdoms met, the King of Feuermore came out to meet the King and Queen.  With him was his young son, the young boy who skipped the rock back through the impassible fog.

And the people of both kingdoms watched from afar the discourse of the Kings and Queen and young prince of their kingdoms.  The King of Feuermore approached the King and Queen of Odgemore and greeted them ceremoniously.   He then began to speak.  He explained how, as a boy, before the days of the fog, he would steal away across the river.  And how one day during his adventures in Odgemore, he encountered a young girl.  He told the King and Queen how he fell in love with that girl, and how, for years he would sneak to Odgemore under cover of night to be with her.

As you’ve probably already guessed, that girl was the princess of Odgemore.  And the prince of Feurermore and the princess of Odgmore wanted nothing more than to marry so that they could be together day in and day out.  But in true fairytale fashion, Odgemore’s laws prohibited the marriage of any royal person of Odgemore to anyone from outside the kingdom.  And on top of that, more in the Shakespeare sphere of plot contrivances, the princess’ parents harbored deep suspicion and distrust for the people of Feuermore, and would never have allowed the marriage.

So one moonlit night, on the wings of passion and glee and unbounded love, the princess stole off to Feuermore with her prince, so that they could be married and live always together.

Hearing all this, the King and Queen of Odgemore nodded, acknowledging that in those days they never would have allowed the union.

The King of Feuermore continued to explaine how his mother, the Queen, was delighted by the union, believing it would create greater harmony between her kingdom and Odgemore.  And also, she had always wanted a daughter.  But we all know there was no peace and harmony.

Odgemore declared war and, before Feuermore could even send word of truce to Odgemore, the great fog decended.

Hearing all this, the King and Queen of Odgemore were once again overcome with great remorse, but at the same time joy.  For their daughter was no longer lost.  And with tears welling in their eyes, thy took the Feuermore King’s hand and pleaded, “take us to see our daughter. Where is the Queen?”

The King of Feuermore sighed and quietly responded, “On this day we can finally join our kingdoms, and our people, and rebuild as one great and harmonious kingdom.  That must be the why.  The fog came and divided us for so long a time, but in the end, it has welded us together.  And it did so so that we would be no longer strangers.  Your daughter and I joined together many years ago, and this is your grandson. He has waited long to meet his royal grandparents.”

“But his Mother is gone.  Your daughter took ill just three moons ago, and she, like the fog, has left us.”

The truth was that, not very long before, the queen had been out of the tunnels in search of their pet rabbit that had wandered away.  And the truth was that she was struck by an incoming cannonball, and was killed.

But the King didn’t have the heart to tell her royal parents that.  Despite all he and his people had been through, it seemed best not to tell the King and Queen that it was their blind desire to get their daughter back, it was their heedless lust to recapture the future of their kingdom, which ultimately destroyed it.

THE END.

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