By: Martin Altisimo
Once on a time there lived a young man named Norman. This young man was the king’s personal musician. He was employed in this position for when he sung a song, his voice was as sweet as honey and the strings he strummed were as melodious as the notes of a bird. Now the King’s name was Malgond, and King Malgond was a tyrannical ruler. He had made a law that said that the consequence for any crime, no matter how small, was death. King Malgond would then get bored and make ridiculous laws in order that he could see people be executed. He also had a daughter, and her name was Amber. She was the most gorgeous girl in all the land and many men would try to win her heart, but none succeeded. Most claimed that this was because she was evil, like her father, and wanted to marry a person that had a dark heart as well (and of course all of her suitors had dark hearts themselves, filled with greedy desire, but none of them would admit to this fact), but this was not the case. The truth was that she was in love with Norman and Norman was in love with her. Norman had been born as a farmer’s son, so he had no royal blood in his veins. King Malgond had decreed that Amber should only marry someone of royal blood, and if he ever caught her with a commoner, then that person would be put to death. For this reason Norman and Amber met in secret for many years, keeping their love for one another hidden from her from her father’s eyes.
One fine morning as the sun leaped through the leaves, Norman was taking a walk through the rolling hills that bordered the city . As he walked, a snow-white dove landed upon the grass in front of him. Norman reached down and picked up the bird from the ground. Slowly he began to pet it, and then he laughed, saying,
“Well aren’t you a fine little bird!” The bird then lightly pecked Norman’s hand and then the dove rubbed his feathered against his little legs. Norman looked at the dove’s legs and saw a small piece of parchment tied to its ankle. Norman took the parchment and found that it read,
My Dearest Norman,
I so long to be in your presence once again. My father continues in his attempts to find me a husband, and at the present time he has invited a fat prince named Simon to stay with us. I long for an escape from here, even for a little while. Meet me at dusk in the forest. I will be awaiting your arrival in the clearing at the center of the forest. Time moves not when I am apart from you. I bid the sun to haste in its course. I dream of you my love, until I can see you in person.
Love with all my heart,
“Oh, what a wonderful day it has become!” Norman cried, setting down the dove, “I must prepare to meet my darling!” With hurried feet Norman set off back towards the town, leaping and singing for joy. Amber sat in her bedchamber, looking out upon the town, cursing the slow-moving sun while Norman looked out over his humble garden longing for the arrival of dusk. The sun moved as it always does, but to the two lovers, it seemed to be frozen in one single spot in the infinite blue sky.
Dusk came an eternity after Norman had received the note from the dove, and two eternities after Amber had penned the letter. Once the sun had begun to cast its orange rays upon the earth, Amber slipped out of the palace and into the forest. Norman set out from his humble home, and then, he too vanished into the shadows of the forest.The trees towered above Norman as he walked, and their leaves covered the sky from view. The way to the clearing was known well by Norman, for he had traveled there many times to meet Amber in secret. Soon Norman saw a break in the trees ahead, and joy filled his heart, for he was upon the clearing at last. Through the last trees Norman walked and he saw Amber, sitting upon the grass, the light of the appearing moon shining off of her golden hair. She looked up, and her emerald eyes filled with joy at the sight of Norman. She stood and ran forward, catching Norman in a powerful embrace. Norman lifted Amber off of the ground and spun her in a circle, kissing her all the while.
“Oh what a glorious day it has become, for now I am with you, my love!” Amber exclaimed with joy.
“The stars have aligned for us this night, my love, no let us waste no time, for time speeds as the stallion runs when two lovers are in each other’s arms.” Norman replied.
“Let us sit and converse that we may know what the other has done since the time of our last meeting, for it feels like a thousand eternities have come and gone since my eyes have last lain upon thee!” and so the two lovers sat and talked until the last strands of daylight faded away and the moon had traversed half of the heavens. Norman then spoke up and said,
“Come my love, let us dance, for the hour of our meeting draws to a close and I long to be in your arms once again.”
“But my darling we have no tune to move our feet according to,” Amber said. The birds in the branches above heard Amber’s words and immediately began to sing a melodious song. Amber smiled and said,
“The stars truly are aligned tonight! Now let us dance away our worries.” Norman then wrapped one arm around Amber’s body, placing his hand upon her shoulder blade, as she did likewise. He took his other hand and entangled his fingers with Amber’s, lifting his arm along with hers. Now we shall take our leave of the two lovers, as they waltzed away the hours, beneath the burning Autumn trees, blanketed by a night sky inlaid with diamond stars.
Far from the momentary paradise that the two lovers experienced in the woods, the evil King Maglond slept alone in his chamber.
“My lord, my lord! I have news of great urgency!” a guard shouted as he threw open the door to the king’s bed chamber.
“You dare disturb me as I slumber!” the king roared, “This news you have must be of great import or you shall rue the day you disrupted my sleep!”
“My lord, forgive me, but I was ordered to come at once. Your daughter, Amber, was seen leaving the castle. She was headed towards the great forest. Not long after, your minstrel, Norman, was seen entering the forest. We have reason to believe that they have been meeting one another in secret.”
“This is outrageous!” the king cried, “Wake all of the knights and their squires! We shall search throughout the entire forest until we find my daughter and my minstrel! Then we shall put my foolish child in wedlock so that this travesty may never occur again! And my minstrel, that scurvy varlet shall be killed and his head shall be placed upon a great spike for all to see that no human is foolish enough to break my trust ever again! Now go and get my squire, for I shall ride out with you today!” The guard bowed and exited the room in a hurry. He awoke the knights and the squires, and ordered the stable boys to make ready the steeds. In short time all the knights had been armoured, given their weapons, and mounted their steeds. King Maglond himself rode at the front of the battalion, and he was dressed in an armour so dark, it looked like a fragment of the night sky had been used as the metal to forge such armor. As the knights rode from the palace and into the forest, darkness seemed to fly with them, and every living creature fled from the sound of the thundering hooves. The knights slowed their steeds as they entered the forest, and crept along as silent as a shadow. Soon the sound of bird song reached the knights and their ears, and the the sound of softly speaking voices soon followed. The knights then caught sight of a young man and a young woman, dancing slowly, stepping to the song that the birds sung. Silently, the knights surrounded the clearing, preparing to make themselves known to the two lovers dancing in the glade.
“That is my daughter, and that varlet with her is Norman, the minstrel,” the king whispered to his second in command, “Capture him and then kill him in front of my daughter, that she may see what shall befall any man I catch her with that I have not given my approval.”
“As you wish my liege,” the knight responded. He then signaled to the other knights and they charged through the trees into the clearing. Norman and Amber gasped as the Knights broke through the trees and the birds ceased their song. The knight that King Maglond had spoken to dismounted his steed and walked towards Norman with steady stride. He reached out to pull Norman away from Amber, but as he closed his fist upon Norman’s arm, a white dove flew down from the trees, landing upon the knight’s arm. The bird opened the knight’s visor with is claws, and then proceeded to viciously attack the knight’s eyes, blinding him. The knight flailed about, wailing in agony, attempting to knock the bird away from his face. Norman was a wise young man and he knew that he would be killed if he stayed his ground, so amidst the commotion he softly whispered in Amber’s ear, saying,
“I shall return for you my love.” Norman broke away from Amber’s arms with these words and fled into the trees, vanishing amidst their shadows. Amber attempted to follow him, but King Maglond moved to block her path. He grabbed her arm and shoved her over to a nearby knight and commanded,
“Take her back to the palace and lock her in her chamber. Place guards outside the door, and at the base of the tower, beneath her window.” The knight nodded to the king and lifted Amber onto his horse. He spurred his mount in the ribs, and set off into the trees. King Maglond then turned to his head knight, who had finally succeeded in removing the bird from his face and said,
“Can you see anything or has the world gone dark for your eyes?” The knight recognized the king’s voice and replied,
“I see naught but the blackness. What will become of me?”
“A blind knight is a useless knight. I shall relieve you from your duty.” The king drew a blade from his side and thrust it into the knight’s chest. King Maglond turned to the other knights and said,
“You four, ride after the varlet Norman. Bring him back to the palace to be executed in front of Amber. Let the rest us ride home, for a great deal of work is to be done!” The knights and the king rode from the glade, four turning off and following in Norman’s footsteps, as the knight that was attacked by the bird lay dying, as his crimson blood stained the green grass that coated the ground of what was once a paradise for two lovers, who are now separated by the cruelty of a king that is demented with evil and power.
The sun rose in the east as it always does, but its golden light was caught in grey clouds. The birds sung not their songs, and the flowers drooped towards the earth. The clouds in the sky wept heavy rains upon the earth, mourning the fate that had happened upon the two lovers that had danced away the night only hours before. The knights that worked for the king rode throughout the town, gathering all who knew Norman, and any who they believed may have had knowledge of his entwinement to Amber. Every soul that was gathered walked away with death that dark Autumn day. Men and women and children all perished at the hand of one man: King Maglond, and when word of these mass executions reached Norman’s ears, fury grew in his heart. For after Norman, -to his great pain- had left Amber behind, he had fled through the forest, never resting his feet for many hours until, at great relief to him, he saw the flickering of a light in a window, announcing the presence of an inhabited structure. Once upon the doorstep of what appeared to be a small cottage, Norman pounded on the door with his fists, crying out,
“If anyone is inside, I beseech thee, please lend me your aid!” Norman ceased hammering the door when he heard the bolt being drawn back, unlocking the wooden door. The door swung open, and an old man appeared holding a small oil lamp that cast out just enough light to illuminate his head and the top of his shoulders.
“Young man you should not be outside at this time!” the old man said with a withered voice, “The king’s knights are close behind and have orders to bring you back to the palace for execution in front of the one you love. Come now, do not tarry.” the old man pulled Norman into the cottage, shutting the door behind him. Norman then turned to the old man and asked
“How do you have knowledge of what the king and his knights have done, and how do you know of the one whom I love?”
“Why, young lad, I was there!” the old man laughed, “I am a wizard from a far off land and I have the ability to take on the shape of any creature I chose, and tonight I was flying through the leaves as a dove when I happened upon you and your lover, Amber, sitting upon the ground at the base of a tree. My ears heard the two of you speaking of dancing, and the lack of music in the glade so I lighted upon an ahead branch and composed a melody for you and her to dance to. I often take the shape of birds and fly about, and I had seen the two of you sneaking into the forest many times before, and when the knights found you out I took pity upon you and threw myself upon the one that was preparing to strike you down. I followed you back to my home where we now stand.”
“Good sir, I believe you have truly saved my life, for my blood would have been spilt in the forest had you not intervened, but alas I am now separated from the one whom I love. What ever shall I do?” Norman cried, but the old man smiled and said,
“Rest here for tonight, but when the sun rises you shall go east to a mountain that is many miles from here. Climb over the mountain and descend into the valley. There you shall find a great river that looks like flowing diamonds. Follow this river towards the north, for there you shall find a great Ironwood tree. At the base of this tree there is a hollow, which you must crawl inside. Inside there is a great chest which holds the what you seek, but be wary, for in front of the chest there lies an ever-watchful fox. He will speak lies to you and attempt to lead you astray. Ignore his lies, for if you become entangled in his deceit then you will be like a fly caught in a spider’s web. To defeat this fox sing a song to the fox and he will perish, and once death takes his eyes, cut him open, for the key to unlock the chest lies in his heart.” Norman nodded his head, signaling that he understood. The old man showed him to his chamber and then left Norman to sleep. Darkness came to Norman’s eyes faster than a rock that sinks through water, and while he slept he dreamed of Amber and more joyful days than those that were now upon them.
Norman awoke to the sound of rain falling upon the earth in great drops. He walked from his chamber into a room with a table and several chairs, one of which supported the old man. When the old man saw Norman he stood and spoke, saying.
“The time has come for us to part ways. I shall travel to back the way you came and attempt to aid Amber and give her hope as she awaits the hour of your return.” The old man then walked over to an ancient chest that was pushed up against the wall. He opened the rotting chest and lifted out a magnificent sword. The scabbard was painted to create the illusion that vines had grown around it in a spiraling fashion, and the helt was decorated with many jewels and ancient runes.
“Take with you this blade, for it is sharper than any other blade ever forged. It was smithed in the heart of an enchanted fire and posses the ability to slice through even the toughest of materials.” The old man handed the sword to Norman, who strapped it to his side. He then bowed low and said,
“Thank you good sir. There is no monetary amount that can ever repay your magnanimity.”
“Young lad,” the old man said with a tender voice, “There is no need for you to repay me, for I do these deeds of my own free will. I have seen this world age through more than a century and through all my years I have seen naught but darkness and cruelty. It is a true joy to my ancient heart to see two lovers striving to be with one another, despite the darkness that attempts to drive them apart. Now go, do as instructed and save the one you love.” Norman bowed once again and then exited the cottage. Rain poured around him as he breathed in the fresh air, looking towards the sky which was painted grey with rain clouds. Then Norman turned his feet towards the east and began to journey towards the mountains that rose up on the horizon. The path he took lead Norman through the village, which was perplexingly deserted. One man stood outside of a shop door with a pack slung over his shoulder. Norman approached the man and inquired,
“Good sir, would you be so gracious as to inform to why this lovely town is populated by naught but empty structures and the soft drops of rain?”
“Young man, this town is deserted because everyone has fled in fear,” the man told Norman, “The king of this land has sent out knights to round up everyone who may have connections with a man named Norman. Apparently this fool Norman has been meeting with the king’s daughter in secret, and now the king wants his head. The knights came through the forest this morning and took about fifty souls. After that everyone fled because they did not want to remain here incase the knights came back.”
“What will become of those whom the king captured?” Norman asked, fearing what the answer would be.
“I suppose that they will all be hung or decapitated. The king is not the friendliest of men and if you were at all intelligent, you will flee as far from him as possible.”
“I am afraid that I cannot do that.” Norman replied with solemnity.
“And why is that young lad? Are you going to try and be a hero?” the man said condescendingly.
“No, that is not the reason that I must return the king’s palace. I do so because I must keep my promises. I made a promise and I intend to see it through.” With these final words Norman once more began to move his feet towards the growing mountains. With every step the mountains grew larger, but never closer, until finally, many days later, Norman arrived at their roots. His pace was slowed immensely, as it always does when one begins an uphill course, but Norman persevered. Soon the air became chilled and the grey rain turned unto swirling white snow. Norman shivered violently from the cold and his eyes began to water, but the water froze where it came to be, but still he stepped towards the peak. In time the peak of the mountain was achieved, and the downhill battle began. Always slipping from footholds and constantly losing his balance, Norman slowly descended the mountain. As he descended, he placed his foot upon a ledge of snow and ice, but the ice gave way, throwing norman from the mountain’s icy face and into the snow-filled air. Norman fell for several seconds, and during those seconds, terror filled his heart, but after what felt like a decade, Norman ceased to fall, landing in a soft snow bank that acted as a cushion for his body. Norman stood slowly, and then proceed to brush the from his clothing the powdered snow that now coated him. As he did so he turned about and saw that he had landed upon a ledge far above the solid earth below. The snow had ceased its descent and Norman was now able to see what was below him. He looked down towards the earth far below and he saw a lush green valley, with great flowery meadows rolling to the base of the mountains. Great trees lined the meadows, and the leaves that were changing with the Autumn air created the illusion that great flames danced about the edge of the meadow, moving with the gentle wind. In the center of the valley a great river flowed, like a crystal road winding across the earth. Once again Norman began to descend towards this utopian landscape, taking extreme care as to where he placed his feet, in order to avoid falling a second time. The descent was easier than it had been before, as the climate was warmer at the lower altitude and the air was void of the blinding snow that Norman had encountered upon the peak. Finally Norman’s feet settled upon the grassy ground. The sound of the gurgling river wandered through the air and into Norman’s ears, and the words of the old man returned to him. He began he walked to the river’s muddy bank, and then turned towards the north. After Norman had walked next to the crystal river for about a half of an hour, he spotted a great Ironwood tree in the distance, towering to about the height of half of a mountain. Picking up his pace, Norman ran towards the tree, and hope was kindled in his soul. At the base of the tree Norman discovered a great hollow, as the old man had said, and he climbed inside. He expected to find many bugs and dirt, and rotting wood upon the innards of the tree, but instead Norman found that the hollow was a door into a great room with walls composed of polished wood and rose up into a darkness above him, for the whole of the tree was hollow, forming this grand chamber. The floor was covered with soft moss, like a small green carpet, and littered all around the room were precious gems and golden coins. Norman was amazed by the room and the gems, but the item that truly captured his gaze was a chest of elegant composure, made from the finest metals found upon this earth. In front of the chest lay a fox with fiery red fur and beady black eyes, with a tail that ended in snow white hairs. Norman moved towards the chest, as silent as the night, but as soon as he made his first move the fox was upon his feet, looking at Norman with unblinking eyes.
“Good day, my young lad,” the fox spoke in a voice as old as the stars, “In what way may I be of aid to you in this pilgrimage that you have undertaken?”
“Kind fox, if only you would be willing to depart from where you sit, then I shall be quite grateful,” Norman replied.
“Then depart I shall,” the fox answered. He walked away from the chest and stood by the wall of the chamber, intently gazing at Norman with watchful eyes. Norman moved towards the chest, and placed his hands upon its lid. Pushing hard, Norman attempted to open the chest, but he found it to be locked. The words of the old man came back to him and he turned towards the fox, who was still staring at Norman with his beady black eyes.
“My good fox, I am afraid that I require the key to this chest,” Norman said with solemnity.
“My good sir you do not want to open that chest, for if you do, then pain and misery shall follow you unto the grave,” the fox replied, “If you truly long to be joyful, then place aside your sword and venture back into the heavenly valley beyond this chamber. There you will find a beautiful maiden and a great mansion awaiting you. Marry this woman and live in this mansion for all of your days, and your life will be filled with joy. You will have many children and rule this world. All the peoples of earth shall serve you and you shall have innumerable gems and golden coins. You will be remembered for millennia to come and nothing shall destroy you, nor your kingdom.” The fox’s words flowed over Norman like an overpowering current. He struggled to resist them but slowly he began to drown in the tranquility of the fox’s promises. As Norman slowly began to sink beneath the waves of temptations, his thoughts came upon the maiden promised to be his wife. Struggling for a breath free from these promised gifts, Norman managed to utter five words,
“Will Amber be with me?” This question caught the fox off guard and he blinked his black eyes. Instantaneously Norman felt the temptations recede. Before the sly fox could regain his composure Norman broke into song, singing an ancient rhyme from the days of yore, as the old man had instructed.
When trees are burning with orange and red
My heart and mind are then filled with sorrow
When the grass falls and the flowers are dead
My heart grows heavy and my head bends low.
I weep for I see the passing away of time
I mourn for memories lost deep in the past
I remember moments caught only in rhyme
As the leaves burn in yellow and red contrast.
The clocks tick and continue to count
I look longingly to the days when I was young
But my youth is now a mythical fount
Days of the past are only songs that are sung.
Tears touch my face as the trees become flame
Sadness fills me as leaves fall into the blades of green
I think, as I sit here, now quite ancient and lame
Of memories of all the Autumns that I had once seen.
Leaves fall around me, clothed in a gold sheen
On that day long ago that I did die
As I lay amongst the grass that was once green
Looking upon a cloudy Autumn sky.
Upon the conclusion of the song the fox fell to the ground as death clouded his eyes. Norman drew his blade and cut open the fox. He then sliced open the fox’s heart, and inside it he found a golden key. Norman took hold of the key and walked over to the chest. He placed the key in the lock and turned it, which was followed by a soft click. In one swift motion, Norman flung open the chest and staring into its innards. He reached into the bowels of the chest and produced the single item that resided there; a horn as silver as the moon with engraved golden bands spiraling outward from the mouthpiece and a leather strap attached to either end for the owner to cast over his shoulder. Norman moved his hand down the horn, feeling its smooth, polished sides and the runes engraved along the gold. Norman knew the language of the runes, for many songs had been transcribed in this ancient language. The horn read: Whosoever possesses this horn shall have the power to call to his aid all the creatures of the fields and beasts of the forest. Let it be known that should this horn be used, it shall break into pieces, never to be wielded again. Use it wisely, you who possess this power, and be not foolish in its use. Norman placed the leather strap upon his left shoulder and let the horn rest upon his right hip. He left the tree, entering once again into the gorgeous valley, and he began his voyage towards the palace of King Maglond.
As the sun perished in the west Norman came through the forest, and stood atop a grassy hill, looking down upon the city below. He directed his eyes to the palace and a snow-white scarf hanging from a window in high tower captured his gaze. Norman looked to the base of the tower and noticed two guards standing directly underneath the window. His mind reached the logical conclusion that this tower was Amber’s prison, and Norman made his way towards it. Once upon the tower’s base, Norman sprang from the bushes with his sword drawn and brought death upon the two guards. Suddenly a rope fell from the window, and the end hovered only feet from Norman’s face. Without hesitation he began to climb the rope, and within a matter of minutes he was upon the windowsill. A beautiful face appeared at the window and she said,
“Oh, my darling, my love! You have returned for me as you promised you would! Oh, what a glorious sight you are!” Norman leaped through the window and grabbed Amber, kissing her passionately. After the two lovers reunited Norman spoke, saying,
“My love, it truly is magnificent to see you again, but alas we must separate once more, for only a time. I must put your father to death for he has killed thousands merely within the day I was absent from this land. His cruelty must be stopped before more perish at his hand.” Amber nodded her understanding, and kissed him once more. A Norman walked to the door, Amber turned to Norman and said,
“My darling, be quick for he has taken captive another. An old man came to me many days ago, seeking to aid me. He told me that he had spoken with you, so I trusted him. He gave the rope and instructed me to cast it down when I heard a person at the base of the tower. He also told me to hang my scarf from the window, so that you would be able to find me. My father found him out and captured him. Now hurry, for he is to die at midnight.” Norman ran from the tower as fast as a bird flies, and in but a moment he was in the great throne room. He saw King Maglond standing in the center of the room, with a blade upon the back of the old man’s neck.
“Stop this madness or great pain shall befall thee!” Norman cried. The king turned and saw him and spoke one word,
“No.” King Maglond raised his blade, but as he did, Norman sprinted across the floor, drawing his blade. Norman swung out his blade, blocking the king’s as it fell towards the old man’s neck. The king shouted aloud,
“Guards, end this treacherous varlet!” and within an instant the room became filled with knights clothed in dark armor, each one holding a sword as dark as a starless night. Norman remembered the horn at his side, and quickly he blew one loud, long note. The horn broke to pieces in Norman’s hand and the knights all began to laugh aloud, but their laughing stopped when they heard the rumbling of hooves and the screeches of birds. The doors to the throne room burst open, and every beast of the field and creature of the forest charged through the throne room. For ten long minutes the stampede continued, until at last all was silent once more and the beasts had left to return to their homes. The knights that had moments ago laughed at Norman now littered the ground as corpses and men gasping for a final breath. Norman turned to King Maglond and said,
“King Maglond, you have slaughtered the people of the villages and countrysides. You have spilled innocent blood upon the earth and now it is time that your blood is spilled upon the earth likewise, but know that your blood is not innocent, but is as guilty as the grass is green.” Norman then lifted his blade and swung at King Maglond, but the king lifted his blade in defence. Norman’s sword sliced the king’s blade into two parts as it fell, and then it passed into the king. King Maglond fell upon the floor, and the his soul fled from his body. The old man stood and hugged Norman, saying,
“You did it my boy, now go, be with the one you love!” Norman did not hesitate to do as instructed, and he ran back to the tower and Ambers awaiting arms. He kissed her once more, and spun her as he had many days ago in a glade in a forest lighted by naught but the glow of the moon. In the weeks following, Norman and Amber were married, and the kingdom rejoiced to see the two lovers united at last. The rule of the kingdom was handed over to the old man, and Norman and Amber traveled to the valley that held the great Ironwood tree. There they started a family and lived together in peace and joy until the end of their days.