The Boy With Sad Eyes
A Fairy Tale for Aaron
Once, In a village by the sea, there lived a boy with sad eyes. He was a fisher, as was his father before him, and he spent most of his days swimming and sailing on the sea. He had lived all his life in the village, but no one had ever once wondered why he had such sad eyes.
The village was small and dusty and everyone worked hard and never interfered in the affairs of their neighbors. The villagers went home each night to their small cottages and lit their fires for dinner without more speech than was necessary. Most of them did not even bother to take in the blue magnificence of ocean that lay before the village always. The boy, however, never failed to notice how beautiful the sea was and how vast.
Sometimes, on a still night, the boy would take his small boat out to the sea and stare up at the moon. Sometimes, he would see a shooting star, but he would never make a wish. At night he would dream of becoming sky.
It was on one of those nights that the boy was dreaming of becoming sky that the storm came in. There was no warning, even the old sailors in the town with their water-wrought wisdom and the old wives with their almanacs could see nothing in the sky that heralded a storm. On the day before, the animals were not even skittish.
The boy was dreaming of becoming sky, and dreaming so peacefully that the sudden winds that howled with all of their fury did not wake him. The boy dreamt so serenely that the sudden torrent of rain and the roar of the ocean did not disturb his rest. Wind and waves battered the village by the sea; and though the boy slept soundly, many of the villagers cried out and prayed to Gods they did not believe in to protect them from the fury of the storm. If the Gods lived at all, they turned a deaf ear to the cries of the villagers; the next morning, all of the stores where the villagers could purchase goods, all of the wharves and docks with their boats and their moorings and even all of the small houses with their stone chimneys were gone, battered by the wind and waves and swept out to sea. All of the small houses but one.
The house where the boy with sad eyes had slept, dreaming peacefully of becoming sky was untouched by the storm, and stood lonely in the middle of the refuse and debris that the day before was a town. The morning's light broke through the cover of clouds and one ray of golden sun streamed through the thick glass of the boy's cottage window and warmed his sleeping face. The boy yawned, stretched lazily and got out of his thin, narrow cot and prepared to start the day. He washed his face with cool, fresh water that he collected daily, dressed and prepared to begin his day.
It was not until the boy opened the door of his small cottage that he saw what had become of the village during the night. Wide-eyed with amazement and horror, he ran out into what had once been the square and began to call the names of people he knew. There were no answers. The Baker did not return the boy's panicked cries, nor did the stern chandler (she was known for boxing the ears of disrespectful children) answer when he called. The boy yelled every name he knew until he was hoarse, then he sat down on the sand where there had once been a cobblestone street and began to cry.
The boy cried for hours. He wept so hard and for so long that he did not notice the approach of a large, black raven whose black glossy plumage shone darkly in the sun's light. The Raven landed beside the boy, who still did not notice him. The Raven was a very vain creature who despised above all things going unnoticed so he began to caw loudly to get the attention of the boy with sad eyes.
The boy turned his head at the bird, who was clearly impressed with his own magnificence, and stared for a moment at the ebony-plumed stranger. When the Raven felt that the boy had given him adequate adoration, he cleared his throat and began to speak (the world was younger in those days, and man had not yet forgotten how to understand the words of the birds and beasts). In a tone full of pomp and arrogance the bird asked, "Boy, why are you sitting here on a beautiful day crying?"
The boy turned to face the bird, sighed deeply and replied, "All of it gone. There was once a village here, and people and children. But all of it is gone now, and I don't know what to do."
The Raven, who wasn't really a bad creature despite his vanity, cawed sympathetically and said to the boy, "All that you knew is no more? That can be a difficult thing. But you are still here, and you must stop sitting and crying and begin wondering."
The boy stared at the Raven and said, "Wondering? What is there to wonder about? My village is gone. There is nothing left for me"
The Raven clucked and replied in a tone that was perhaps harsher than he meant it to be, "Nothing left for you? There is a wide world that you have not seen. You and I have survived the storm that blew me off course and blew me here, and we are both alive. You are young. Wonder what to do next, lament what is gone but explore what is left! Youth does not mean you have to be a fool."
The boy knew the Raven's words to be true and wiped away his tears. The boy then whispered in a surprised voice, "I was never happy here. I spent years here knowing the names of the people and what they did, but I never knew who anyone was".
The Raven only nodded. The boy stared down at his hands and he thought. He thought about what his life had been and how he had only been happy when he was alone on his small boat on the sea. He thought about how he dreamed of sky. He thought about how lonely it had been in that village by the sea. He thought, but he no longer wept.
The Raven fluttered his wings impatiently and crowed at the boy, "Have you decided what you are going to do?"
For the first time since the Raven had landed, and perhaps for the first time anyone could remember (had there been anyone to remember) the boy smiled, "Everything and everyone I've ever known is gone. What to do next is not a simple decision."
The Raven cawed derisively; "If it is not simple it is because you are making it difficult. You have a very simple choice, go or stay here."
"But there is nothing here anymore."
The Raven could not smile, but his eyes twinkled mischievously, "Then it is even simpler. Go."
The boy furrowed his brow in thought. He stared at the Raven and finally admitted, "I don't know where to go. I've never been anyplace but here and out to sea."
The Raven, who as I have said before, could not smile, made a chuckling sound and told the boy, "Well, it looks like it's time for you to start exploring."
The boy nodded at the Raven once more and said, "But where do I begin? I have only known the sea near the coast and this small village".
The Raven spread his wings and launched into flight, circled the boy three times and called down, "There's a road out of this village and away from the shore. Follow it".
The boy watched the Raven fly off into the sky until he was little more than a dark speck then returned to his small house with its stone chimney and prepared for a journey.
The boy packed a small knapsack with provisions; a cheese, some dried fruit, some salted fish and a loaf of bread. He looked around his small house one last time, smiled sadly at his tiny cot and his tidily kept hearth, then walked outside and closed the door for the last time. Without looking back, the boy walked away from where the village had been and began to follow the path that led away from the shore and into the unknown.
The road was a simple unpaved dirt road that led into a canyon cleft deep in the great, gray cliffs that overlooked the shore and the place where there had once been a village. Within an hour, the boy was deep in the shadow of the slate walls of the canyon, but he was unafraid. His heart beat quickly because of excitement and a new adventurous spirit, not because of the cool darkness of the canyon.
As it neared midday and the boy continued on his way, he noticed that the canyon appeared to widen, and the sunlight streamed down strong and bright. Not long after midday the boy with sad eyes cam across a clear water spring and decided to rest for a moment and eat a small bit of the provisions he had packed with him. The spring was a lovely spot, shaded over by willow trees and with wildflowers growing all around with all the colors of the sunset. The boy sat upon a knoll of grass near the spring and began to eat a piece of bread and cheese when he heard a voice behind him.
"Boy, I am hungry. Will you share your food with me?"
The boy looked for the source of the voice and saw an old woman whose face was all furrowed with wrinkles and hands browned with sun and care. The old woman had a cane made out of driftwood and was wearing rags that might have been blue at one time, but now with time and patches and dust was a mottled gray-brown. The boy smiled at the old woman and spoke, "Grandmother, please sit down beside me. You are welcome to any food that I have".
The boy opened his knapsack and spread out his food so that the old woman could see it. She hobbled over to him, spread her skirts and then sat beside him on the knoll. The old woman smiled a toothless smile and with one aged claw took a small piece of bread from the boy's loaf. Without tasting any, she turned her rheumy eyes on the boy and said, "You have a good heart, my lad. A good heart. Blessings on you."
The old woman stood with great difficulty and great dignity and hobbled away with the small piece of bread clutched in her hand. The boy with sad eyes watched her until she disappeared from view, then continued eating his small piece of cheese. He then lay down on the soft, sweet-smelling grass and fell into a sleep with untroubled dreams.
The moon was shining bright above the boy when he awoke. It was a warm, clear night and the boy decided that he should travel by moonlight. He yawned, stretched, grabbed his knapsack and continued on his way. The dirt road shimmered in the light of the moon and the crickets and nightingales sang their evening songs. The boy felt a song for which he had no words and no tune rise up in his throat as he walked through the canyon under the stars and was surprised by the sudden joy that he felt.
The boy walked on through the night without feeling the need to stop or rest, and by the time the orange fingers of light were transforming the eastern sky, the boy had left the canyon and stood before a vast forest. The dirt road narrowed here and led into the depths of the forest. The boy sat on a rock before the awesome gnarled greens and browns of the forest. He had never seen so many trees in one place and was intimidated by their towering heights. Remembering the words of the Raven, the boy stood and walked into the forest.
After a few minutes walk, the boy noticed that the heat of the day was gone, replaced with a soothing damp coolness and the light of the sun was filtered through the leaves of the tree and transformed everything into a greenish hue. Strange sounds emanated from the undergrowth that lined either side of the path and unusual fragrances of plants and shaded blossoms arose from the moist earth. The boy was comforted by the new beauty of this strange place and continued on his way with the nameless tune once more rising in his throat.
As the boy continued into the heart of the forest, he noticed that the light was getting scarcer, the trees taller and the dense underbrush closer to the edge of the path. The boy with sad eyes was not yet afraid, but worried about the darkness of the forest and traveling through it with limited light. He strode on through the forest without cease or rest for lunch until the light failed as the sun went down and he was unable to continue.
In the darkness of the night, the sounds in the forest that had been invigorating became frightful. Cries of birds, rustles of brush and distant howls sent a chill down the boy's spine as he couched in bend of the road and lay down to rest. Sleep came uneasily to the boy with sad eyes as each new sound brought fearful fantasies of monstrosities lurking in the depths of the wood.
The boy's day was wearying, and despite his apprehensions he fell into a deep sleep with troubling dreams. So deep was the boy's sleep that he did not notice the stealthy approach of something large in the night. The boy slept soundly and did not notice the hot breath on his neck or the almost silent pads of paws.
It was a growl that awoke him. The boy looked up, startled and stared into yellow eyes that glowed with their own ferocious inner fires. Through the gloom of the night the boy could make out a huge shaggy form standing over him and terror coursed through him. The growling was soon articulated into a gruff, feminine voice and the figure spoke, "You have done someone a kindness recently, and I shall not harm you. However, there are others in this wood who are not as enlightened as I. You must leave this wood."
The boy whimpered and stared at the creature whose long snout and sharp teeth were more readily evident with nearness, "I am just passing through. I do not know how big this forest is, I was resting because I could no longer see the path clearly".
The wolf (for the creature was a great She-Wolf) nodded her shaggy head and replied to the boy, "The one you have rendered a kindness unto is of great importance to we of the forest. But you are indeed a tender morsel, manchild. I shall not see you harmed, however. I will take you out of the forest"
The She-wolf then lowered herself to the ground and motioned with her great shaggy head for the boy to mount. The boy stared timidly at her and she made a sound that might have been a laugh or might have been a growl and said, "Mount me boy. We ride now."
The boy with sad eyes clambered gracelessly onto the back of the she-wolf (who was indeed a mighty specimen, nearly as large as pony) and clutched double handfuls of her coarse white fur. The wolf leapt up and began to run away from the path and through the underbrush. The boy clutched tightly as they sped through the forest at an astonishing pace. The scenery became a blur and the boy was occasionally whipped by low-hanging branches, but he held on and managed not to lose his mount.
On through the night they ran, the she-wolf saying little and the boy saying less. Sometimes they would run through a clearing, and the silver-white magnificence of the wolf's fur would gleam and glisten in the light of the moon, but mostly they ran through the darkness and denseness of trees and brush. At nearly dawn, the pair finally emerged from the forest near a path that led into the mountains. The wolf was exhausted and fell down in an ungainly heap.
The boy dismounted and rubbed his face into the wolf's fur near her ear and whispered, "thank you. Is there anything I can do for you? I have food, no meat, but cheese and bread and dried fruit and salted fish".
The wolf bared her teeth in an attempt to smile and said, "You have a good heart. I need nothing now but a little rest. Be careful on your journey".
The wolf arose and bounded back into the forest. The boy watched as her silver-white shape disappeared into the greens and browns of the forest, then sat down in the tall grass for a moment to think. After a moment's rest, the boy decided to continue on into the mountains.
The boy found a large branch from an oak tree and decided to use it as a walking stick to help his ascent up the mountains, which loomed impressively over him. He walked up the rocky path and after a short time had gained considerable height and was able to look over the forest. He was once more impressed by its size and the majesty of its trees and thankful that a kindly forest creature had seen him safely from its depths. Up the rocky path he traveled, steadily but stopping every now and then to wonder at the granite of the mountains and their heights.
At midday, the boy stopped by a mountain stream and rested and ate a small portion of his cheese and bread. After bathing in the cold, clear water of the stream, the boy continued on his way up into the breathtaking heights of mountain. The boy with sad eyes noticed that the air became more chill as he ascended and saw that the tops of the mountains that towered above him were covered with snow and wished he had brought along a cloak to shield him from the cold night air.
The shadows cast by the mountains lengthened as the sun began its descent in the west, and the boy's assent continued. He shivered against the cold but hurried on, hoping to clear as much distance as he could before nightfall. Finally darkness descended and the boy huddled between two rocks and attempted to make a fire to stave off the worst of the chill air.
The boy watched the magnificence of stars over head, curled close to the fire and fell asleep. He once more dreamt of becoming sky. In the morning, he arose and noticed that snow had fallen softly during the night. The boy shivered and stared wide-eyed at the white powder that had covered the ground. His fire had long gone out, and the boy quickly gathered up his belongings and continued on his way.
The path became steeper and the air colder, and the boy was soon glad of his walking stick. His shivering and the rough terrain made it increasingly difficult to keep a steady pace. The boy continued on through the day, sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling.
As the day went on, the sky began to darken prematurely, and the boy tried to hasten his assent, fearing that a storm was coming. The gray color of the clouds and the fierce winds augured ill. Before the boy had gone any great distance, it began to snow. This snow was not the gentle blanket of the night before, it was buffeted by the wind and nearly blinding in its intensity. The boy with sad eyes trudged on through the snow and the wind, but the cold cut through his light breeches and cambric shirt. The boy stumbled, and fell down in the snow exhausted. And dreamless blackness came to the boy as weariness took over his limbs.
When the boy with sad eyes awoke, he was not in the coldness of snow. He was someplace warm with something damp over his face. The boy tried to open his eyes, but found they were covered by a heated wet cloth. Startled, he sat up and removed the cloth from his eyes to find himself in a cheery wooden one-room cabin with a large stone fireplace burning. The boy was in a narrow bed and looked around the cabin to find a small table with two chairs, a large yellow tomcat preening himself in a corner and another boy sitting cross-legged by the fire, watching a pot hung above. The boy by the fire turned after hearing stirring from the bed and smiled. He had very kind eyes.
The boy with sad eyes spoke, hesitatingly, "Where am I?"
The boy with kind eyes smiled merrily and replied, "You are safe in my cabin. We found you out in the snow and took you here. I hope you don't mind."
The boy with sad eyes felt tears well up in gratitude at such kindness and gushed, "Mind? How could I ever thank you? You probably saved my life."
The boy with kind eyes chuckled and said, "Thank me by getting better. I've made soup, but it probably is not the best being that I am no cook. You may be cursing me instead of thanking me after you've done eating".
The boy with sad eyes tried to stand, but found his legs weak and unstable and fell to the floor with a shout of surprise.
The boy with kind eyes rushed over to aid him wrapped his arms around him to steady him. Their eyes met. They understood many things that were never spoken in that instance. Finally, haltingly, the boy with kind eyes spoke, "I insist you stay here until you get well, at the very least. Longer if you like".
And the boy with sad eyes did stay long after he got well. The two boys shared their mountain cabin and were of much joy to each other. The boy with sad eyes helped with the cooking (for the boy with kind eyes was indeed not much of a cook) and the boy with kind eyes taught the other the ways of the mountains. And spring came and brought with it flowers and beautiful birds who would daily sing to the delight of the two boys. They spent each waking and sleeping moment in quiet exultation and if they had quarrels, they were few and quickly resolved.
But one summer day, the happiness that had filled the boy with sad eyes' life was to vanish along with the boy with kind eyes. The boy with sad eyes had been out on the mountain paths picking herbs for dinner and trying to catch fish from a cold, fresh mountain stream when he returned to find the little cabin empty. This was unusual because the Boy with kind eyes had the habit of being home to greet the boy with sad eyes when he returned from errands.
The boy with sad eyes prepared for dinner, (a fish stew) and awaited the return of his companion. He waited until after dark, but the boy with kind eyes did not come. He waited all through the night, wandering out into the meadow that the cabin was in and looking in all directions, but still he did not come. At last the boy with sad eyes returned to the cabin and began to weep.
As he wept bitter, lonely tears the yellow tomcat sidled near and began to speak, "He was a prince, you know."
The boy rubbed his reddened and teary eyes and looked up, "A prince?"
The cat licked his chops and his yellow eyes narrowed, "Yes, a prince. The only son of a powerful far-off king. He lived here because he did not get along well with his father. But perhaps he has changed his mind and returned to his land and all his riches."
The boy glared defiantly at the cat and said, "He would not leave forever without saying goodbye to me."
The cat seemed to smile in the gloom and said, "The ways of princes are different from ordinary creatures such as you and I. You are a poor boy, and perhaps he grew tired of you and this meager mountain life."
The boy yelled, "I do not believe you!" and ran from the cabin. The boy ran into the night, blinded by tears. On he ran without a direction or pause until he fell down exhausted into a soft pile of pine needles. He wept uncontrollably until he heard a familiar voice caw down at him. The boy looked up to see the raven perched in the branch of a tree.
"You are always crying, aren't you?"
"Oh, Raven.. I have found the most wonderful person, but now he is gone and I do not know what to do," sobbed the boy.
The raven's eyes twinkled, "Crying will not bring him back, will it?"
"N-no. But I don't know where he's gone?!"
"Well, you can look for him, or you can forget about him. But weeping does you no good, now," said the raven gently.
"Raven, you are right again. I must look for him, then. But where do I begin?"
The raven turned his black eyes on the boy and clicked his beak in thought before answering in a dream-like tone, "They say that there is a lake on whose floor a magic mirror rests. They also say that on nights of the full moon one can dive to the bottom and ask a question and the mirror shall answer truthfully."
Hope rose up in the boy's breast as he asked, almost fearfully, "Oh most noble of birds, where can I find this lake?"
The raven was a very vain creature and took well to this flattery. He puffed out his plumage and said in a slightly pompous voice, "It is to the east. Out of the mountains. Only a short flight for me, but for you at least three days walk. The next full moon is four days hence, so if you do not wish to wait a month, you must hurry."
"Oh brave raven, thank you for your aid. But I am lost in these mountains, can you point me to a path to the lake?"
The raven cawed in mock-annoyance and said, "You foolish humans can do nothing. Follow me, and quickly and I shall lead you to the path."
The raven spread his wings against the starry night sky and flew into the air. The boy ran as fast as his feet would carry him through the pine trees and over rocks. If he stumbled or barked his shins, he barely noticed, so eager was he not to lose sight of the dark bird against the moonlit sky.
The boy ran on through the darkness until at last the bird began to circle in a clearing. The moonlight shone down on a narrow path that led down out of the mountains and the raven called down, "Follow that path, boy! And quick, don't tarry and you'll reach the lake in time."
The raven circled again and the soared out of sight. The boy took a brief moment to catch his breath, then ran down the mountain path under the starry sky. The boy ran through the night without stopping, though he was weary. Before morning he was in the foothills of the mountains before a great pine forest.
The boy ran on for the next three days and nights, barely stopping to rest. He kept to the path and rested only when he could go no more, then rose as soon as he recovered partially to continue. On the third night, he caught sight of a magnificent lake through the towering pines on the path he was travelling. The raven was as good as his word, and the boy ran through the trees and did not stop until he fell at its shore, exhausted and overjoyed. Then, for the first time since leaving the cabin, he fell asleep deeply and soundly and dreamt of becoming sky.
The boy awoke late in the afternoon on the next day, and fished for his supper from the shore of the lake, which was uncommonly beautiful. The lake was an oval shape, and when the wind did not stir its surface, it reflected back its surroundings like the mirrors of the wealthy. The boy stared at his own face undistorted by ripples and daydreamed of a time when he would once more be together with the boy with kind eyes in their little cabin.
The boy watched the sun set over the mountains he had ventured down from. Then, with breathless anticipation, he watched the full moon rise high over the forest and over the lake. The boy waited until the moon colored the waters of the lake silver-white and then climbed a rock that overlooked the shore, removed his shoes, took a deep breath and plunged down beneath the surface of the lake. The water was cold, much colder than he had imagined even after all of the times he had bathed in mountain springs or swam in the ocean on winter nights.
The boy did not hesitate, however, only dove down deeper into the gloom and murk that lay just beneath the placid surface of the water. After a few moments, the boy realized that the lake was much deeper than it had appeared from shore, and he had little hope of reaching its bottom. The realization that he might not find his answer wracked him, and he kicked out strong, trying to go yet deeper beneath the waters. The chill of the waters should have become less biting with his exertions but did not. The boy's lungs were pounding, he needed air desperately, but still he attempted to dive down.
Finally, when his lungs felt like they were burning and he was forced to use all of his strength to keep from gasping and gulping the murky lake water, the boy became sadly resigned and realized he had no hope of reaching the lake's bottom. He attempted to kick up towards the surface, but found that he could not. He panicked as he realized that some current was dragging him still downwards though he was in need of air. His struggling was of no use and finally as his lungs cried out for release, he opened his mouth and felt it fill with murky lake water that tasted of iron. After that there was blackness.
The boy awoke to the sound of vomiting. He was vomiting up the lake's water on a strange bed of sand. His vision was clouded and the first realization he had was that he had not drowned. He coughed up the last of the lake water and stood on unsteady legs. He saw the water of the lake just beyond him and above him, but he was breathing air. He turned and found that he was at the edge of a vast bubble of air on the floor of the lake, the sand he stood on was dry. Stranger still was what lay beyond him inside the bubble. There were what appeared to be fruit trees and a small castle that glowed as silver-white as the moon and provided illumination in the lake's darkness.
After a moment's thought, the boy decided to go towards the castle and see what manner of inhabitants lived therein. The boy found a neat path leading towards the castle. The path wound its way through the trees, which were indeed fruit trees, although laden with strange fruits that the boy had never set his eyes on before. The path led up to the doors of the small castle, which were open.
The boy walked in hesitantly and found himself in a beautiful hall, all pale blues and silver-white with tiled floors and embroidered scenes of the sea and sky. He began to look all around him in wonder. The boy became so fascinated with the ceiling, which was covered in a mosaic that resembled the night sky, that he did not notice the soft approach of the inhabitant of the castle.
He heard a soft, merry laugh that reminded him of the sound of bells and saw an extraordinary beautiful woman. Her hair was the same silver-white as the walls of the castle and indeed possessed some of the same ethereal luminescence, but it was also indescribably soft and floated around her lovely heart-shaped face. Her skin was the palest of blues, supple and smooth. But the most bewitching thing about her were her eyes, which appeared at first darkest and most deep of blacks, then the brightest and most radiant of whites. They shone like stars and captured the gaze of the boy almost immediately.
Finally, he remembered his boy and spoke in a halting voice as the beautiful woman drew near, "I am sorry to intrude. I have come beneath the waters of this lake seeking an answer and must humbly beg your assistance."
The boy bowed and the woman drew so near that he could smell her, not perfume but a strange and intoxicating fragrance that reminded him of clean fur or the first blossom of spring. She lifted his head with one of her long-fingered hands and stared into his eyes, "I can help you."
The boy began to stammer as he said, "I c-came to ask you about -"
He was interrupted by the woman's kiss. But this was no ordinary kiss, nor was this any ordinary woman. She was a powerful sorceress and her kiss drained the memory of his life before he had dived below the surface of the lake. He stared blankly at her and she smiled and whispered, "You have come to be my companion and ease my loneliness"
The boy, having no memory of his life before slowly nodded, and followed the woman as she disappeared into another corridor.
Time under the lake was different; there was no sun nor moon to mark its passage. The boy spent countless hours listening to the woman play upon her harp, or teach him about the fruits in the gardens. The woman was very kind to him and sometimes spoke to him about her life. She was the only daughter of the moon, imprisoned under the lake by a sorceress more powerful than she. Her life had been lonely until the boy arrived barefoot on the sand. He enjoyed spending time with her; her harp playing was very beautiful and she was very kind, but always in his heart was the feeling that something was missing or lost.
One day they were eating their meals together on one of the terraces of the castle when the boy, whose eyes were always sad, began to look uncommonly melancholy. The Daughter of the Moon called over to him and said, "What is wrong, tender one?"
He answered, "I do not know. I only know there is a great sadness in my heart."
She laughed and called to him, "Come, I will heal your heart up".
The boy shook his head and replied, "No, I must heal my own heart up."
With those words, the daughter of the moon's spell on his memory was broken and his heart remembered what his mind could not. The sadness was the love he had ever felt for one who was gone and he shouted happily, "I dove beneath the surface of this lake to use the mirror so that I could find -"
He did not finish his sentence because the daughter of the moon began to weep. Kindness moved in his heart and he asked her what troubled her. She replied, "The mirror you seek is here. I have betrayed you because of my loneliness and made you forget. But love is a more powerful magic than even I possess and I cannot keep you here."
The boy saw the pain on the Daughter of the Moon’s face and could not find it in his heart to be angry with her. He sighed long and deep and asked her, "Where can I find this mirror?"
She replied, "Follow me."
Into the heart of the castle the two went, entering into corridors and halls that seemed long unused, the only sound was the soft padding of feet. Finally they reached a tall door in the middle of a curving wall, the Daughter of the Moon removed a key from her voluminous dress, then turned and opened the door. Inside there was a staircase that spiraled up out of sight. She sighed and told the boy, "Up this staircase lies the mirror you seek. You must go first, I shall follow behind. Ask it your question."
The boy climbed up the stairs hesitantly, unlike the rest of the castle, the passageway up was poorly lit and the stairs were steep. At last he came to a small room that was empty except for an oval shape covered by a red cloth. Behind him he heard the voice of the daughter of the moon, "Remove the cloth and ask your question."
The boy gingerly pulled the red velvet cloth off and saw what appeared to be an old, battered mirror with a wooden frame that had once been gilt. A crack ran through its uneven and chipped face. The boy stared at his reflection which was distorted and asked in halting breath, "Mirror, one I love is now gone. Can you tell me where he can found?"
At first there was nothing but his own reflection, but gradually the boy heard a humming sound and the face of the mirror went black. The humming became words, a chorus of mirthless voices answered, "Thy love lies sleeping but half-dead, couched on stone beyond the sea blood-red. Deep in the land of shadows. Cursed by the Queen of Shadows."
The voices faded and the mirror looked once more unremarkable but the boy still stood in awe. The daughter of the moon began to speak, "The Queen of Shadows is a powerful Enchantress, and I fear that if you have any hope of saving your love, you must leave tonight. You have been kind to me and I shall give you three gifts, but anon follow me.
The Daughter of the Moon walked swiftly down the staircase and the boy nearly had to run to keep her pace. She walked without stopping through myriad passages and corridors of the castle until at last they both came to a small terrace that opened out before the garden. At last the daughter of the moon stopped and spoke to the boy, "You shall need help to defeat the Queen of Shadows. You have been kind to me though I have done you wrong, so I shall give you three gifts," at this she removed from her cloak three small jeweled eggs, "Use the first when you reach the shore of this lake. Use the second against the enchantments of the Queen of the Shadows. But save the last, you will know when to use it."
The boy turned to thank the Daughter of the Moon for her kindness, but she merely shook her head and said, "there is not time for good-byes, you must leave at once"
She strode over to him and kissed him briefly on the cheek. The magic in her kiss caused the boy to rise in the air on the terrace and back into the dark, murky waters of the lake. The cold of the water once more shocked him, but he swam upwards, buoyed in part by her magic. At last he broke the surface and gasped for air under a starry, moonless night. The boy swam for shore.
Upon reaching the shore, the boy did not rest but stood and cracked open the first of the three eggs. There was a brief glimmer of light and a sound like bells, but at first nothing else. Suddenly, the boy heard the beating of wings and the light of the stars was blotted out as a huge form descended upon him.
The boy beheld in awe and no little amount of terror a giant eagle with wings that seemed to go on forever in the night. The eagle spied the small figure cowering before him and cried down, "By the magic of the daughter of the moon I have been summoned. Where would you have me take you?"
The boy realized that this was the first enchantment and cried aloud, "To the land of shadows near the blood red sea!"
The eagle extended a talon down to the boy and he clutched on. Within moments the boy looked down to see the earth and the trees far below him. He cried out in terror and delight as he experienced the rush of flying. The world below them was nearly a blur as they flew on through the night out over the forest, over a verdant plain with many rivers and finally over a vast desert.
Near morning the boy caught sight of a vast inland sea which glittered blackly in the night. At the shore of this sea was a castle whose spires seemed to pierce the sky. The eagle began to circle and descend before landing gently on a sand dune. He spoke gently to the boy, "This is as near to the Queen of Shadows as I am able to take you. Her powers are great and I can go no closer. On foot you should arrive before her palace by midday. I am sorry I can not do more."
The boy reached up to stroke the eagle’s great silver plumage and replied, "Oh friend, you have done much for me this night. I thank you for your aid and kindness."
The eagle soared into the air and called down to the boy, "You have a good heart, and that shall aid you mightily," before disappearing into the early morning sky. The boy walked in the direction of the forbidding castle and did not tarry.
When the sun rose, the boy discovered that he the landscape was barren and cruel. There were few trees and they were twisted and deformed into shapes stunted and bizarre. The sand beneath his bare feet was nearly white and began to burn in the heat of the sun, and irregularly pebbles would stick through the earth and jab at his soles. The boy thirsted but dared not stop, there were no springs and he had no provisions. At last the dark palace loomed above him and he saw a small company of troops in black armor parading before it.
The captain of the company caught sight of the boy and cried, "Who dares disturb the serenity of the Queen of Shadows? Answer or die?"
The boy thought of opening his second egg and using its magic, but realized that this was no enchantment, although fearful. Thinking quickly he remembered what the Daughter of the Moon had once told him about sorceress and their abilities to deceive. In his most impressive voice he replied, "Who are you who dares speak to me in such a tone? Do you not know who I am?"
The captain furrowed his brow at this sunburned boy with unruly hair who was walking barefoot but stood proud and tall. He knew that his Mistress was devious and cruel and brooked no insolence from anyone and that the guard were the least of her defenses. He swallowed, bowed and replied, "Oh forgive me. I was foolish and did not recognize you. I humbly beg for your indulgence."
Inwardly, the boy smiled, but outwardly he scowled and snarled at the guard, "You are a fool. Consider this a warning, this time I shall let you live. Should you make the same mistake twice, you will die in the most terrible fashion I can devise."
The guard blanched and the boy walked past the guards with his head held high and his lower lip clenched between his teeth in a valiant attempt to avoid laughter. The boy walked into the massive double doors of the dark castle and into a dark hallway.
As he walked, gradually through the gloom he could discern a massive figure. It had the head and breasts of a woman, wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. In childhood tales the boy had heard of a sphinx, but never before had he thought to see one. The sphinx smiled down at the boy and said, "Can you answer my riddle? If you can, you may pass. If you cannot you will die."
The boy thought again of using the second egg, but realized that a riddle was not quite an enchantment. The boy cleared his throat and said, "Ask."
A smile spread across the face of the beast as she spoke, "Twelve pear hanging high, twelve pear hanging low. Twelve king riding by. Each, he took a pear. How many pear left hanging there?"
The boy furrowed his brow in thought and turned the question over in his mind listening to the words and nuances of the question. He knew there were 24 pears, but the obvious answer could not be the correct one. Finally, inspiration dawned and he began to smile.
The sphinx licked her chops impatiently and said, "Boy, do you have an answer?"
He smiled and said, "Yes. There are twenty-three pears left on the tree."
The hungry look on the sphinx’s face faded as her eyes widened in surprise, and she said, "That is the correct answer. I will allow you to pass, but you must tell me how you discovered it?"
The boy smiled, "There were twenty-four pears hanging. Although twelve kings did ride by, they are not important to the riddle. The man named Each is, he took a pear. That left twenty-three."
The sphinx nodded her massive, shaggy head and allowed the boy to pass. He went down the same corridor in an eerie gloom. The flickering of torches cast unusual shadows and the boy could hear stealthy, unpleasant sounds in the darkness. At last he came to two great doors which were pushed open and led into an enormous hall.
In the center of this hall was an exquisitely beautiful woman with fiery red hair and the palest skin. Her lips were as red as blood and her black gown clung to her like a second skin and was low cut to reveal a full, ample bosom. She smiled without humor at the boy and spoke in a low, throaty voice, "You have gotten this far and I am impressed. However, your adventure ends here. Learn why I am called the Shadow Queen!"
At these words the shadows in the room seemed to lengthen and billow like smoke, as quickly as the flickering of a torch they were on the boy smothering him in cold and darkness. He tried to scream, but all was lost in a soundless, lightless void as he was ensheathed in shadow. There was no air, no light, no sound nothing but an awful cold as the boy was wrapped in living darkness. At last he remembered the second egg, reached inside his pocket and cracked it. The world began to change as a brilliant, silver-white light suddenly suffused him and drove away the shadows. The room was stripped of its menace as the glow released from the egg drove back all of the Queen’s fearful tenebrous servants.
There was a moment of silence, then the Queen narrowed her eyes hatefully at the boy and spoke, "Very well. I too am bound by the oldest of laws and as you have defeated me three times, I must answer three of your questions and never seek to harm you again."
The boy smiled at the glowering and angry Queen and asked simply, "Where is he?"
The Queen’s glittering green eyes seemed to spark angrily at this and she spat, "He lies in an enchanted sleep on an island in the Blood Red Sea. There he will lie asleep until he is awakened by someone who loves him enough to risk all."
The boy nodded and asked, "Why have you taken him?"
The Queen’s red lips narrowed and his face contorted with fury for a moment, then she composed herself and answered, "It is written than the 13th child born of his house shall do a kindness that will be my undoing. I have sought to keep him from doing this kindness by placing him in an enchanted sleep".
The boy nodded his head sadly and asked, "How can I save him?"
The Queen at last smiled coldly and triumphantly and purred, "You cannot. Nothing alive or once living can touch the deadly waters of the blood red sea, and my most potent spells prevent any from flying to the island. While I may not harm you I am not required to aid you in any way beyond answering these three questions. Which I have done."
The boy began to cry after coming this far to be denied to so close to his goal and did not heed the mocking laughter of the Shadow Queen. He walked out of the corridor and out of the palace of Shadows until he stood blinking in the sun. Then he ran quickly to the shores of the blood-red sea, which in the light of day was indeed the very color of freshly spilled blood. It was a magnificent but horrific sight.
The boy stood as near as he dared and then looked around for a piece of wood. At last he found a twisted branch and gently lobbed it into the scarlet waters. To his horror, the wood of the branch began to blacken almost instantly, then dissolved in a cloud of foul smelling smoke. The boy sat near the shores and began to cry until he remembered the third egg. The boy offered a quick prayer to the gods and cracked it open. There was once more the silver light, this time nearly blinding in its intensity. When the boy’s vision cleared, he saw a small silvery boat lying in the sand. Thanking the daughter of the moon silently, the boy stepped into the vessel, and swiftly found himself afloat on the blood red sea.
The boat was slow, but needed no rowing or sails. It drifted along with a purpose atop the sea and the boy cautiously looked out into the poisonous and deadly waters below. Gradually a small, rocky island began evident. It was shrouded by mists and loomed an unfriendly gray out of the vermilion waters. With a gentle bump, the boat hit the shore of the rocky island, and the boy climbed out.
The boy carefully climbed up the rocks, taking elaborate caution to keep from slipping down. At last he came to a plateau that was atop the island, stood and gazed. There was a ring of bright-red fire here and the boy walked as close as he dared before the heat drove him backwards. Beyond the ring of fire he could discern a familiar shape. The boy with kind eyes lay on a rock slab as if asleep. The boy hesitated only a moment before deciding that he would not be denied and ran towards the ring of fire as fast as he could, closing his eyes and cringing as he anticipated the horrible burning of the white-hot flames. He stumbled, fell and opened his eyes. He looked down at his flesh and was amazed; he had passed through the circle of flames without getting burned and now knelt near the stone slab where the boy with kind eyes lay.
The boy stood, ignored the pain in his knees (both were bleeding from the fall), and leaned over the boy with kind eyes. Remembering the stories he was told as a child, he kissed lips that were cold and unyielding. He held the boy’s limp form close to his chest, but there seemed to be no sign of life. At last he turned, fell to the ground and wailed and howled at the unmerciful gods and began to weep bitter tears.
One of these tears fell onto the forehead of his beloved, he began to stir and wake unnoticed. His eyes opened and he saw the boy with sad eyes prostrate with grief. Concerned, he asked, "Why are you crying?"
Immediately the crying ceased and the boy with sad eyes turned to embrace the boy with kind eyes. In that moment, the ring of fire died away and the slab of stone where the boy with kind eyes had lay as if dead cracked in two.
What happened afterwards? The kind eagle who could not fly above the land of shadows flew above them and was met with a joyful shout. He carried the two from the rocky island away from the blood-red sea. The castle of shadows was no more; there was only a pile of rubble where it once had stood proud against the sky. The Queen of Shadows’ magic was overthrown in the instance where her darkest spell was unraveled, and indeed it was a kindness done that was her undoing. They flew over the lake of the mirror and met the daughter of the moon who was at last free from her watery prison. The Queen of Shadows was the very same sorceress who had imprisoned her and now that her spells were broken, the Daughter of the Moon too was free. Finally the eagle set them down in the meadow where they had lived in their small wooden cabin. All was as they had left it, even the yellow tomcat was waiting near the hearth when they returned. They spent the rest of their days together, wandering and having strange adventures. And while perhaps they did not live happily ever after, for they sometimes quarreled and got each other angry, they had love and were happy more often than not and that is the best we can ask for in real life. And the boy who had begun his journeys in a small village by the ocean no longer had sad eyes nor did he again dream of becoming sky.