Once upon a time, actually December 23rd, in response to Charli Mills‘ December 21st prompt to write about white flowers in 99 words, I added a few hundred words and wrote the following fairytale in three parts. Here it is in its almost entirety. (The happily ever after part is still unfolding, and may be should be told by another.)
The Quill’s Magic, D. Avery
Once upon a time there was a king who had everything necessary and much that was imaginable and who always wanted more. He had a great many servants, among them a girl who tended to the horses in the royal stable.
One day she was surprised to find that the king’s men had captured a large bird, which was kept in a locked stall in the stable. It fell to her to look after this strange creature.
She observed that every day it pulled its own feathers to make a writing quill, and every day drew its own blood to use as ink, that every day it might write its own story.
“Oh, Bird, doesn’t that hurt?”
“Yes, it hurts.”
“Because”, the bird squawked, “At this time, in this place, I have no song.”
And the girl could not get the bird to eat or drink and could not get it to stop pulling its own feathers and drawing its own blood. She could not get it to stop writing. And she could not bear the pain of its silence. She stole the king’s key and unlocked the stall door. “Go”, she urged it, “While you still have feathers enough to escape.” The bird thanked her and took flight and as it did, its written words took feathered form, and took flight, and became a great wheeling flock of birds, each one a purposeful song that filled the sky and filled the girl’s heart with joy.
The great bird circled back and landed in front of the girl. Already, with its words singing in the treetops it looked replenished, its feathers grown back in. “You did a brave thing, for the king will be very angry with you. How can I repay you? Name it.”
“Oh no”, said the girl. “You have brought birdsong back to the kingdom. That is all I need.”
“Take this.” The bird pulled a white feather and handed it to the girl. “With this quill your words will sing and your spirit will soar. And yes”, the bird said as it flew away, “There will be pain.” The girl held the quill like a white flower; she held it like a sword; she held it as the key to her own escape.
The king was angry, very angry with the sorrel-maned girl who had freed the great bird. The king was quite unused to being defied, of having anything taken from him, even things he had no right to.
“Throw her into the bird’s stall”, he commanded. “Melt the key in the forge.”
The thin morning light that slanted through the barred window illuminated her tear as it dropped. Remembering the bird, the brave and stoic bird, she reached for the white quill pinned in her hair. Her tears would be her ink. No sooner had she dipped the nib into her own teardrop than she was transformed. As a small white bird she was able to flit through the window of the stall door. Unsteady with her wings, she perched on a shelf in the stable, uncertain of what to do next.
“The spell will wear off soon. Fly down from the shelf.”
She fluttered to the straw strewn floor and sure enough, as soon as she did, she was herself again, a girl holding a white feather, facing a sorrel horse that spoke to her over the half door of his stall. “Good timing”, he said.
“But shouldn’t the magic of the quill last forever?”
“The magic does last forever”, replied the horse, “but do you really want to be a bird forever? You’re too young yet. You don’t get out so easily. But I can help you with the next part of your journey.”
As the kingdom was just beginning to rouse and attend each to their roles, the horse carried the girl rapidly away, she clinging to his mane, her own sorrel hair winging behind her. Finally the horse stopped in a wooded glade and they rested. Only now did the girl ask how it was that a horse could speak.
“Every creature speaks.”
“You know what I mean. I know horses, and I have never known one to speak in human language.”
“I need to tell you that I can carry you no farther.”
“I can’t thank you enough for carrying me this far, Horse. If only I could repay your kindness in helping me get away from the king.”
“Tell me, Girl, if you could, would you carry me?”
“Why of course I would, Horse.” And she meant it. And then before her startled eyes the horse was a man.
“I was under a spell”, he explained.
“Oh, no, you’re not a prince, are you?”, she asked, for he was handsome and strong, and stranger things had happened already.
“Ha! No not I. I was a soldier once, in service to the king. When I became injured he no longer found me useful. I was loyal, and thought that he would think kindly of those who had battled for him. I suggested that he, who has so much, instruct his royal physicians and magicians to take care of the soldiers, even those who no longer rode to battle. He had his magician turn me into a horse to silence me. Until you came with the white feather I was unable to speak.”
“I am glad you are not a prince. The king may not have use for a brave soldier, but I do.” Together they continued they knew not where, she clutching the white feather, he clutching her hand.
For seven days, or maybe it was seven years, or even seven lifetimes, the girl and her young former soldier journeyed. At first they started down a well-worn path through sun-dappled woods. Then a gust of wind blew the white feather from the girl’s hand and it drifted away from the path and into the darker woods. Without hesitation they followed to retrieve the feather though they went far and farther off the path, deep and deeper into the woods. They found the feather and found themselves they knew not where, knew only that they journeyed.
Always as they journeyed the girl held the white feather close. Always at night, by firelight or moonlight or even starlight, the girl wrote their story with the quill. There was no shortage of ink, for always was some blood from their trials, always a tear could be wrought from their travails. They were wind whipped and sandblasted across barren plains. They climbed jagged mountains of sharp cold stone that tore at their feet and hands as they crawled its craggy paths. They traversed a swamp that sucked at their feet and pulled at them, threatening to mire them forever. Then one day they found themselves in a wood so thick with thorned brush and branches they feared they could not go on.
“I wish I had my trusty sword”, the soldier lamented. And as soon as he had wished it, the sword was in his hands. He smiled broadly. Now he knew what to do, now he would get them out of this entanglement. Boldly he slashed and fiercely he sliced at the branches but every time he cut one away it grew back three-fold, the branches becoming ever thicker. Finally the girl cried for him to stop.
“Let me try”, she said, and held forth the white feather quill. She held it up and laid it against a branch and the branch was swept away. Again and again, one branch at a time she wielded her feather quill until finally they emerged into a clearing at the foot of a steep hill. They crawled into a cave that was there and fell in a heap of exhaustion. Clutching the feather, clutching each other, they slept. They slept without stirring for three days, or three years, or maybe even three lifetimes, until finally dawns’ light and birds’ song drew them out.
Blinking in the light the soldier exclaimed when he looked upon the girl. “Why, you have transformed again!”
“What?”, laughed the girl, “Am I a bird again?”
“No, you’re a wise old woman. I mean you are a beautiful young woman. I mean… you’re…”
“She is all of these. She has always been this and more.”
“The bird!” Both the girl and the young man turned and there was the great bird that she had freed.
“So surprised? Wasn’t it I that you sought?”, said the bird. “I see that you still hold the feather. I see that it is stained and worn; well used.”
The girl looked at the feather that she yet held in her hand, even after their long time in the cave. Gently the great bird took it from her and tossed it into the air. Then all her words that she had written with the quill gathered and began to flutter and flit like damselflies, then gathered and grew into feathers and finally swirled into a flock of colorful birds that darted into the trees singing and chirping.
“These magical birds will take you wherever you wish to go. They will lift you up and you will soar with them.”
“So now we live happily ever after?”
The great bird laughed. “It’s never that easy”, it said. “The magic of the quill will last forever, but magic is not a miracle, though miracles do happen too.”
Just then a flock of ducks flew overhead, and the girl and the young man thought they might as well go in the direction the ducks pointed. And they did.