Archive for January, 2011

The Bullfinch and the General

Author: Fred Grenvile

© 2010

Another quick fairy tale for the characters in Redmantle to tell. Feedback is appreciated.

Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion

Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion

There was to be a war between the Kingdom of Albs and the Ogres of the Winilli Empire. The Ogres were ruled by a great and mighty wizard named Hunding, and he had gathered the goodly fae of Englemark, ogres of Thanreach and men of Alemann and joined them with the gnomes of Finnland to make a mighty empire. But Hunding was not satisfied and sought to join the Albar of Albion and the Elsar of Kumria and Gealland to his great Empire, and thus the lots were cast and Hunding sailed against the white walls of Kumberland to conquer.

Now King Aellir of Kumberland was a most puissant warrior and, although a son of man, he was persuasive uniting the Albar and Elsar fae with the men of Kumberland and the Fichtas of Caledon. Faced with so great an army of mortal foes, the giants were pushed back into the sea, though they continued to raid and torment the poor folk of the isle of Albion. The piracy took a great toll and soon there were no merchants to carry goods from Far Lugada, nor spices from the mythical east. The people were worn and bedraggled and the army of Albion began to shrink.

But just as the war demanded a heavy cost of the poor Albinos, the giants paid a heavy tariff as well. Ships were lost to storm and fire. Some were sunk by great stones thrown by massive engines of war. And to make a hard situation yet more fell, men at sea cannot gather nor mill, neither can they sow. The faithful ogre wives and children planted and harvested, milled and stored as best they could, but a farm suffers without the hand of the farmer. Crops rotted in the field, grain soured in the barn and sickness claimed many ogre babes in their cribs. The giant was an ogre of the fiercest cast, yet his heart went out to the families left fatherless and hungry. He was wont to release those with brothers or fathers lost in battle or at sea, and send them home to care for their families and those of their brothers and fathers.

Twixt hardship and loss, in time, the armies of man and ogre were used up entirely and with none left to fight for them, the two great rulers faced one-another in single combat. Though they traded powerful blows that shook the earth and caused the stones to tremble, neither could gain victory over the other. The giant was amazed for no sooner had he wounded the king, than the wound would dry up and the scabs flake away revealing new flesh as clear as if the man were never wounded. This was a truly strange thing, but the king had a secret, for in his dealings with the Alsar, he had been given a magical talisman embrued with the darkest and most arcane powers known to fae or man.

Aellir was the child of an Allemann walkyr and an Elsar maid from Englemark. And he had carved a home for the men of Kumberland from the wild Andred Forest. He was a mighty warrior and acquitted himself handily with the seax and the spear. Yet every wound he delivered to the great ogre, sealed itself as soon as it was made for the giants and gnomes are creatures of the earth and it sustains them.

Yet such mighty wounds cannot be dismissed so easily, and where the giant was healed the earth was sickened, and for every death blow that threatened to whelm the man-king the sea was poisoned to restore him. The mighty fury that moved these princes was a force to be reckoned with, yet even anger and rage must eventually run their course and be drained. In time the mighty foes began to take note of the horror their feud had wrought and they were ashamed, though neither could gain the advantage to kill his opponent and be done with the destruction. With each blow it became apparent that their war would poison the land and sea till neither had a kingdom left to rule.

Aellir spoke first, as he thrust up under the breastplate of his opponent and pierced the ogre’s beating heart. “Hunding you are named, and a dog you are to kill the earth to sate your greed.”

“And you Halfling are a shame on the head of your dread mother, enslaving your brother Elsar and leading men to conquer,” the giant Hunding. growled as he clove through Aellir’s shoulder.

“It seems we shall never agree,” Aellir said. “Yet for the peace of our people and the health of the land, we must cease this war.”

With that, he thrust his spear till the tip brushed the nose of the giant, yet he did not push the attack instead parrying the giant’s great axe. “Desist I say,” Aellir said. “We must parley and find a peace for the sake of those we cherish, if not our own.”

“Aye,” answered Hunding, “put up thy sword and spear and we shall forge a peace, together.”

With that they called for a tent and sat down to bargain, and if ever a negotiation could be called a battle, such was the exchange between those princes. Day and night they brangled and cursed, taunted and cajoled, plead and wept till the servants who fed them began to collapse from exhaustion. Yet, new servants were summoned, and on they went till a year had passed, and with first flower of spring their compact was at last forged.

The bargain was elegant in it’s simplicity. Neither prince would give ground nor cease to pursue his own ends within the lands of their own domain. Hunding would seize what he could wrest from Lugada, and Aellir would take what he could grasp of the isles. Yet, the sea would be sacred, a no-man’s land free from war and bound only by the Law of the Sea and the rule of the great captains. But, to seal their bargain and prevent further conflict, there would be a price. Each man loved his own child better than himself. Aellir had three daughters named Redbury, Elspeth, and Adyith. They were each very different having certain qualities unique and precious among women. Hunding had not been blessed with so many and had only his dear ogre bairn, Goeener. Aellir, who had plenty, would give up his least daughter to marry Hunding’s only son, and their lands would thus be joined by the blood of matrimony and the joy of grandchildren.

Now, while the twain had fought, the fae of Albion and Russia had been left to their own devices. War between the two had depleted the walkyr and ogres till there were scarce enough to hold the land they had, and the fae had been left to grow strong in arms and numbers. The gnomes had been driven from the earth and huddled in the highest mountains till the sickness caused by the dueling princes was past. But the green forest of the fae, protected from the sickened earth and the battle, had given them hope of pushing mankind back into the scrub where he’d been born.

Being a halfling, half Elsar and half man, Aellir believed that the Elsar he conquered served him faithfully and cheerfully. But such was not the case. For, unbeknownst to the king, his closest adviser was a wicked fae, a spy for the queen of Els, Mav herself. She who would would feign see war continue, for, while the war continued, fae were hunted by neither man nor giant. To this end, she had secretly made a pact with Brahm Oberon, King of the Albar to drive the walkyr of Kumberland back into the sea.

When Aellir returned to his palace to prepare for the betrothal, his adviser came to him and convinced him not to give his least daughter, who was a most fair and thoughtful young woman, but instead to send his oldest daughter who had been widowed during the war and who had born a son fit to be heir to the throne of Kumberland. Thus would Hunding be cheated, for while they had agreed upon his least daughter, the written compact was vague and could be fulfilled thus.

So when Hunding sent his seneschal to collect the maiden bride, King Aellir sent his Eldest, Redbury, a plain woman of considerable grace and devoted to her father. The seneshal stayed that night and dined as a guest of the court, but only the eldest daughter was present at the high table and in the morning he left, taking the young widow with him, believing her to be Adyith. As they left, king Aellir stood on the battlements and waved to his daughter, but standing beside him was the Elsar counselor grinning wickedly at the deception.

Now giants, as you well know, have the keenest of vision for things far distant, though they may be fooled by that which is under their noses. So as the carriage moved off, the seneshal looked sharply at the fae standing with the King and recognized him for the trickster Pukt of Mav’s own court! This same fae had accosted him on the road, to warn him of treachery at the hand of King Aellir. Thinking that some mischief must be afoot, the seneshal began to coax the young widow to speak, and soon they were chatting quite comfortably about the wonders to be found in Thanreach.

Finally, he began to ask after the princess’ preferences. How would she like her rooms to be, what sort of maids would she require, questions such as these lulled the woman into a sense of safety and she was unprepared when the seneshal began in earnest. First he told her of the wondrous beasts that we herded and the many treats that could be found at table. Then he asked casually, who would you most like to present with a gift of thirty young oxen not yet broken to the plow. “Why to my father,” she exclaimed, “for he deserves a bride price fit for a king.”

Nodding, the seneshal continued. “And who should receive a tiara of the finest emeralds?” Now the widow was sly, and knew not to mention her sisters. So she thought a moment and replied, “Why, to my dear nurse who taught me my letters and read to me fine tales of Deacons in Shining Armor, and damosels in distress.”

“And who shall get the sugar plums my master serves each night?” he asked while her heart was full of fancy.

“Why, my own dear son should have his fill of them, my Lord. He is a sweet boy and sweets to the sweet!” she cried.

The seneshal was angered, but the poor widow was so distraught he sent her home saying, “Return to your son madame. The fault is thy father’s, but he shall soon regret having tricked my master.”

When the seneshal arrived home, he announced to the king and the court the result of his long journey. He was wroth to return empty handed and demanded that the Emperor once more prosecute war against Albion for the honor of giants and Emperor Hunding. Instead, Hunding merely smiled and sent again for the daughter of King Aellir. This time he sent his own brother to gather the girl and bring her to him. But, when the brother went to Albion, Aellir once again followed the advice of Pukt, his fae counselor, and sent instead his middle daughter, Elspeth, who was devious in mind and outspoken, though beautiful as any woman might wish and capable of grace and dignity, when it suited her purpose.

But Pukt appeared to the ogre princeling at an inn, where they stopped for the night, and told him that the king had once again treated falsely with the giants. The next day as the Hunding’s brother was bringing the girl to him he regaled her with the wonders she would see in Thanreach. When he had lulled Elspeth with sweet tales, he inquired of her, “In all the world there are no finer craftsmen than the gnomes and giants of my brother’s kingdom. If you found a fine swordsmith, and he offered you his finest blade for the mere sight of your beauty, what would you do?”

“Why, I should fly home and present the blade to my father as a gift!”

“And should you find a fine jeweler who offered you his finest ring, fit only for a maiden of chaste virtue, for nothing more than a lock of thy fair hair?”

“Why, I should fly home and present it to my older sister, for she is a lovely maiden and I shall soon be wed.”

“And should you discover a fine toymaker who offered you his finest doll should you but allow him the honor of a single dance?”

“Why, I should fly home to present it to my least sister, for she still plays with dolls and has tea with the fae who lives in the inglenook of her hearth.”

At this, Hunding’s brother realized he’d been tricked and sent her home to her mother, returning home himself to demand that his brother make war for the honor of giantkind, and of his kingdom.

Finally, Hunding sent his own son, Goeener who had only just become a man and must be accompanied by twenty armsmen and a nurse. He gave his son the charge to collect fair Adyith, and none other, before he returned. However, Hunding was advanced in years and though giants are long lived, his creaky bones betrayed him as he hunted a great daw, with wings as broad as the beam of a galleon, and he fell from a great height and died on the rocky shore below.

Word was sent by Eastmark fae, who rode the winds at the root of a giant osprey’s wings.

The message arrived just as Goeener mounted the steps to enter Aellir’s palace, while the least princess watched from the window of her tower suit. When Goeener heard of his father’s death, he took up his father’s sword that had been brought to him by the fae messenger, and in that moment was transformed from a handsome young princeling to a great ogre, every bit as huge and fearsome as his father.

Since Goeener stood on the very steps of the palace when he heard the news and was transformed, the King’s least daughter saw all this transpire, though she could not see the face of the prince. She was frightened to see the fearsome monster she would soon be wed to, and ran to her father and pleaded with him to release her from his vow, for she felt like a prize sow to be won by the yeoman who shot the keenest yard. Her father had run out of daughters, but he had yet another plan to rid them of their obligation. He was certain he could discourage the new emperor from ever troubling them again. So he told his daughter to bide in patience and wait his decision. But she was frightened and, though she loved her father, she mistrusted his counselors and she fled to her tower to weep.

While she was there, a beautiful fae princess appeared to Adyith and offered to help her escape. Doubting the fairy’s intentions, she asked what the fae would require in return for her aid. The fairy explained that she was the girl’s own fae godmother, and that she sought to protect the princess from the new emperor’s cruel dominion.

Finally relenting, princess Adyith followed the fairy’s instructions and stood upon the sill of her window. There she threw a magical red riding mantel, given to her by the fairy, about her shoulders and was immediately transformed into a beautiful Bullfinch. Her silver dress became the finch’s wings and tail, while her raven hair became the finch’s black hood. Everything she wore was transformed with her, save her silver slippers beaded with pearls, for a bird has no use for slippers.

She flew from the window and soon was lost in the shear joy of flight. She flew for hours till she grew hungry and cold and began to wonder what a bullfinch might eat. As she hunted and devoured several juicy flies, she found a beautiful young minstrel singing and playing his harp, beneath a spreading chestnut tree. The young man’s song captured her heart and she landed in the branches above his head to listen as he sang of great battles and lands long lost to the forest. He sang of lost love and dead heroes and finally his song turned to regret for the wrongs great men do.

His song was so touching and his voice so sweet that poor Adyith began to weep, but as she was a bird, her wails came forth as the song of the Bullfinch. The young man was in his own turn enraptured and sat quietly listening to the heart-breaking song of the princess for she too knew sorrow. In a single day, she had lost her father and her home as she fled marriage to young ogre. And, though it seemed hardly possible, she wished for the love of a fine and comely man like the minstrel.

The minstrel wished to keep such a beautiful song bird for his own, and he coaxed Adyith from her perch as she gladly flew to light on his shoulder. The minstrel took her with him to the nearby village and had made for her a beautiful golden cage. The cage was a wondrous construction with mirrors and perches of the finest silver, but it had no door. Instead, the entrance was open with a perch set before it like a porch, and the princess was free to fly about at her whim. This was strange and welcome, as Adyith had no wish to be trapped in a cage to live out her life as a songbird. Yet she didn’t wish to leave the beautiful young man and his sweet voice. She might have transformed and met him as herself, but she feared to reveal herself to minstrel lest the goodman be frightened by the magic of her transformation, or that her father or her fiancee might hear tales and come to take her away. . . .

Our story continues:

If you like this story and want to read more check out the eBook Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion on Smashwords.

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