Written By: Audrey Kimball
June 6, 2015
The King of Stone
I was once a great king. My kingdom was a magnificent one. It was rich and the ground was fertile. The people were happy and I was content. All this changed when the Witch Destruction appeared.
Her hair was the purest white and her skin shone like alabaster. Her ruby lips smiled and her body danced with a lithe grace as she moved. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever set eyes on, and I was under her spell the moment I heard her sweet voice whisper my name. I was blind to the venom that dripped from her words and the glimmer that hid itself behind her charcoal eyes.
I claimed her jealously, growling at any who dared look at her. My brain was dumb with thought of her, as she filled my every waking moment. She haunted my dreams, both day and night, and I couldn't bare to part from her. I soon began to neglect my kingdom and my people, so wrapped up in her was I.
When she began to whisper sweet promises into my ears, promises of wealth and power, I told her I thought nothing of such things if I couldn't have her. Her laugh would tinkle through the halls like wind chimes, and her perfect ruby lips would curve into a seductively sweet smile as she whispered promises instead of forever and always, of eternal happiness, of her endlessly, if only I would grant her one thing.
I would have given her the moon and plucked the very stars from their eternal flight to have her stay with me. I would have conquered a thousand kingdoms and slain a hundred dragons to hear her speak just one word to my ears. All of this and more I would have done. But she wanted none of it.
“I only ask this one thing.” She told me one day. “That you think of me and me alone. That your eyes may never stray from me and your heart belong to none but me.” This and more I promised to her, never giving the thought a second's consideration as the words slide from my mouth. She was all that matter to me, and all that I ever thought about. My kingdom be damned if it would make her happy.
For a long time Destruction stayed with me. When a messenger appeared one day demanding her head, I took his for the insult of such a demand. When more came, I took theirs as well. When an army appeared, threatening our boards, I rode out in a rage and slue the lot of them. That was the day my conquest began. It lasted years, and at the end of it, none were left to oppose me.
I was riding through a forest, on my way back to Destruction from the latest battle field when I happened to glance to the side of the road where there sat a woman. Her long chestnut hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back, and her eyes shone with a blue purity. Her pink lips were slightly dimpled and her simple dress held nothing of splendor. There was dirt on her hands, and her skin had a golden hue from days in the sun. There was none of the perfect beauty that Destruction held in this woman, but the gentle glow of the earth made me catch my breath.
It was in that instant, the cold, beautiful cloud that Destruction had woven in front of my eyes lifted, and I felt the first rays of sun touch my face. I knew everything that I had done, and desperate grief clawed at my heart for all of the lives lost at my hand.
The woman looked at me with a simple kindness that made the day brighter and the air sweeter, and when she spoke, Destruction's enchantment shriveled and died. Her name was Margret.
I had scarcely taken a breath when an unearthly cry ripped through the land. The ground shook and the trees swayed from their anchors. Animals scattered and the birds took flight.
In the chaos, I hurried Margret into flight, sending her far away on my beast of burden. I remained behind to face what beast of hell choose to come forth, though what came I had never stood a chance against.
It flew at me from all sides, a cloud of ash and golden dust. It filled my mouth and blinded my eyes. It rendered my body immobile. I was sure it would kill me then and there, but I was wrong. The dust cleared from my eyes, and in front of me took form. Destruction, in all her glory, formed from the cloud, a sneer on her once pale face.
“How dare thee. How dare thee toy so callously with my heart.” Her body of ash wavered and circled around me, flashes of gold erupting in her clouds and shining in her eyes. “You swore to me. You swore that you would think of none but me. That your gaze would fall upon no other.” She brought her face within an inch of mine. “You lied.”
She whipped away from me as an odd numbness began to spread through my limbs. The sky above us darkened, but the air held no breath of wind.
Destruction looked over her shoulder at me.
“And for that you must pay.” She circled me, drawing a wispy finger across my shoulders. My sword that had fallen to the ground was returned to my grasp, but my body remained rigid, completely out of my control. “Traitor, traitor, how to make thee suffer. To curse thee, or to maim thee, how shall I make thee feel mine pain?” She considered me with her golden eyes as I fought the powers that restricted my movement. “Curses, curses, it is to be. Thou shall regret jilting me.” The clouds of ash rose above us, and Destruction began to crackle with golden light.
“Traitor, traitor, how I curse thee. I curse thee to stand watch over this forest for all of eternity. To never sleep, or eat, or breath. I curse thee to watch as I rip this kingdom apart, brick by brick, stone by stone.” A slow smile stretched over her smoky face. “I curse thee to stand by, as everything you hold dear is destroyed and all that you love shrivels and dies. I curse thee with misfortune of every sort, so that you may never have peace. I curse thee so that all who look upon thee will feel nothing but fear and horror, so that you may always be alone.” There was a cracking, and the numbness of my body was replaced by a growing coldness. I was able to glance down far enough to see a hard grayness spreading over my body. Destruction drew her hand along my chest, her smile shifting to a sneer.“I curse thee to stand as stone, never to change, never to erode, never to be destroyed, but always with the heart and mind of a man. And I curse thee,” Her face came within a hairs breath of mine, the stone crawling its way up my neck. “I curse thee with knowledge. The knowledge that you could have prevented all of this. That every ounce of pain and suffering, that every scream and cry for mercy , is your fault. You could have stopped it, all of it if only you had stayed with me.”
Her face turned to a pout and she draped herself across my body. Suddenly she rose up in front of me, her face shifted abruptly to that of a human, though smoke still curled around her hair. “We can still be together.” She looked hopefully into my eye, the stone having claimed the other half of my face. “All you have to do is swear to never leave my side, and we can go somewhere far away where you need never be tempted again. What do you say?”
She stroked my cheek, her ruby lips curving into an inviting smile. “What do you say...”
I worked against her magic and forced through gritted teeth my reply.
“I hope you rot in a hell of your own design.” There was a spark of blue in among the black and gold, and it struck her cheek in a blaze of glory. Destruction hissed and turned once more to smoke and ash as the stone capsuled my whole body. I let loose one last breath from parted lips before all was still.
She considered me with some disgust before the smoke retreated, leaving her human once more.
“I hope you're happy with yourself.” She looked me up and down before she turned and started her way down the road. “Good bye, Cain.” She smirked at me over her shoulder. “Be sure to enjoy the show.”
And a show it was. I watched in misery as my kingdom rippled into civil war and ripped itself apart. I watched in sorrow as my home was burned to the ground and I cried out in silent agony as my family was cut down, one by one. Soon there was nothing left but the rubble of the towns and the ruins of lives left behind.
I was once a great king. Now I am nothing but a stone guardian watching over the forest where I was set free.
I watched as a new kingdom rose from the ashes of my own. I watched it fall.
I watched the seasons change and the move and shift of the land around me. I watched the life and death of the animals that called it home. Vines grew over my statue, and an oak sprouted behind me, bringing all sorts to its shade. I watched the travelers pass my statue. The merchants with their wares, the nobles in their fine adornment, the monks in their robes, the gypsies with their colorful entourage. All payed homage to me in hopes of safe passage through my forest, and all held a gleam of wariness in their eyes.
Birds nested on my shoulders, doting me with white gifts. Once there was a wind storm that dropped a branch the size of a horse's neck on my head. Snapped it in two and left my head ringing from the impact. Deer congregated around my oak, and no hunter would dare let loose and arrow near me. All this I observed with a heavy heart for those I had left behind. My friends were gone. My family was gone. My kingdom had been replace time and time again. People passed me often, but not one stopped longer than needed. All kept their distance. My existence was a miserable one.
The centuries passed, and I watched the rise and fall of many a kingdom. I watched the people and the land change into something new. Long had it been since I had bothered with the effort to form a coherent thought, and I could scarce remember my name. I was content with fading into a mere awareness until the day she came along.
It was early spring, and everything was just beginning to start its cycle of rebirth again. I had been sinking into the closest thing I could come to sleep when a ruckus awoke me. Coming down the road was a wagon pulled by a pair of old mules. I vaguely remember seeing them pass a few day before, but now they were burdened with the unruly weight of goods from town and one particularly spirited young girl. Her halo of muddy blond hair danced around her small face, making her clear blue eyes seem larger than they were. She was dancing in the back of the wagon and chatting animatedly to what I gathered to be her uncle. On and on she went, and I half expected her to faint from lack of oxygen.
“Do you think Auntie will like me? Do you think she'll have made puddin' again? Do you think there'll be flowers in the fields again? Do you think Jenny will be home? Do you think I can ride up front? Do you think I can pick acorns? Do you think, do you think that Daddy will be better soon?”
On and on she chattered with the energy that comes from being so young. Had I the ability to smile, I would have. Her uncle, however, didn't seem so inclined to my way of thinking, and abrupt cursed and smacked the girl hard enough to send her flailing off of the wagon as they were passing my statue. The uncle caught sight of me, and I had the pleasure of watching his eyes grow wide just before the wheel of his wagon popped off. The mules began to stumble and cry their annoying bray at the sudden shift of weight. The man was cursing and by the time he had calmed the beast down his face was red and sweat dotted his brow. He turned to me and doffed his simple cap.
“Beggin' yer pardon, milord. I meant no disrespects.” He mumbled and bowed a few times to me before he turned and went to work on the wagon, muttering to himself. The little girl managed to sit up and shake her head, seeming no worse for wear. She skipped happily over to her uncle as if nothing had happened.
“Did we hit a big bump? I think we did. Did you see how far it sent me? I felt like a bird! It was like I was flying!” She laughed to herself and began to skip in circles, waving her arms like she was flapping wings. Suddenly, she came face to face with me, bringing her up short, and killing the innocent joy that had been playing on her face. The terror that took control of her features made my heart sink, and I loathed myself not for the first time for being what I was.
To my surprise though, the terror was quickly chased away by curiosity.
“Uncle, who's this?” She crept closer to me, awe and wonder on her face. She couldn't have been more than six, and yet she wasn't the slightest bit afraid. Her uncle, on the other hand, was more than scared enough for the both of them.
“Ye foolish girl! What do ye think ye doin'? Don't ye know who that is?” He grabbed her arm, yanking her away. “'Tis old King Cain, that's who. He's been the guardian of this here forest and all who pass through it as long as time can tell. Ye don't do nothing in this forest without his knowin'.” He regarded me with a sudden wariness that said he had just thought of something that he had done while the little girl continued to look at me with awe. The man shook his head and turned back to his wagon. “Ye always pay him respect when ye see him, ye hear? Or else he's gonna send something bad ye way.” The little girl tilted her head to the side slightly.
“Like the wagon wheel?”
“Like the wagon wheel.”
They stayed for a time while the man fixed the wagon. The little girl explored my oak tree and hunted around my statue for a time before her uncle would snap at her. She watched me from the back of the wagon as they went on their way until they were out of sight. It was the first encounter I had had in the time that I had been a statue that the human hadn't run away. Perhaps it was Destruction's magic growing weak, or something else entirely, but for the first time in a long time, I felt alive.
It was several years later that the girl appeared again. She was older now, all elbows and knees, and her hair had darkened to a honey brown., but she held the same aura of life and energy as before. It was her eyes that shined with the same blue clarity that had reminded me of the little girl.
She came by herself, carrying a bag over one shoulder and a bucket and brush in the other. She stopped in front of my statue and smiled up at me.
“Hello your Majesty. I hope you're having a good day.” I had had a pair of crows fighting over my head since dawn and the ivy vine was trying to crawl into my mouth, but other than that it had been fine. She smiled at me and dropped her things on the ground before setting her hands on her hips and surveying me with a critical eye. “Well, I've got my work cut out for me.” To my surprise, she walked right up to me and stuck her hand through the ivy and tapped my chest, sending a spark through my stone body. She smiled as if nothing had happened. “Shall we start? Hope you don't mind.”
She then set about attacking the ivy which had grown thick with age. She talked while she worked, telling me about her life. Her mother had died when she was little, and her father had gone to the bottle for solace, leaving her in the care of her uncle Herbert and aunt Penelope. She was grateful for them taking her in, but she would have rather stayed at home. “I know they think of me as just a burden. The only reason they let me stay is because my father isn't well enough yet to have me back. They're worried about the family name.” She told me about her cousin Jenny who was the beauty of the town as she scrubbed years of waste off. The vines lay on the ground around me, slowly growing away.
Her cousin had liked her when they were children, but now all she cared about was the town lads, so the girl was almost completely alone. “I'm the outsider in town who was taken in by her relatives out of the goodness of their hearts. What did I expect?” She talked about her mother with affection, and told me the story of how her parents had met. She told me of her father, about how he was before her mother had died. She spoke of her grandparents and the garden that had been theirs.
She finished scrubbing and set about clearing the ground around my statue. She pulled flowers from her bag and planted them around me. Pulling an old log in front of me, she cleaned it off as well. She pulled out bread and cheese, and breaking it apart, set half in front of me and ate the other half herself.
For a while, she sat on the log and talked to me about everything and anything that crossed her mind. She spoke of her family, and the flowers that she had secretly planted in the garden behind their house. She spoke of the village and of the animals she helped escape from hunters. Soon, the sun was getting closer to the horizon. It was then that she grew quiet, her eyes seeming drawn to the ground.
“Your Majesty, there is one favor I would like to ask. You don't have to do anything about it, and its alright if you can't do anything, but I'd like to ask anyways.” She smiled at me as if I had said something funny. “No, I'm not asking you to bring my mother back.” She dropped her eyes again. “I was just hoping that you might bring my father back to reality. Just for a moment, just so I know he's still there.” Her smile dipped down slightly, taking on a sadder edge. “I just want to know if he's still my father or if he's already gone home to my mother. That's all I want.”
She sat quietly for a moment before she shook herself and jumped to her feet and quickly gathered her things. She bowed slightly to me and started for home when a thought seemed to strike her, causing her to turn back abruptly. “My names Grace, by the way.” Her eyes brimmed with light as they settled on me, and for an instant, I almost thought I could breath. She turned and walked away, the setting sun illuminating her retreating figure.
From that moment on, Grace occupied my thoughts constantly. I considered what she had said, and wondered at her smiling face that still held true even after all that fate had dealt her. She came often, always with something new to talk about, and I found myself in a melancholy state when she wasn't with me. I watched her as she grew, and I was always the first to hear about any little thing that happened in her life.
I thought she had become my sole source of joy in the dismal world that Destruction had sentenced me to, but I soon found this to be untrue. Grace was what I looked forward to everyday, and I adored her, but her impact on me was much more than that. Being around her led me to look at the world differently.
The birds that tried to nest on my shoulders(Grace found this charming) were no longer a nuisance to me; They were astonishing creatures that I could watch for hours without tiring. The way they captured the wind under their wings and danced through the air amused and astounded me to no end.
The vines that continued their quest to capture me instead captured my interest, and I soon grew to love to watch their progress from day to day. Not only the vines, but the ferns, flowers, and trees around me. Everything was new and wonderful to me now.
But most of all, I loved to watch Grace grow and change from a thin, awkwardly charming girl to a dazzling, graceful lady. Her hair often cascaded down her back in golden chestnut waves, and her liquid blue eyes could stop even the most black-hearted tax man in his tracks. Her skin took on a golden glow from the sun, and her body seemed to drink in the vibrancy of the earth around her and feed from the light that streamed everywhere she went. Everything was lighter and sweeter when she smiled, which was often, and the earth sang with pleasure at the merest sonority of her gentle voice. She seemed not to notice the change in her attitude and appearance, and often expressed her wonder at the attention she now received from the village lads. I often had to reign in my jealous of the lads for being able to speak with her, and my amusement at the odd things they would say to her.
“He said I looked as fine as his fathers new stallion, and that he would like to see the two of us race.” She told me one day “Now what under heaven could he mean by that?” It was her favorite thing to laugh about, as she found all of the lads funny.
Grace was a wonder within herself. She never did anything halfheartedly, and her emotions happened in extremes. When she was happy, she was truly happy, and when she was sad, the heavens would cry with her.
Every chance she could capture, she would come to me. She came to me after her first piano lesson, and after her first friendly encounter with a lad. She came when her aunt raged at her, when her uncle hit her, when her cousin mocked her, when she was happy, when she was sad, when she was melancholy, when she was vexed. She came to me when her father died, and when her aunt threatened to throw her out.
It never mattered how often they threatened her, or hit her, or mocked her, she would always apologize for whatever shortcoming they had found in her and then do her best to fix it. If she ever had a fault, it was never standing up for herself. She was the kindest, most gentle, loving creature that ever had walked the face of the earth, and I longed to embrace her and let her lean on me for as long as time would allow. Even if it was just for a moment. Just to let her know that she didn't have to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders alone. It was this that drove me to find a way out of Destruction's curse. But try as I might, I never found a way.
So when one night the sky broke open and torrents of rain fell to the earth, drowning the bogs and making the plants sing, I was aghast when Grace came stumbling through the heavy walls of rain only to fall at my feet. She was crying and when she looked at me, I saw retched heartache in her eyes and a darkening bruise that marred the side of her face.
“Cain.” She sobbed, her face a mask of utter misery. Her gown was ripped and muddy, and she was soaked to the bone. “Cain,” she whispered again. “I can't take it anymore. Aunt and Uncle. Cousin Jenny. They hate me, Cain. All of them.” She covered her mouth with her hand as a sob ripped through her, ripping my heart to shreds. She shook her head at some silent battle within herself, causing her hair to fly loose across her face. “Everyone hates me. My family. My friends. Or at least, I thought they were were my friends.” She looked up at me hiccuping. “They've thrown me out, Cain. They said I was nothing more than another mouth to feed, one they didn't need. Fathers gone. They don't need to keep me anymore.” Her eyes stared helplessly at me, and the little pieces of my shattered heart twisted with grief. “What am I suppose to do Cain? Where am I supposed to go?” She said in a tiny voice, shaking her head.
I warred against myself in silent grief for my powerlessness, my inability to protect this tiny flower from the harsh wasteland fate had left her in. I cried for the heartlessness of her family and the cruelty they showed her. I wish with all my heart to be with her.
In the most broken of whispers, the quietest of voices, the gentlest of tones, she murmured words I thought I would never hear uttered. “I wish you were real, Cain. I wish you were real. I wish you would come to life and save me from this nightmare. I wish you would save me, and love me, and stay with me. I love you.”
The brokenness of her words shook something inside of me. I won't pretend that I know what happened, but there was suddenly a crack like thunder and the sweet taste of rain soaked air filled my lungs again for the first time in centuries. Stone crumbled away, and I fell to my knees in front of her, wrapping her in the protective embrace of my arms.
“You have no idea how long I have waited to hear you say those words.”