Wallkeeper (An original fairy tale)
On this, the first anniversary of the publication of Burden of Power, I'm delighted to share the short story that inspired the Wallkeeper trilogy.
If you want to learn a little more about the background of this short story, check out my previous entry Building a wall.
As a fairy tale, the style and tone is reminiscent of children's stories, so I invite you to imagine curling up with a blanket and something soothing to drink while your favorite narrator reads you this tale.
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Way beyond the deep forest where your mother tells you not to play, there once lived a wise king and his loyal subjects. The people of Rahm worked hard in their fields and in their shops and treated each other with respect. They took care of the poor so that everyone had enough to eat, and there were no beggars or thieves in all the land. Many of the greedy kings in the neighboring kingdoms were jealous of Rahm’s beauty and wealth and sent their armies to conquer it. The king of Rahm fought tirelessly to protect his people, and they loved him for it.
But sometimes, while an army attacked from the east and the king led his forces into battle, bandits from the northern forest would raid the villages and carry off food and farm tools and livestock. Other times, while the king and his army were driving away enemies in the south, menacing pirates would invade from the western beaches and steal away the young men and women to be sold as slaves.
The king wept with his people over each of these tragedies, and spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out what more he could do to protect them. In the end, he decided to build a large, wall around all of Rahm. It would be even bigger than the walls that protected the border cities. It would be made of the strongest stone so that it would last for many years. And it would be too tall and too wide and too strong for bandits and pirates and armies to break through.
So the king called all the strong men in the kingdom together. They brought their biggest wagons and widest oxen and tallest horses. They brought their stonecutting tools and shovels for digging. Together, they began to build the wall.
They dug the foundation deep into the earth, and stacked the heaviest stones that could be found in the quarries of the kingdom. It was slow and back-breaking work as the months stretched into years, but bit by bit the wall grew taller until at last, it was finally complete.
The people rejoiced with their king.
"Now we will be safe!" they cried, and they held a big feast with music and dancing to celebrate.
For many years, the people of Rahm enjoyed safety and peace thanks to the mighty wall. The wall was too high for the arrows of their enemies to fly over. It was too thick for their strongest enemies to knock down. And it was too high for their tallest enemies to climb.
The king appointed a special group of soldiers to inspect the wall and watch for cracks or weaknesses that needed to be repaired. He himself toured the entire length of wall once each year. This way, the wall stayed strong and the people remained safe.
Eventually the king grew old and turned the kingdom over to his son before his death. "You must keep this wall strong," he commanded his heir. "The wall will take care of our people only if we take care of the wall.”
But the new king was only a boy when the wall was built, and the tales of armies and bandits and pirates were just idle stories to him. As time passed, the wall seemed less and less important and he stopped going out to inspect it himself. Weeds grew in between the stones and weakened them. Water worked its way into the cracks and stretched them into sharp gaps large enough to swallow a foot. Eventually, the weaker sections started to collapse.
Captain Strong was the commander tasked with maintaining the wall. He too had not seen the dangers outside the wall with his own eyes. But unlike the king, he believed the stories of Rahm's enemies and took seriously his charge to care for the wall. Over the years, he came to know the wall like a traveling peddler knows his way home. He learned which sections were most vulnerable, and tried to warn the king.
It was a sunny morning when he found the king sitting in his garden under the shade of an apple tree.
"The wall is weakening, Your Majesty,” Captain Strong began as he knelt before the king. "We need strong men and new stone to repair the cracks before it collapses."
The king looked out across his garden to the pastures beyond. Far in the distance, the mighty wall rose like a gray shadow behind the grazing sheep sprinkling the fields like scattered curds on a cheesecloth.
"The wall looks just as strong and tall as ever," he said.
"From a distance, yes," Captain Strong explained. "But if you will come and inspect it for yourself, you will see that it is weakening and needs many repairs."
The king was an affable man, but resisted exerting himself in any uncomfortable task. "I appreciate your concern, Captain,” he said, “but I will not waste money and men on expensive repairs when I can see well enough from here that the wall is still in good order."
Dismissed, Captain Strong returned to his station at the wall and resumed his patrols. Over time, the decay worsened and the captain returned to seek another audience with the king.
This time, he was met by the king's daughter. Princess Honoria was wise and just and loved her father, even though she knew that he enjoyed the fine things of life far more than was good for him or his people. So when Captain Strong told her of his purpose, she joined him in petitioning the king.
The king was once again in his garden, but this time he was sitting by a fountain. Nearby, several musicians were auditioning for a role in his birthday celebration the following week. A skilled flautist held the king in rapt attention and he wouldn’t hear the captain until she finished.
When the captain was at last permitted to speak, he wasted no time in reporting the danger.
“The cracks in the wall are getting worse," he said. "Parts of it are beginning to crumble and my men lack the resources to repair it. Let me take extra men and new stone with me to rebuild the sections of wall that are most in peril."
"Is that the same complaint again, Captain Strong? You worry too much. In all my years as king, we have never seen enemies come into the kingdom. The days when the wall was needed have passed. It has become an old relic: a symbol of fear and distrust.”
Princess Honoria, who had studied the wars of her grandfather’s age before the wall was built, offered a suggestion. "Father, what will it hurt to give Captain Strong the men he asks for and new stone and tools to make the repairs? Even if the danger has passed, keeping the wall strong will ensure our enemies never return. Isn't the safety of our people worth it?"
The king considered this and responded, "Very well. But not until after the birthday celebration. It will be a wonderful event and I don't want anyone to miss it because they are called away on a fool's errand."
The birthday celebration was indeed memorable. A three-day holiday full of feasting, music, flowers, and ribbons of red, blue, and gold. It was so memorable, in fact, that it drove all thought of the wall from the king's mind.
And it was especially memorable because it was the last time that the people had such a reason to rejoice for a very long time.
Far away from the celebration, Captain Strong waited at the wall. When the promised workers and new stone didn't arrive, he waited. As the heat of summer gave way to the icy fingers of autumn, he waited.
He stood alone under a starry sky with frost making the stones beneath his boots slick and wondered if the king was right. Maybe he was too worried about an old wall. Maybe the wall had become no more than a monument to an ancient fear.
Then one morning, as he was patrolling near the northern forest, he saw movement in the shadows under the trees. Alarmed, he mounted his horse and raced to the city.
The king wasn't feeling well, and refused to see any visitors. Princess Honoria met Captain Strong outside the garden with a concerned frown and an apology on her lips.
"I tried to remind him of his promise,” she said, “but he is too tired and sick to care."
With fresh dread growing in his heart, Captain Strong strode past the princess and into the garden.
"Thieves!" he cried. "There are thieves camping in the northern forest! I have seen them myself, and their numbers are large enough to tear down the weaker sections of wall! My men will not be able to keep them away. You must send your army to defend the wall!"
The meaning of his words could not penetrate the fog of headache that burdened the king as he lay among pillows in sapphire- and wine-colored silk. But the noise of the captain’s shouting bludgeoned his senses. Rousing from his sickbed, the king mustered his guards.
"I am the king! I need my rest. I need a sanctuary,” he cried from the window. He gripped the sill to steady himself, watching the captain being driven from the garden until his cries faded to silence.
And then, as the king looked out at the gray wall rising in the far distance, an idea struck him. He summoned his servants.
"Build a wall around my garden. Let no one in or out unless I give permission!"
The servants began right away, and it wasn't long before the king's garden was enclosed in a tall rock wall. But it could not block out the cries of his people who came to seek shelter from the thieves who had breached the wall in the north.
"Build it higher!" the king declared. "I must have some peace!"
Soon the wall became a fortress, and when the people from the west came to plead with the king to send troops to defend them from marauding pirates, their shouts could barely reach his ears.
Still, it was not enough. "Keep building!" he cried.
All this time, Captain Strong and his small band of soldiers fought to defend the wall. But it was not enough. Word had spread that the kingdom of Rahm was weak, and armies gathered from the neighboring kingdoms. When the people saw the approaching armies, they ran to Captain Strong in fear.
"Our king has locked himself in his stone tower. There is no one to lead the army. Please help us!"
And so Captain Strong took the king's place and led the army into battle. It was a long and fierce battle. The battle spread out over the rich farmland and into the dense forests. It crept to the beaches in the west, and filled the city streets. It was like a living, wild beast destroying everything in its path. Many lives were lost, and many more soldiers were wounded. But Captain Strong didn't yield. He rallied his troops day after day to meet the enemy and fight for all they held dear.
At the same time, Princess Honoria was inspired by his courage, and organized the rest of the people to rebuild the wall. Farmers, merchants, clockmakers, tailors—all abandoned their work, some to the quarry and others to clear away the piles of rubble where the wall had most suffered neglect. Their wives and children worked among them, bringing food and water and hauling the smaller rock. It was challenging, difficult work that drained their strength and sharpened their anxious minds.
After many days, the enemy armies began to retreat. Hope stirred in the hearts of the battered soldiers and they surged forward with renewed strength, pushing the enemies to the edges of the land. The people working at the wall saw this mighty show of strength, and they redoubled their efforts to repair the breaches. The wall began to stand tall again, and the people barely noticed their bruises and scars for the pride they felt and the hope that burned within them.
When all the enemies had been driven out of Rahm and the wall was strong and impenetrable once more, the people returned to their homes, rejoicing that their lives had been preserved and they were safe. They called themselves Wallkeepers, and they put their new skills and strength to work rebuilding the villages and farms and streets that had been destroyed.
As one season spun away into another, tales of heroism and strength were told about those days of desperation and courage. For many years afterward, the Wallkeepers took their children and grandchildren to visit the sections of wall they had repaired. Proud of their sacrifice in saving their kingdom from their enemies, it was they who maintained the wall from that time on.
As the people rebuilt their lives and homes, they were given another reason to rejoice in the days after the war when they learned that Captain Strong and Princess Honoria were to be married. The whole kingdom turned out for the wedding. The feast wasn't very fine, as the harvest was meager after the war. The princess wore a simple gown, for no luxurious fabrics were yet to be found. And there was no grand parade, because many of the roads were still impassible. But all the people agreed that it was the most joyous occasion they had ever attended, and they welcomed their new king and queen with gratitude in their hearts.
As the sounds of the wedding celebration climbed the evening breeze, snatches of music and laughter drifted through one small window at the top of the garden tower. There, in the solitary shadows, a small form shifted. A sound like a sob escaped. But there was no ear near enough to hear, and no eye to see the pale hand lifted toward the window—a window which remained dark and silent forever after.
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Interested in seeing how this short story translated to a full trilogy? Download your FREE copy of the first book today!