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The Cost

A tale told by many travelling story tellers. The origins of this story are unclear, although this author believes that the roots are genuine, and so they are captured here as a folk tale about the House of Fallen Leaves.

Once there was a kingdom in the far north. The King was fair and listened to his people, the land was prosperous, and the Queen was kind and lovely to all who beheld her. Festivals where held yearly to celebrate the success of the kingdom, with flying colored pennants and spices and foods from faraway lands available for all the people to feast upon.

Yet the King and Queen grew unhappy with their lot. They had been wed for many years yet had produced no child, no heir to bear their name. The Queen was beginning to get older and feared that her time to bear children would end without a child.

The Queen went to her advisors, her magisters and Alchemists. She spoke to the clerics of her faith and the wisest of the Birthing Mothers. No unguent would sooth her ails, no potion girds her loins, for still she was childless.

After suffering like this for many years she urged the King to make a proclamation. She wanted a call to go out to the realms so that the wise of many kingdoms could come and assist her with her quest.

The King truly felt for his Queen and could see that she suffered. He sent his fastest riders across the realm, proclaiming the need for help for the Queen and offering a great reward for anyone who could help his Queen.

And so, they came.

Wise men from the deserts arrived in colorful caravans bearing the smells of spices strange to the King and Queen. A woman from the swamp arrived with unique flowers that bore a glowing blue fruit said to cure all ails. Wizards from far away countries strange to the common tongue of the King bore meats said to enhance the virility of men. A knight brought the blood of a red dragon to anoint the Queen with its powerful burning desires. Yet through it all no heir was produced, no crying babe to carry on the line of King and Queen.

The King and Queen began to despair. Sadness flowed from them. Without an heir, the land would fall into turmoil on the Kings death. The people began to frighten. What could be done?

It was then that the strange elf appeared - when the greatest of sadness filled the King and Queens chest. He walked boldly into the court, his clothes a jumble of colors, a motley assembly fit for a Jester. Bells adorned his wrists and boots and tinkled in his earrings. His smile was disarming as if an unearthly fire lit behind his eyes. With that smile, he told the King and Queen that he had the answer! They would have a babe, two, three! If only they agreed to his demands.

“And what demands are these, sir elf,” asked the King. He had never seen someone dressed such as he, and surely this fool could not help him and his wife.

“Why, it is the simplest of demands, my King. I wish to stay in the palace, to serve beside your advisors. When your children are born, I wish to teach them mirth. When your oldest reaches the age of majority he must pay the price and I will consider my debt paid, and be on my way, my King,” said the elf.

The King barely considered his words as he spoke them. “If my Queen conceives even one child, I will meet your demands and you can stay in the palace for the rest of your life!”

The elf nodded in agreement, then approached the throne. He bid to speak to the Queen and the Queen alone. He leaned in close and whispered his instructions.

“In two nights, you must go to the small pond in the forest. You must wash yourself in the pond with the light of Elzrahim in full in the night sky. You must ask the moon for its blessing. Then you must immediately go to your King and lie with him. I must be nearby, to sing to the spirits and appease them. No one else must look or be present, or the spirits will be upset. You will conceive a child every time this is done, so long as I live under this palace roof,” said the elf.

So, it was done. In two nights, the Queen and the elf went to the pond by themselves. When they returned the Queen smelled of the water, but also of sweet night flowers. She laid with the King that night and their passion and love for each other soared.

The waiting was the hardest part. This strange elf sat in on the Kings council, smiled and played with his nights and spent nights warming the beds of his servants. The people were happy for his playful nature, but the King was worried that he was just another in a long line of people who offered much but gave little.

Then, one day, the Birthing Mothers came to the King to announce what he most desperately wanted to hear. His Queen was with child! He would have his heir!

The bells rang loud that day throughout the kingdom. For the next several months the kingdom was in a state of constant celebration. When the baby boy was born it was as if an entire kingdom had the child, so much excitement, mirth and merriment was had.

Over the next several years the Queen had three more children. Each time she conceived she followed the elf’s instructions, he played for her while she bathed in the pond and then went and laid with the King. Each time she conceived the kingdom burst with merriment. It was the greatest of years for the King and Queen and the greatest of years for the kingdom.

Soon his eldest son grew to majority. On the night before his 16th birthday, the elf, now a close friend of the King, asked to speak privately to him.

“My King” said the elf.” Tomorrow your son reaches majority, as is the custom in this kingdom. I have spent these many years teaching him mirth. He is a good boy, but I am afraid that you have also pressed upon him the life of servitude to his people at too early an age. I fear that his seriousness will be his undoing.”

“What do you mean, how could this be his undoing,” asked the King.

“When the bells strike midnight the magic that has kept him alive since his conception will begin to unravel. The spirits that I calmed and soothed in the pond must be paid as well. He must wade out into the pool before midnight. If his heart is full of mirth and his spirit pure, he will be buoyed up. The spell will fade, and he will be his own child, the curse lifted from your family. If his heart is weighted down, then it will pull him under, and he will drown in the pond. The spirits of the pond will be paid the price, and the curse will expire.” Said the elf.

“Why,” cried the King. “Why would you tell me this now?”

“All prices must be paid, my King. In your desperation you never asked what your eldest must pay. I could not speak of it until now, as the price that I must pay,” said the elf.

“If he refuses to do this task,” asked the King.

“Then he will die, my King,” said the elf.

The King, speechless, left the chamber and the elf alone then. He spent the next day in brooding silence as his son celebrated his birthday. The King pretended to smile but on the inside his guts were leaden and twisted.

That night he brought his son, now considered a man, to the pond. He told his son that this was a secret cleansing right, the last thing he had to do to take up the mantle of manhood. He must wade out into the pond and sing the happiest song the boy knew. The boy heeded his fathers’ words and sang a glorious song of sunrise that the elf had taught him. In the distance the midnight bells tolled and when they stopped the crown prince waded out of the pond to greet his father with a smile on his face.

The smile on the Kings face faltered though, as when the boy emerged his features had changed. No longer bearing the proud face of his human heritage alone, he now had the pointed ears of an elf.

The next morning the King himself stormed into the elf’s chambers and roughly woke him up.

“You traitor! Threatening my son’s life! Twisting him with your evil magics! You are exiled! Leave this kingdom at once and never return! You should hang for your words and deeds,” shouted the King.

“My liege, our deal…” said the elf.

“Damn your deal and damn you,” cried the King, enraged. He drew his sword from his side and made to stab the elf, only just staying his hand.

The elf left, in dismay, the kingdom and King he had grown fond of as the jangle of the broken deal bounced inside his head.

That winter was the fiercest winter that the Kingdom had ever known. The snows were unrelenting and soon the kingdom was covered in a blanket of snow. The larders became infested with rats and the winter stores were eaten. A pox fell across the frozen kingdom and many of the populace succumbed to the disease.

In the palace, as food and fuel for the fires became scarce the temperament of the family soon changed. The exact details of what happened in that horrid castle are only whispered about at night. It is said that the people who lived closest to the castle could hear screams occasionally at night as the long winter stretched on into what should have been spring.

Then one day, as if by magic, the sun broke through the thick winter clouds. The heat was the intensity of a warm spring day and the snow quickly melted from the land. A brightly colored elf was seen riding a horse through the snow to the gates of the palace. It is said that he went inside and left a short time later with another, bundled in rags.

When the villagers came to investigate, they could not find anyone in the palace. Carved into the great oaken table in the center of the banquet hall were these simple words:

All Prices Must Be Paid

More Stories about the House of the Fallen Leaves:

The Boy of the Forest | The New King

story/the_cost.txt · Last modified: 2021/07/26 20:24 by clover