Prague, Office Building in Smichov, 30th November 2015
“Hey, I wrote a fairy tale. Wanna read it?”, I asked my colleague Jana as soon as she arrived to the office.
“You wrote a fairy tale?”
“That’s what I said. Wanna read it or not?”
“Sure. Send it over.”
A fairy tale to re-write
I have a fairy tale to re-write. The original version from November is okay – but I don’t quite like the ending. Would you be up for helping me re-write it?
But first things first – the fairy tale. In case you’d prefer to watch it / listen to it, it’s on YouTube. After you watch it, then you can just scroll to the part “The Writer” below.
In case you prefer the reading – here you go:
The King and the Bard
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far far away, there was a magnificent king. A king who fought and won many battles, conquered many lands and to whom many rivals have surrendered.
He was almost 2 meters tall and despite the fact his hair was almost all gray, his face was scarred and he was limping on his left leg, he was still as strong as a grizzly.
He was widowed, but one day his closest ally sent him his 18 year old daughter as a bride, to strengthen the ties between their lands.
Her long black hair, sparkling light blue eyes and a playful smile enchanted him in a second. “It’s such a privilege to meet the most powerful man in the known world”, she said, tilting her head and fluttering her long black eyelashes. The king fell in love in that instant – and made her his queen in a month.
The young queen enjoyed the king’s company, as well as her time in the castle. Most of all, the queen loved listening to music, and in these terms, her new home had a lot to offer.
Everything was working well, with a single exception. The king’s favorite musician – a handsome Bard whose music could make a rock dance – fell in love with the young queen too. And often when he played his lute at a ball or a dinner, as if enchanted, he couldn’t let his eyes go off her.
The king himself could overlook such unimportant matters, but rumors started spreading. So one day, with a grieving heart, the king had decided that he had to send the bard away.
“I have always valued your service. And you have always been very loyal to me. Thus, let me give you a very special gift. A lute made of magic wood, that when you play it, will help you get the heart of any woman that you set your mind on.”
The bard was hurt. He did not want to leave the kingdom that was his home for so many years. He did not want to leave his king. And he did not want to leave the young queen he lost his eyes for. But he knew he had to.
In the evening, he was sitting alone in his chamber, ready to depart early in the morning. A knock on the door. The young queen.
“Hey. I heard you’ll be leaving the kingdom. That’s a pity. Will you play for me? One last time?”
The bard hesitated. But when he looked the queen in the eyes – he knew he would.
He took the magical lute he received from the king and played her favorite song.
But this time, there was something strange about the sound the strings made – and this time, the young queen did not smile when listening. She would be looking the bard in the eyes intently, while her own eyes were filling with tears.
For the first time, he did not see in her a proud young lady, but a lonely soul longing for understanding.
“Take me with you, Bard. I want to leave this castle forever.”
The bard felt like in a dream. Loyalty to the king, his future, his life – everything suddenly seemed insignificant when compared to being with the one he loved for so long.
“Yes”, said the bard. “Come with me.”
They sneaked into the stables and rode out of the castle. In that gallop, neither of them has noticed the sound the lute produced as the cold wind was licking its wooden body.
It was not more than an hour before they heard barking of dogs and the sound of the hooves of the riders chasing them.
They didn’t have a chance. A group of 20 soldiers from the king’s guard forced them to get off their horses and tied each of them to a tree, facing each other. The king arrived a few minutes later in full armor, as if coming into a battle. On his back he had his favorite weapon. A warhammer. He jumped off his horse, his face twisted in fury. He walked to the young queen first.
“I am disappointed”, he said. “I gave you everything you needed and you still wanted to betray me, to escape my castle – with a bard? I didn’t deserve that.” He took his warhammer and swung it in full strength aimed at the queen’s head. He missed by an inch and dug a hole in the trunk.
“But you are my wife and I love you. And you deserve a second chance.”
He took the warhammer from the tree and went towards the one to which the bard was tied. “I am disappointed. I gave you a lute that could get you any woman in the world and you steal my wife from me? Did you think I was stupid? There is more to the lute than I told you. Even the lightest touch of a wind on its body lets it ring – in a slight noise for an ear of a human – but like a siren’s scream in the ears of dogs. I would be able to find you anywhere in the world.”
He lifted his warhammer and as he swung it towards the bard’s head, he shouted in his face: “Maybe you also deserve a second chance…”
…and as the warhammer hit its target, the young queen screamed so loudly that the birds sitting in the branches flew away and the dogs started whining.
“…but we don’t always get what we deserve.”
He untied the queen that was now white as a chalk, eyes wide open, staring into nowhere and sobbing quietly. He put her on his horse and they rode back to the castle.
Where they lived until the end of their days.
Prague, Office Building in Smichov, 30th November 2015
“Interesting”, my colleague says when she finishes. “I’m wondering… Is any of the characters representing you?”
Having exepected that question, I answer with a self-satisfied smirk: “I am the guy who wrote the story. ALL of the characters are representing me. In a way.”
“Okay.” She responds, leaving something in the air.
I lose the psychological battle. “What is it?”
“Nothing. It’s just – I was wondering. Why does the guy who wrote the story make EVERYONE lose in the end?”
A moment of silence. A flash of doubts. But I stick to my line.
“Sometimes, everyone loses.”
Düsseldorf, 23rd July 2016
During a morning walk on the riverside of Rhine, I remembered this story. And the conversation with my colleague. There’s nothing terrible about fairy tales with dark endings. But I kind of got tired of stories where everyone loses.
Now I want… something different.
A blank note in my Evernote is open; my fingers are ready to type.
Now your turn. How should the story go?
Edit from 5th July 2017
Comments on the Story
After publishing the fairy-tale, I received quite some comments from the readers. Since most of them were on Facebook and therefore invisible to anyone who came to this post from another place, I thought it would be worth it to add them here.
The one I found most interesting was one made by a daughter of my friend Teresa (Teresa has read the fairy tale to her): “Are you sure that was your friend who write the story? It seems like a classic.” Then she said: “It doesn’t make sense that you have such friend who describes a woman like an object.”
Something I never thought of. But the kid has a point. Anyway – some more comments I got:
Piotr: I really like the story as it is. I gave it quite a bit of a thought and I don’t see a point in changing it. The fate hit everyone in the story and was a direct consequence of their actions. What I would consider is to write a follow-up to see if any of remaining characters learned anything.
Tomas W.: In order for it to be a fairy-tale, it needs a happy end, otherwise your reward (read: profit) would not be satisfactory if you wanted to sell it. Nobody likes sad fairy-tales. Either call it a short story instead of a fairy tale and add some lessons learned, or add a(at least small) happy end for it to be a fairy-tale, or leave it as it is and use it as a storytelling project in some of the TM competitions 😉
Dominik: I quite like the story (and sad fairy tales in general). I would add more depth to it and enhance the relationships to make the ending, quite literally, more impactful. What definitely needs some refurbishing is the ending itself, where I second what Piotr wrote. There you have the possibility to turn it into a happy ending and tell everyone to stick togehter through difficult times or relate the aftermath to everyone’s everyday lives (or explain a legend!! :))
Lucie: Lukas, don’t change it!
Mariana: Change the story, have the bard and the young girl relased from their caption without a warning smash with the hammer, ket them live happily ever after with the approval of the wise old king. Let the old king go and find himself a new wife and not wait for anyone sending him their daughters. Cause this is what a smart and successful old king would do.
- Piotr adding: Building on this one the young couple could be released, but the instrument could be stolen by a woman thief and she would play it and the kings wife would fall for her and leave the bard.
Tomas B.: Mariana, I do agree a 21st century tale could and maybe should end up this fashion! But a fairy tale, by tradition, is a fight between the good and the evil. How would the evil and the moral of the winning good deeds be represented? Lukas, I bet the ‘second chance’ is your essence in it. Please keep it!
Lukas S.: I would change the ending slightly: “Where they lived until the end of their days. That is, until king fell asleep, queen slashed his neck and then jumped out of window, rather than live with the psychopath.”
Elena: What if the bard and the queen were both tied to the same (big) tree not being able to see each other and the king hits the trunk both times? The moral of the story still holds. The queen believing the bark dead “learns” the lesson and is forever true to the king. And the bark is the one man who owns a flute that would cause any woman to fall in love with him and never uses it as he believes the queen is his one true love and knows she would not get a third chance.
Ellina: Great story, the moral of which seemed to me as “be thankful and nice to people who helped u before”
I would never have believed how much is written between the lines. A moral of the story for me is the reinforced observation of my high school philosophy teacher – a book is not the text printed on the paper pages, but the ideas it ignites in reader’s mind.
Note: My colleague’s name was changed.