Telling Tales 34
A Childless Couple and a Cruel Monarch
Once upon a time, there was a family who ruled their lands with cruel delight. They said, “We are your monarchs. We are given dominion over you, and it is to us that you should show obeisance, gratitude, and humility.” One after another, kings and queens alike, treated their subjects as toys, playthings, or possessions. They had an army of magical warriors that spied upon their people, told them when revolution was planned, and whichever Monarch ruled would stop it in its tracks.
In this land, on the edges but no less suffering for their distance, stood a small inn where the owners, not unlike our hosts, struggled to make ends meet. They knew that they could never plan to revolt, for the mere utterance of words was enough to warn the monarchy. They knew that in order to defeat their cruel rulers, they would have to devise a plan that would seek its own fulfillment without their guidance. No easy feat, to be sure.
As it happens, this couple had no children of their own, and they deeply desired to be parents. They had never discussed their hatred of the monarchy, for they knew where such talk led, but they spoke often of their desire for a baby. It must be said that sometimes, occasionally, it wasthat they talked about the one and meant the other, or talked about the other and meant the one.
Well, the husband was clearing space around their small inn so that he could build a stable. He chopped down tree after tree, each of which would be useful for him in the building. Wood here, wood there, but the stumps, they were a question. He couldn’t use them, for they will rot with time, and infect a structure with their own failings. Water. Termites. Mold. So he dug and he dug and he pulled out stump after stump, each one bigger than the last. The man was strong and hardworking, though, and he did not shy from hard labor. By the time he reached the last stump, he was in fine form. With his pick and hoe and shovel and axe he would cleave through the earth and strike through a root with one blow. One two three and the stump was free. One two three and the second stump came loose. The last to go was small in body but long in root. One two three four five and he pulled it out from the ground.
The man was near to throwing it away when he realized something remarkable. With its little root arms and little root legs and tiny root fingers and toes, this stump looked a great deal like the child that he and his wife did not have. He cleaned the wood of the murk and earth, polished it up with oil, and brought it into his wife, saying, “If we are not to have a child of our own, let us care for this.”
His wife was unimpressed. She was dubious. To allay her concerns, every day her husband took his knife to the stump and gave it more definition. He gave it ears first, so that it could hear them talking. Then he gave it eyes, then a nose and a mouth. He carved its fat little arms and fingers, its fat little legs and toes, and its belly, not yet plump for of course, being a stump, they did not feed it. And while he carved, he spoke to it, and told it how greatly it would be loved.
Until it opened its eyes.