I’m serializing my fairy tale novel, Tickling Butterflies. A new fairy tale ‘episode’ is published every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
Here’s the story so far.
Enjoy the latest fairy tale:
The Fairy Tale Tree
(Containing the death-defying details of John the Cute’s third meeting with King Charming the Fourth.)
This is the story of the end of John the Cute’s race with Death. It is also the story of the end of King Charming the Fourth’s life.
John the Cute had been racing Death to reach King Charming the Fourth. When he walked into the King’s bedroom, he saw the king was still alive.
He had met the king twice before. The first time, John the Cute was a two-year-old child, and so he did not remember the incident. The second time, King Charming the Fourth had been magically transformed to a noble, blue bird. And so John the Cute did not recognize the king when he saw him. Now John the Cute was eager to converse with the king armed with full knowledge.
“Stop!” A hand grabbed John the Cute’s shoulder. A powerful man was standing near him.
“My name is Colonel Stone, the King’s personal guard, and his most trusted advisor. You may not see the King.”
“He asked for my presence,” John the Cute replied. “Please allow me to see him.”
“The King has asked for John the Cute and only for him. You are clearly not John the Cute, since you are far from cute.”
“Colonel Stone, my good friend,” the King whispered from his bed. “Let him in. It is he, even though he has lost his cuteness.”
Stone nodded and took a step back. John the Cute stepped forward. “Your highness, Death is right behind me. He is seeking to shake your hand.”
King Charming the Fourth nodded. “I am sick, and have been expecting him. And yet, I am sure we have a few more minutes. John the Cute, you have changed since I have seen you last. You have seen many hardships.”
“Yes, your highness. To get here, I had to overcome greed, jealousy, temptation, bullying, predators, and Death. And I have only arrived here in time because of friends I have made in life.”
The King nodded.
“Good. You have overcome hard tests. You have risked and sacrificed much. Now I must ask you to make the greatest sacrifice of all.” He coughed, then continued. “You must become king after my death instead of my natural heir, Prince Charming the Fifth.”
John the Cute lowered his head. He had known for years that this moment would come. Now he asked the question that had plagued him ever since he was a child, “Why, your highness? Why choose me to become king?”
The king raised his hand and pointed a finger at the side of the room. “This is the Fairy Tale Tree.” In the corner stood the most magnificent tiny tree, with thousands of small branches, reaching in and out, intertwining, separating, and joining in the most beautiful shape.
“The Fairy Tale Tree,” King Charming the Fourth continued, “is magically linked to the land itself. When the Land of All Legends is sick, the tree is sick. When someone new is born, a new leaf or branch grows.”
John the Cute peered at the complexity of the tree. It seemed as if he could stare at it for hours without growing bored.
“Over the last twenty-eight years,” the King continued, now gasping for breath. “The tree has been dying. New leaves had not come. Entire branches have fallen off. And it is thus in the Land of All Legends. Only one new branch has sprouted – and it has sprouted eighteen years ago on the place that represents Bambooville. Whereas other branches are weak, this one was strong. Whereas the tree is beginning to sag, this branch rises upwards. You are that branch. That is why I had gone to Bambooville sixteen years ago. I went there to meet the branch. And meet him I did. I held you in my hands.
“John the Cute, the land is dying. New people and new creatures are not being born. Disease is everywhere, and Death claims people by the hundreds. If it continues like this for another few years, then the land itself will be gone and dry, and all its denizens will be dead.
“You, John the Cute, must find a solution to the problem that will destroy the land. It must be you, because I have enjoyed the palace too much and remembered my responsibilities too late. My son is even less responsible than I have been. All royalty has been spoiled by money and greed. You are special. It has been prophesied. And the Fairy Tale Tree clearly says so.”
“I am not worthy.”
“You have no choice.”
John the Cute lowered his head once more, feeling the weight that has been put on his shoulders. “I do not know where to begin, your highness.”
“Use my advisors. Make them trust you. Allow them to share their wisdom with you. Explore the land for its secrets, ancient and new. Find what is hidden. Discover all secrets of the Land of All Legends, and one of them will surely lead you to the cause of the horror.
“I leave you the Fairy Tale Tree as a reminder of your task. You must consult it often, to see the condition of your land. You must examine it for clues. You must… figure everything out for yourself.”
John the Cute breathed a deep sigh. His face lined even more with worry. “I shall do my best, your highness. I shall be King John the No Longer Cute.”
“No,” the king admonished John the No Longer Cute. “You shall be King John the Cute. You will bear the name ‘Cute’ even though you have changed. It will remind you always that there is a price for everything and that there are losses in life.”
At that moment, Death burst through the door.
Death looked angrily at John the Cute.
“One last thing,” King Charming the Fourth gasped. “You are not who you think you are.”
Death touched King Charming the Fourth’s hand, and immediately the King died.
Death looked at John the Cute. “The King is dead,” he said.
“Long live the King,” Stone held John the Cute’s shoulder. “I am witness to the old King’s wishes.”
Death did not move. “Are you not even a little sad,” he asked King John the Cute, “that the King is dead?”
King John the Cute shook his head. “It has been prophesied that I will meet the king four times. I have only met him three times. I shall meet him and talk to him again. Perhaps when I am successful in the quest he had given me.”
Stone laughed and Death frowned. “I like you already,” said Stone. “Come, let us inform the palace, prepare the burial, and then prepare the kingdom for the celebrations of the new King.”
Stone led King John the Cute out of the room, leaving Death alone with the body.
This has been the harrowing story detailing the beginning of King John the Cute’s quest, a quest to discover the secrets of the Land of All Legends and to save it from destruction.
(To be continued on Sunday…)