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Austin Elmo Stone

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The Emerald King

A modern fairy tale

The Emerald King was on everyone’s lips that summer. From the moment that Kim sold the tale to the group the myth took hold. You could see it in their eyes. A faint flicker that burst into glorious flames even before her story was over. They would sing the rhyme and dance down the lane, convinced that this would grant them some marvellous favour in the eyes of the King. They’d camp out overnight beneath the great oak tree and would beg and plead for it to open. Yet it stayed silent all summer long, at least until the night Aimee came forth.

The great oak tree stood proudly above Mormont Hill. You may even have passed by it from time to time. Mostly likely you’ve not paid it much notice. Sure, in the autumn when the leaves turn to gold and dance their way to the ground it may turn the occasional head. A few tourists may even take a photo of it because damn it sure does look pretty. Other than that, the world tends to pass by without giving it so much as a second thought. That one summer though, it became a shrine to the local street kids. In its shadow they made their daily pilgrimage and paid homage to The Emerald King.

Kim’s story told of the old wizard. He was not yet known as The Emerald King – for how can one be a king without a kingdom? Time and time ago, when magic still lived in the world, the old wizard communed with the great oak tree and learned of its secrets. So strongly convinced of the old wizard’s intentions, the great oak tree provided for him a doorway into a long lost world. By all accounts it was a world of wonder and delight. It was in this strange world that the old wizard, whose true name is long since lost to us, became The Emerald King.

So the rhyme goes:

Behold, I saw a man who danced
And danced and danced along the lane.
Beneath a hill of emerald green
He made his throne and there he reigned.

Of all of the children most affected by Kim’s story, it was Aimee whose desire burned brightest. Younger than the others, about 10 or 11 years of age, she sat cross-legged and drank in the tale of the old wizard atop the hill. “Magic”, she whispered excitedly to herself. The promise of such mysteries brought a small glimmer of hope to her life. You see, Aimee was not like you or I. She had known neither comfort nor love. The luxury of a warm bed and a roof over her head was as mysterious to her as any tale of wizardry or magic. If one could be real, why couldn’t the other?

Each night as the other children begged the tree to open and muttered various incantations and chants that they had heard in nursery rhymes, Aimee sat on the outskirts watching and listening to all that occurred. Other than the occasional groan or creak in the strong evening breeze, the great oak tree gave up no secrets. Or so it seemed.

Aimee listened intently. Over the sounds of the pleading, begging and chanting of the rhyme, she was sure she could hear a whisper. It sat on the wind, quietly at first, but then grew louder, soaring and diving all around. She held back a gasp and glanced left and right to see if the other children had heard it, but not a soul reacted.

“Please”, she whispered back. No more need be said. If the Emerald King and the great oak tree were as wise as Kim promised, they would know what Aimee craved.

The whisper on the wind came back stronger still. Not exactly a word, but more a sentiment given voice. Aimee closed her eyes tightly and waited. She could feel the whisper roll around her, over her and through her. A strange sensation tingled on the tips of her fingers and toes before spreading throughout her body. It wasn’t cold exactly, nor was it warm, yet it raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Then, as suddenly as it came, the whisper and the wind receded. The sound of children returned and all seemed back to normal, but for Aimee something fundamental had changed. “Magic”, she whispered again; it had to be.

Eventually the children fell asleep. Well, some drifted back to whatever space they called a home. Others, most to be honest, fell asleep in the shadow of the great oak tree. The older girls huddled together for warmth whilst the proud, and foolish, boys shivered in isolation.

It was in this moment that Aimee crept forward. She stepped over a boy her age and circled around a large group of snoring girls. She held her breath and begged her own heart to beat a little less loudly. After what felt like an age she reached the foot of the great oak tree.

She had no magic words. She had no spells or incantations. All she had was the memory of a whisper and a desire for something better than all of this. And so, purely out of instinct or so I believe, Aimee placed her hand onto the course bark. It was warm to the touch. She didn’t expect that, and in a start she pulled her hand back. A small gasp escaped her mouth and somewhere in the darkness a boy stirred and murmured a question before falling back to sleep.

Aimee clasped her hand over her betrayer of a mouth and froze like a statue for a few seconds. After a moment of stillness she returned her hand to the tree. She closed her eyes and with her own whisper asked, “please”.

The emerald hill shuck. The great oak tree groaned and a mighty wind thundered down upon them all. The other children rose to their feet in a panic. It was hard to stand and so they ran down the hill in fear, away from Aimee and the great oak tree. Like a tornado the wind circled the hill, once a whisper, the voice now roared into the night. The children covered their ears in pain and fright, but to Aimee it sounded like the sweetest of songs; fragrant almost. A taste of strawberries filled her mouth and, in spite of herself she giggled. A most curious thing.

The great oak tree grew hot to the touch so Aimee pulled her hand away in fear that she might get burned. It was then that the tree rolled open.

Now, this is hard to describe, and I hope you can forgive me. However, it simply is not something one can easily explain, because trees by their very nature do not tend to talk, not grow hot, nor do they fold apart at the middle and produce a doorway. Yet, that is precisely what happened on that summer’s night.

Aimee stood before the doorway. This was more than a mere hole in the midst of a broken tree. It was an actual door. Ornate wood carvings covered it from top to bottom. The carvings depicted ancient heroic figures in the heat of battle and two young lovers entwined at the heart of it all. An old, wise and kind king sat above them all on a throne. The words “hope and enter” were carved into the door handle in a language that Aimee did not recognise but could somehow read.

And so, without a moment’s hesitation, Aimee reached out, turned the handle and opened the door.

The most brilliant light bled into the night. All at once it was blue and red and green and gold. Each child who bore witness would tell you they saw a different colour. So bright it became that they had to shield their eyes, but not before they saw Aimee or her silhouette at least, take a brave, small step forward into the light. The roar of the wind turned to a song that all could hear. So beautiful it was that many of the children began to cry. And then as suddenly as it all began, so too it ended. The doorway closed, the light disappeared and the song died down. Aimee was gone. Night returned to the emerald hill and the great oak tree stood silent once more.

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