The White King
EVERYONE had heard the story of the White King. It had passed down from mother to daughter, sister to sister, maid to maid; the story always lived on the lips of every girl in town. Though, not everyone believed the truth of it, and most did not even care for this fanciful story, all knew. Even the men, old and young. And eventually, all believed.
Every once in one hundred years the peaceful village of Scania had the honour of being graced by a unicorn, the White King, an ancient creature of great magic and power. And every once in one hundred years, a maiden went missing. Everyone knew where the missing girl went. The unicorn comes to their humble village in all its awe and glory, and reveals itself to one and one particular. That one, and one particular, girl soon disappears never to be seen again. Sometimes, the disappearance occurs shortly after the revelation, sometimes the unicorn waits days, weeks or even months. But they all disappeared in the end, borne away by the magical beast, to its otherworldly home. Tears are shed for the girl gone. Sad tears and happy tears- sad to have lost a sister or a daughter, and happy to know that those gone has been raised to a height greater than mortality.
A hundred years had passed and the hour of the calling had long come and went. Ascension was but moments away. Stani was awash with excitement, weeping freely at her mother's shoulders, hugging her sisters and mussing up her brother's hair. There would be a feast, but Stani would not partake in it. Stani would be far away, in a distant land where food has no more meaning than empty air does.
Alone she had walked into the forest, leaving friends and family behind, who showered her with petals of colourful flowers. They gave her a necklace of gossamer weeds. The necklace glittered even in the moonlight. Alone she had walked into the forest, and alone she would leave it.
Save the weed necklace, she was naked as the day she was born when she entered the calling circle, with her clothes strewn about outside it. The moon had hid behind a blanket of clouds as if to shield her from prying eyes. She waited and waited. An hour passed, and then two, though it seemed to her that she was waiting for days. The breeze brought in a wave of cold air, and Stani shivered in the dark. She looked back at her pile of clothing, longing for warmth. A furtive glance towards the moon, the necklace fell on the circle ground, and soon enough, she was back in her clothes, no longer able to tolerate the cold.
She went back to the calling circle and waited, and waited, the weed necklace in her fingers. It did not glow, nor was it gossamer anymore. The breeze blew faster, blowing at her skirt and her long hair. And with the wind came the sound of hooves. Stani smiled, in excitement and fear, fidgeting more and more as the hoof beats drew nearer.
In the dim night, the unicorn appeared dull and unmagical, but it mattered not to Stani. She, and every other person alive, knew the magic of the unicorn. Wonderful creatures striking wonder into the hearts of men. The equine trotted into the calling circle and nuzzled Stani's outreached hand. With listless eyes, Stani stared at the old god, lost in the magic of the moment and the power of the unicorn.
She placed the gossamer necklace on the unicorn's head, and smiled, eyes listless. The unicorn whinnied and licked the girl's palm. It reached up its mouth towards the girls' neck, and found bare skin covered by tresses of her hair. A dullness settled over Stani's eyes, and the unicorn bared its teeth, as if grinning. Stani smiled almost melancholically as the clouds drew back revealing the moon. Half a moon, it was and dark orange. Like dried blood, thought a far away distant voice in Stani.
She looked down at the white fur of the unicorn. But it was not white. It was dirty- soiled and caked with dried blood. Even its horn was broken halfway through. Even under the spell of the unicorn, its eyes were terrible enough to send a small jolt of fear at Stani. Dark, dead eyes that stared into your soul and made you weep. And weep Stani did, entirely unaware of her surroundings and even of herself. The unicorn bared its mouth, and the jaw snapped at Stani's neck. Blood dripped down the beast's jaw line, staining its already bloody fur.
Blood fell to the calling circle, bubbled and evaporated into the air. The unicorn stabbed Stani in the stomach with its broken horn, and threw her frail body on its back. It gave another whinny. It was a haunted sound, Stani realized vaguely, as the life ran out of her. The weed necklace had slipped the unicorn's head at the circle center. The dark unicorn turned and made its way back into the forest, Stani on her back, dead and bleeding.
The hoof beats died away and the moon was once again under a blanket of dark clouds. Scania slept and Stani disappeared never to be seen again, and the legend of the White King lived on.
Our Endless Numbered Days
This night isn’t meant for remarkable things.
“Since when did you start? I thought you quit.” An indifferent mumble, choked, the strain of life reducing it to a croak as the sentence finishes. She isn’t turned towards me as she speaks; she faces outside, as we all do. The side of her form which faces me lies bathed in moonlit milky luminescence, her eyes invisible as the glasses perched on the edge of her nose refract the light heavenwards. She is a sight to be consumed. Even Goddesses watch as she moves.
“I don’t feel like caring tonight.” Wry smiles burst forth from all our faces, instantaneous, splits of comprehension breaking through on a night that was made of anything but. We all know, somehow, someway, that this moment in time, at this very place, we are allowed to let go of everything that so severely chains us, and so intensely refuses to let go. Just like we knew, no contact beforehand that the others would be here. Tonight, we are free.
Where we are: a rickety wooden tree house that hangs meekly on the branches of a banyan tree in the woods, far away from everything that makes us, us. ‘House’ is paradoxically an overstatement and, at the same time, an oversimplification. To the unattached eye, it is just an incomplete wooden box, scrapes of timber nailed together to form a barely legible platform and three walls; one wall is conspicuously absent: it serves as our door, a rope ladder leading up to the edges of the floor. But to us, it isn’t anything too histrionic as a friend, but, rather, just a place to be when no other place is deemed appropriate. And this place in the woods, it is hers. Her dad had built it for her eight years ago, when none of us knew each other. And even after all this time, even though him and I have become so engrained into its existence, the surroundings somehow find a way to resonate of her.
She sighs. “He’s such a nice guy. And so, for lack of a better word, cool. I would like to get to know him. But…” The reason, that we all know, dangles in the air, unspoken and untouched. He and I, we don’t speak of it, but each word stings and seethes into us with despairing intensity. That is nothing new: she is wanted by all, and loved by many, he and I included. There’s an army of men who’d shoot for her. But this night isn’t for all that; we let it go. And even though we have no idea what this night is for, for now, we just sit around.
We’ve been here so many times, but never as it is right now. There’s an element in all of us that renders the difference absolute. It is so perhaps, because we all realize this maybe the last time we are ever here, with he, an inconspicuous ghost, lost in the wind, about to leave for London even though it’s the last thing he wants; me, my roots stuck irrevocably in the softly sinking earth of my past, immovable, clueless as to what to do with the life I have been given; and she, because of him. Those days which once seemed so limitless, fraught with the youthful zeal of immortality now is about to come to a blazing halt, the unshakeable hand of reality derailing the courses of our dreams. Life has an uncanny ability to take away everything we take for granted. Even if it hurt, we never realized how much the others and the tree-house helped keep us afloat, how a baby screamed in all our bones so scared to be alone. We are bruised; we are spilt; we are bold. There’s an army of stars that crash the night. They are burning but still, it is cold. And the moon, helpless, throbs to stay, but we know, soon enough, it will lose itself in the blaring heat of a new day, a new beginning none of us want. We wait as the dawn, how it aches to meet the day. But the dawn and we, we want different things.
Questions riddle our minds; a wind picks itself up in the greenery of the woods. But those questions are never aired. They aren’t meant to be. Our endless numbered days draw ever so near and, just for this purgatorial limbo of a moment, we don’t acknowledge their imminent arrival. We simple are, in this box that is a house, with a door that is not a door, clueless and afraid, yet filled with nothing to lose. We realize we may never know what this life and love and living is for. So for now, we’ll just sit around.
By S. N. Rasul
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