Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sublime Elephants?

This story is long, long overdue. It started in Flinters, as a challenge from the Gryphon. That is, it started in a writing group, with a challenge from Liz. But... I think I'll write about that after the story, so that those of you who don't know about it won't know what's going to happen... yes. Hmm.

Once upon a time, in the southern lands of Kehashi, there was a tiny kingdom with the sea on one side, and much larger kingdoms surrounding it on the others. The only reason it had not yet been gobbled up was that it was a very poor kingdom, and no one particularly wanted it. It lacked even a decent harbor, for cliffs rose all along its coast.

One day, however, the king and queen had a daughter, who grew up to be a gorgeous princess. It so happened that while she was growing to be beautiful and desirable, one of the neighboring kingdoms was growing to be more and more powerful. When it came time for her to marry, this neighboring king decided that, as he was so powerful, it would be no trouble at all to conquer this tiny little place and take the princess for himself. It would be a good exercise for his troops, a bit of easy fun -- almost like a holiday. He could have asked for her hand in marriage, but where would be the fun in that? Besides, their king had a reputation as a stuffy do-gooder, and he had a feeling his proposal would be rejected, though it mean the destruction of the kingdom. Might as well dispense with the intermediary step, not to mention the bride price.

And so it came to pass that the evil king marched a portion of his army, with his war elephants, across the little kingdom to the castle on the cliffs by the sea. It only took a day to travel across the land, but that was enough time for word to reach the castle before the army arrived. There was little they could do, but they gathered the farmers from the lands nearby into the walls, and tried to prepare for a siege as best they could, although they were afraid the walls would be quickly breached.

Soon there was no more to be done, and watchers on the walls reported dust on the horizon, such as many marching feet creates. They waited and waited, and the king, queen, and princess went to the walls to wait with the soldiers.

After what felt like days, although it must have been only an hour or two, the army had traveled up the broad gentle slope to the castle. They stopped at a distance, away from the archers, and a messenger bearing a white flag rode up to the gates. He boomed out, "His royal highness King Vilkav of Esten wishes to make his mercy known. Surrender now, and he will allow most of you to flee. Resist, and you will all be destroyed." The tiny kingdom did not like the sound of that. Well, there were a few hearts which lifted at the chance of escape, but overall it didn't sound like a very definitive promise, and they were not cheered. The king gazed at his wife and daughter and replied, "Allow me a day to think over this. Such a weighty decision should not be made lightly." The messenger laughed at him, said, "You have an hour," wheeled his horse, and rode back to the army. They were in no position to negotiate, and everyone knew it.

The king sadly said to his family, "I'm afraid we must surrender. They have elephants to break down our walls. Arrows will not stop them. And then they will kill us all. How can I ask that of our people?"

At this the princess shook her head violently. She was beautiful, but she also had the extreme luck of being wise and good as well. It is not often that so many gifts are bestowed upon one young person. But they'd been given to her, and so she said, "No, father. This man is evil, and he must be resisted. It is the right thing to do. And who are we if we only do what is right when it is easy and safe?"

The king gazed hopelessly at his daughter, unhappy to hear some of his own words coming back to him. "But daughter, can it be right to condemn so many to torture and death? We can resist, but what good will it do? Surrender must be the wise choice." He thought about adding, "And I am the king and you're just a little girl, what do you mean by advising me?" but rejected the thought as petty. Besides, this decision would affect her as well.

"They will fight willlingly, I am sure they will. We know of this king and his rule. He will kill and enslave all who are good. Our land will become a land of witches and goblins. We must fight him! If evil like this were always resisted, there could be a difference."

"But how, how?"

"Use the hour to prepare as much as we can and pray for the rest. Perhaps God will have mercy on us."

The king shook his head sadly, but took his daughter's advice, although he feared the destruction and pain to follow. It would not go easy on him or his people.

They prepared, and they prayed, and when the hour was over the messenger rode to the walls and they told him no. He was rather shocked, but took the news in stride nonetheless, and reported to his king. The king commanded his elephant handlers to spur the elephants into a charge. They were already geared for battle, wearing on their heads and chests armor with many spikes on which to batter battlements. The ground thundered as they came, and all in the castle braced for impact.

But then a miracle happened. For no apparent reason, still hundreds of yards from the castle, the herd divided and made to run on either side of the castle. It looked like water split by a rock in a stream, except the "rock" was invisible, for the castle was too far away still to be the rock. The entire herd ran past the castle to the cliffs it was built on, and charged off the cliffs into the sea, to fall with a great crash louder even than the thunder of their feet.

Everyone stared. The enemy paled, whispered of black magic, and fled. Those in the castle gaped and praised God. No one could ever explain what happened that day, but the tiny kingdom remained in peace and the princess married one of her countrymen. Generations later they allied themselves through marriage to another good (and larger) kingdom. They were assimilated into it calmly and with respect, gaining their protection. But the story was always handed down, from mother to child, of the day God Himself was their Protector.

Wow, it's shorter in writing than being read aloud... um. So, to continue what I was saying before the story, one of Liz' classes was discussing the sublime, and her teacher said that some things could never be sublime, like a herd of elephants charging over a cliff in the rain. And thus the challenge was born. Now, a few years later, I finally figured out what I wanted to write (although I forgot about the rain). I had thought about it off and on, but never quite grasped the plot I wanted... One night I had to go to bed early, and as I lay there and thought about all kinds of things, my mind came back to this and I finally got it. Next morning I had to wait for someone, and I wrote down much of it, in the car. Later in the evening I finished it. Later I read it to another writing group, they liked it, and I decided it might be done after all, despite a couple misgivings on my part. One: does it make sense to use elephants to break down castle walls? I guess so... maybe not all in one go, and maybe there would be a battering ram, I don't know... didn't research elephants more, although I would like to have. The writing group I read it to agreed that elephants can be very powerful and destructive. Number two: I don't like the princess advising the king. Or at least, not completely. It feels like I've made the king too foolish and his daughter too wise. I like the old to advise the young. But... ::shrug:: So, that was it. I'm really not at all sure that it reached the sublime, but I think otherwise it's alright...

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