Sunday, June 28, 2015

Skin and Sorrow

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a child queen.

Before I tell this tale, I must explain that this tale has been told many times in many ways. Sometimes it is called "Donkeyskin" and sometimes it is called "Thousandfurs" and sometimes it is called "The King Who Wanted to Marry His Daughter." In these tales, the Queen dies and the King declares that he shall only marry someone as beautiful as she was...and the only one who fits that description is the King's Daughter.

In these stories, the King's Daughter first demands impossible items -- dresses the color of the sky, the moon, the sun -- and then a skin to hide in. In some tales, it is the skin of a magical donkey, in some it is the skin of a cat, and in some it is the fur of many animals stitched together. Hiding in these skins, the King's Daughter then escapes her incestuous father and finds happiness somewhere else.

In the Sorrowlands, however, the tale ends differently. In the Sorrowlands, the King's Daughter marries the King. She stays a child in this tale. She becomes the Child Queen and her tears turn her into the Child Queen of Sorrows. But the King is protective of her, so fiercely protective, that he will allow none to see her except himself.

And when he dies, of course, there is always someone else that finds her and protects her.

This tale has been told many times and in many ways.

"The King is dead," the town crier calls as you wander through town. "The King is dead and now all must hear the proclamation of the Child Queen of Sorrows." The town crier looks like he has been taking his job a bit too literally, all things told: his face is wet with tears. "Hear this proclamation: the King is dead and the Child Queen asks us to choose another King for her."

"This must be a sad occasion," you say to someone standing nearby. Their cheeks are red and wet as well. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"'Tis not the King I'm sad for," the man says, "but the Child Queen. Her protector has gone and no one is left to help her." He steps forward to the town crier. "Here, I shall sign up to be her protector, to be the new King."

You watch as more and more people sign up to be the new King. But there can only be one King at a time, so now there must be a contest. The next King, like the one before, must find and bring forth an impossible item, something that can "change the world with one stroke."

The contest will last until sundown and then the new King shall be chosen.

You find this process interesting, so you go to the palace at the center of the Sorrowlands at the day's end to see if someone has brought forth the impossible item and you bring your pen and paper to record what it is. The palace is cold and even with everyone inside, it still seems empty. You wonder about the servants -- are there any? And what, exactly, did the King die from? You start to ask someone standing next to you, but then the Child Queen appears.

She is the most beautiful child you have ever seen. Her eyes are...her hair is...her skin cannot describe it. Just looking at her is making your eyes tear up. Through the tears, her face distorts and you can see something wrong with it, but then you wipe your eyes and it's gone.

Without even saying a thing, those who want to be the next King (which is basically the whole town) bring forth what they believe is the impossible item. With every shake of her head, you hear sobbing. No, he won't be her protector. Next. Next.

You hardly realize you are the next in line until you are right in front of her. All you are carrying is your pen and paper, but it appears that this is, in fact, the answer to her riddle. These items can change the world with a stroke.

She beckons you to lean down and she touches your face, feeling your skin. Her hands are cold like marble. The more you look into her eyes, the more you realize that this is what you wanted. She is the only thing you need in your life. The King is dead. You are the King. And you must protect her.

This tale has been told in many times and in many ways. In the Sorrowlands, however, the King's Daughter doesn't disguise herself with donkeyskin or catskin or fur. Instead, she uses a different disguise. She wraps herself in your skin.

Long live the Child Queen of Sorrows.

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