The King of Sorrow

SheepA Fairy Tale

There once dwelt, on an island in the middle of the ocean where no boats ever came, a sad King named Mirth. For when he was born, an old fairy with a Magic Eight Ball told his parents that love of him would one day bring sorrow to a lonely Queen. His parents, the King and the Queen of Pavendia, laughed this off. But when Mirth became King, he learned of the prophecy, and swore he would never be the cause of sorrow for any Queen, however lonely. Therefore he had himself banished. He entrusted the Kingdom to his brother, and had himself clapped in chains and rowed away. With him went fifty-two sheep, fifty-two packets of vegetable seeds, fifty-two books about philosophy and other arcane subjects, and a deck of cards.

Years passed. Mirth read every book he owned until the pages fell out, and played so many games of solitaire that the cards were worn white, and it was impossible to tell the King of Diamonds from the Deuce of Spades. Back in Pavendia, he was quickly forgotten, except by the manufacturers of playing cards, who still printed his likeness on the Jack of Hearts.

Far from Pavendia there lived a lonely Queen whose name was Joy. She was always sad, because there were no Kings or Princes or Dukes or Barons or anyone like that for her to marry, and her subjects would not let her marry a commoner. She had gone hunting once with a brave man who she thought might be good husband material, and he had even kissed her cheek. But when her ladies-in-waiting found out about it, they had the man banished, and scrubbed her cheek with baking soda. So she would sit for hours in her solarium, looking into a Magic Eight Ball she had purchased at a courtyard sale.

“Magic Eight Ball, Magic Eight Ball,” she would say, “will I ever find a King to marry?”

And every day the Magic Eight Ball would reply, “Answer Hazy. Ask Again.”

Then one day the ball said, “It Is Certain.”

When Joy looked into the ball again, she saw sad Mirth on his island, and she loved him. She asked the Magic Eight Ball what the name of the island was, and it said, “Sorrow.”

Joy began to ask everyone she knew if they knew the way to the Island of Sorrow, but none of them did. After she ran out of people she knew, she started asking people she didn’t know. One day she asked an old, old man, who was in fact a witch. Wizard. Whatever.

“I do not know the way to the Island of Sorrow,” he said, “but the Northeast Wind may know.”

Joy thanked him, and resolved to ask the Northeast Wind. She had her grey mare saddled and provisions packed, and rode off to the Northeast to seek the Wind. She rode up hill and over dale, through valleys, and around piles of rock you couldn’t in justice call mountains. On the third day of her journey, she came to the home of the Northeast Wind.

“O Northeast Wind,” she said. “Can you tell me how to find the Island of Sorrow?”

“No, I do not blow past that island,” said the Northeast Wind. “But ask my sister the Southwest Wind. She may know.”

Joy reprovisioned herself at the guest house, and in the morning she rode off to the Southwest to seek the Wind. She rode up hill and over dale, through valleys, and over clefts in the rock you couldn’t in justice call passes. On the third day of her journey, she came to the home of the Southwest Wind.

“O Southwest Wind,” she said. “Can you tell me how to find the Island of Sorrow?”

“No, I do not blow past that island,” said the Southwest Wind. “But ask my brother the North-Northwest Wind. He may know.”

“This is getting ridiculous,” said Joy.

“Sorry,” said the Wind.

Joy reprovisioned herself at the youth hostel, and in the morning she rode off to the North-Northwest to seek the Wind. She rode up hill and over dale, and through valleys and holes in the rock you couldn’t in justice call tunnels. On the third day of her journey, she came to the home of the North-Northwest Wind.

“O North-Northwest Wind,” she said. “Can you tell me how to find the Island of Sorrow? And if you send me to the South-by-Southeast Wind, I think I’ll scream.”

“There’s no such thing as South-by-Southeast,” said the North-Northwest Wind.

“Yeah, fine,” said Joy. “Do you know where the island is?”

“Yes,” said the Wind. “In the morning you shall climb into a hot air balloon, and I shall blow you thither. But you must take care that the fire does not go out, or you shall fall into the sea and become fish chow.”

Joy reprovisioned herself at the bed-and-breakfast, and in the morning she climbed into the hot air balloon. The North-Northwest wind blew her over hills and dales, valleys, and mountains that justly deserved the name, and finally out over the ocean. But on the third day of their journey, she let the fire go out, and the balloon began to lose altitude. Soon she could see fish licking their cold lips in anticipation. But no matter how she tried, she could not relight the fire.

Just as the gondola was starting to skim the tops of the waves, a killer whale swam up. “I can carry you to the Island of Sorrow,” he said. “It is not far off. But you must not let go of my dorsal fin, or you shall fall into the sea and become fish chow.”

“How did you know—” Joy began, but he interrupted her, saying, “Don’t ask.” So she didn’t ask. The killer whale carried her up waves and over waves, through waves, and down waves that justly deserved the name. But on the third day of their journey, she let go of his dorsal fin, and fell into the sea.

Now Joy was a wise Queen, and had taken a water safety course, so she slipped off her shoes and struggled out of her billowy gown, the better to float. Fortunately she had a fairly modest bathing costume on underneath, which she always wore, for reasons that don’t bear going into.

Just as the fish were swimming up to her and licking her to see if she tasted like dinner, a giant albatross swooped down and grasped her by the arms, lifting her high into the air. “I can carry you to the Island of Sorrow,” he said. “It is not far off. But you must not make any sudden movements, or you shall fall into the sea and become fish chow.”

“How did you know—” Joy began, but he interrupted her, saying, “I’ll tell you later.” But he never did. The albatross carried her over waves and so on. On the third day of their journey, just as Joy felt she must make a sudden movement or die, he set her down on the island.

“How can I ever repay you?” asked Joy.

“Don’t worry about it,” said the albatross, and soon he was but a speck in the distance.

Joy shrugged and turned inland. “O King!” she called. “Yoohoo! King! I have come to rescue you!”

Mirth could hardly believe his ears, and he came running out of his hut. But when he saw Joy, he burst into tears.

“Why do you weep?” she asked.

“I can see from the markings on your fairly modest bathing costume that you are a Queen.”

“Don’t you like Queens?” she asked.

“No, it’s not that,” he sobbed. “It was prophesied at my birth by an old fairy with a Magic Eight Ball that love of me would one day bring sorrow to a lonely Queen.”

Joy pulled her Magic Eight Ball out of her fairly modest bathing costume and said, “I wonder if she read that wrong.” She turned the ball over and it said, “Love of You Will One Day Bring a Lonely Queen to Sorrow.” She showed the ball to Mirth.

“What’s the difference?” he asked.

“’Sorrow’ is the name of this island, is it not?”

“Yes, it is,” said Mirth.

“Well, I was a lonely queen, and love of you brought me here.”

“Then the prophecy has been fulfilled!”

They were married that day, although by whom this tale does not say. They changed the name of their home to the Island of Mirth and Joy, and if they have not died, they are living there still in great happiness—although Joy long ago threw her Magic Eight Ball into the sea, and they have given up playing cards altogether.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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