R. C. SmithShort Stories and Vignettes

Do not read my works if you are offended by descriptions of sexuality and violence.
(Do not read them just for those descriptions, either.)

The Goatherd

This is a story that I have dreamed. Seriously. During the night from April 24 to 25, 2017. I have embellished the dream here, added some color, worked on the language, but the core of this story is what I have dreamed.

For inspiration, the dream is clearly indebted to Turandot, Penelope, Pirate Jenny, the brothers Grimm, and many others. My thanks to you all!

~

The King has died, leaving his daughter as his only heir.

She had ruled together with him.

The law says, the King’s, or the Queen’s, throne and life have to be shared. Now that the King has died, his daughter rules in his name, but she cannot be the Queen, until she has found the one to be her consort.

The King has left his bow in her possession. Maybe it was he who had declared it, before his death, or maybe it had been she herself, but the word has been spread, that the one who proves to be able to draw the old King’s bow, will be the one to live and reign with her.

From near and far, men have come to try to win the prize. Princes, warriors, commoners — strong and courageous men, all of them, but not even the strongest of them has even come close to drawing the bow. When they fail, of course, they have to die.

What they do not know (and does the King’s daughter know it?), is that the King hadn’t been able to draw this bow, either — he had it made and strung for this purpose, heavy, sturdy, from the hardest and most unbendable wood, so that no mortal can draw it.

So, men come, young men, old men, men in the prime of their years, and the King’s daughter watches, as they try, and fail, and die.

Then comes the girl.

Everybody had assumed that only men could apply, but, nowhere had this actually been said, or written.

So, at the day of the week, at the time of day, assigned for suitors to take up the challenge, with her dark eyes and her ragged clothes, she enters the palace.

They question her, as they had questioned those before her, in the palace’s central court, where the King’s daughter, the courtiers, the servants, and many of the citizens and also visitors to the town have assembled.

What is your name?

— They call me you, there.

What is your profession?

— I am a goatherd.

Where are your goats?

— They have been killed during the war last year, to feed the soldiers.

What do you live on, then?

— From alms that people give me, when I please them.

Why have you come?

— To make an end of it.

Then they bring the bow, and place it before her, one of the guards holds it in his outstretched hand, one end resting on the ground, the other end as high as his head.

You can still go away, they tell her, but only now.

I want a favor, she says. I want the King’s daughter to hold the bow, instead of the guard.

There is a murmur from the crowd, at this unheard-of request. They all look at the King’s daughter, as she stands up, walks down from the dais where she had been seated, to the center of the court where the bow, the guard, and the shepherd girl are, and as, without a word, she takes the bow out of the guard’s hand, and holds it, standing erect, with arm outstretched, as he had done. Less strong and less tall than he, she still holds the bow steady, in a firm grip.

She looks at the girl before her, who had come to make an end of it.

“Now draw the bow, or die,” she says. She feels sad, there had been so many deaths.

The girl, instead of taking the bow, takes two steps back. The crowd gasps, the palace guards grip their swords, but the King’s daughter does not yet move, nor does she give a sign. Then the girl stops, kneels down, and from a pocket of her gown takes out a rolled up blank sheet of paper, which she unrolls, and a pencil. She puts the paper on the ground before her, and with the pencil she draws the King’s daugher, and the bow, as she holds it.

~

“Why have you come so late?” the King’s daughter, now the Queen, asks her, after she had led her into the privacy of her chamber. “So many have died.”

“I had wanted to see them die,” the girl says. “I had wanted to be worthy of being your companion.”

And the Queen takes her in her arms, and kisses her, and rips off the girl’s clothes, and her own, and, unheeding of the sounds of celebrations from the crowd outside, drawing each other’s blood with their finger nails and teeth, they sink into each other’s embrace.

(04/2017)

Back to Index