NEW BOOK – THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS – ALAN HOWARD (OUT NOW)

Saturday, 30 March 2013

TREE - a fairy tale







Tree

“Once upon a time there was a King who lived in a
Castle with his Queen, their family and retainers. This
castle, as castles do, looked severe and uninviting, its
great grey stone walls towering over the landscape,
each day casting a long forbidding shadow that swept
across the castle’s lands like a scowl.
“There was nothing in its appearance to recommend
it as hospitable to the passing traveller except for certain
rumours of a garden within the outer bailey walls
which, it was said, was cared for by the Queen herself.
This, if those rumours are to be believed, was lush and
vibrant with colour and the songs of birds; for, they
say, all her love and its power poured into this garden,
suffusing it with a beauty that was at odds with the
hostile ramparts of the castle itself.
“Beyond this bailey garden and deep within the
iron-grey walls of the castle keep was a small court-
yard cloister, enclosed all about by sheer walls of
unadorned stone. In this courtyard nothing grew, but
in its centre stood an ancient Tree, of which it was
said that its fast-rising sap had once brought forth leaf
in abundance and the most beautiful flowers every
spring with creamy petals about hearts of deep purple,
tinged with crimson. It was said that the fruit of this
Tree tasted like no other on this wide earth; that its
taste was both scented and sweet, sharp and yet soft,
like peach and cumquat, lychee, mangosteen and passion
fruit all rolled into one, with an honeyed afterglow
that went straight to the heart like a rich mellow
golden dessert wine.
“But that Tree had borne no leaf, nor flower, nor
fruit for many a year, according to those, and they
were few, who had seen it. When this Tree had thrived
long ago, it was said, its benign influence had spread
across the whole kingdom and that it had been a time
of golden fields and rich harvests and only weapons
and armour had rusted and decayed for lack of want.
“The King invited no one into the cloister where
daily he kept silent vigil, wandering for hour after
hour and sitting, when tired, upon a bench on its
northern side where the sun shone brightest into that
deep well of rock, contemplating that gnarled old
Tree. The precise form and every detail of that Tree
was reflected in the unmoving eyes of the King, eyes
once said to have been beautiful with the dark fire of
an unquenchable passion, eyes now lined with sorrow.
“The King would not permit the Tree to be hacked
down, despite his Queen’s protestations that it should
be cleared away to allow for new planting; for in that
Tree was a little nest of twigs and feathers which had
lain in a hollow between two great branches for a long
time now. And it was for this that the King remained
adamant in his refusal.
“For only the King knew that, once or twice, a
tiny bird had come and alighted there with a twig or
feather in its little beak, placed it carefully in that nest
and fluttered about, sometimes around the old King’s
head, sometimes brushing his cheeks with its softfeathered
wings, before departing up and away into
the freedom of the world beyond.
“The old King waited patiently. He knew that if
only that tiny twittering bird should return from its
wanderings and nest there, ever-so briefly, and fill
the great court with the echoes of its song, then this
gnarled and ancient Tree would feel the vibrancy of its
simple joy and once again burst into leaf and flower
and sing its own quiet melody through the rustling
of its leaves and proudly display the splendour of its
blossom and become heavy with its delicious fruit.
“For the King knew that the Tree depended upon
the bird as the bird depends upon the tree for a place
to nest and the materials with which to build its transient
home. The King knew that the little bird would
not stay. He knew that in its very comings and goings,
in the light touch of its tiny feet upon the Tree’s
rough bark, in the nestling warmth of its sitting for
long enough, that in all of these lay the secret of the
first stirrings of the Tree’s sap, which would bring the
old Tree back to life. He knew that it was in the sweet
fanning of that life in the fluttering of the tiny bird’s
wings in departing and returning that the old Tree
would be moved to re-create its bold display of green
in defiance of its grey confines, and to bring forth its
lovely flowers and from these grow its wondrous fruit,
the touch of whose skin was said to be so velvety soft.
“The King knew that once the little bird had tasted
of this magical fruit, the Tree could live again, trusting
in the return of the tiny bird and its offspring to
define its seasons and give ear to its whispered secrets,
enchanting tales.
“The King knew this because he was bound to that
ancient gnarled Tree as surely as if with the heaviest of
iron chains, for the King’s heart itself was in that Tree,
and this Heart-of-the Tree was barren for want of
that tiny bird which, of all the birds in the wide, wide
world, had once or twice found its way through the
lush gardens and meadows of the bailey garden and
over the high unassailable walls of the keep into this
cloistered retreat in which the King held daily court in
judgement over the fate of the Tree: each day postponing
its destruction for the sake of that tiny fluttering of
hope.
“I don’t know whether that Tree ever burst into leaf
and flower, and whether the King’s joy was restored in
the end or whether he ever tasted of that fruit again,
for this tale was told to me by a jester who once
passed through that place and witnessed the King’s
musings and was bold enough to draw from him the
tale of the Tree. But that jester has never since returned.
“Some say that there never was such a Tree, that all
such stories are but fairy tale, lies to deceive the gullible;
others that the very being of the story is proof
enough of there having been such a Tree, once upon a
time (the Rationalists of the first group point to these
Romantics and say, “case proven”). And we know
that jesters do lie sometimes, but also that in their
outlawry they are free to tell truths others dare not
whisper.
“ But I do not know. I would dearly like to believe in
such a Tree. For, if there were such a Tree and if such
a bird did exist, once upon a time, then they would
surely inspire such Tales as this one…”


This tale is from my book of short stories, poems and illustrations, ‘Ana Thema’ – Alan Howard (see previous three blog posts).



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