The Perilous Journey: A Short Story
Once upon a time in the kingdom of Burlow ruled by the great tyrant King Kor, in a small hut, a boy was born. On the day of his birth, a wizard came to visit. The parents bowed to him as he entered their little home. He stood gazing at the smiling infant for some time.
“Your son is destined for greatness. He will deliver peace and prosperity to the kingdom of Burlow,” said the wizard.
The parents stood silent with their mouths open.
“Take good care of him. The devil has eyes as keen as a hawk and ears as sharp as a dog, and has plans to slay your son,” warned the wizard.
“But we are poor folks. How can we protect him?” asked the father, worried.
“Do not worry." The wizard raised his staff and pointed it at the newborn. Bright light poured from its tips and blanketed the baby.
“While you are fulfilling your destiny, death awaits those who try to take your life," he said with blazing eyes.
Then the light vanished. He kissed the boy on the forehead and whispered, “Until we meet again, Syrus."
“Syrus?” the parents blurted out in unison.
“Yes. After the brightest star in the night sky, for he will bring light to all the dark lands in the world. Goodbye!” The wizard was gone before the parents could even thank him.
An evil imp was peeping through the window and had seen everything that had happened. His mouth twisted in a devilish grin. He knew two people who would pay a handsome price for such critical information.
The King of Burlow dismissed it, worried the imp had cooked it up to extract gold from him. Gold that he loved more than everything else.
But Lord Oram, the slave master, believed it. Addicted to fame and power, failure had no room in his life. His blood boiled upon hearing the news of the boy. He drew out a master plan.
To ensure Syrus’ safety, his parents never stayed in one place for long. But the hands of evil reach far and wide. Five years later, Lord Oram finally executed his master plan. He sent a dozen men to break into Syrus’s home.
Crashing through the doors and windows, Oram’s men entered the house. The parents stood in front of them shielding Syrus from their swords. The sharp blades pierced through their hearts and they dropped dead. Oram's men snatched the child and burned the house. Streams of black smoke joined the fluffy clouds in the sky. Syrus had become an orphan, and a life of suffering awaited him.
A cage of iron and steel became Syrus’s home; a metal ear tag was his new identity. Lord Oram, determined to get rid of him, tried many times to kill Syrus.
“There must be a way," he muttered.
Once, he ordered his servant to add a vial of poison to Syrus’s meal. Scared, the servant shook his head.
“No, master. Not me, please!”
“It’s either he dies or you die!” Oram bawled; the servant trembled.
With no choice in the matter, he opened the bottle. But before he could pour the liquid over the food, his hands froze and broke into pieces. He didn’t die. But what happened to him was worse than death. Oram threw him out. He wandered the street, begging for alms for the rest of his days.
Later Oram directed one of his guards to behead Syrus in his sleep. As he was about to bring down the sword, the guard burst into smithereens. Seething with fury, Oram clenched his fists and walked out of the cellar. He was not finished yet. He refused to accept defeat. But for now, he let the boy live.
And so for two decades, Syrus lived the life of a slave. With feet shackled, he worked in the fields, carrying heavy loads from sunup to sundown. Oram was clever not to starve Syrus, afraid that death would befall him. Though Syrus had enough to eat, he had no friends. His chains were his only company. Many times he planned on escaping, but Oram’s men were all over the place keeping a watchful eye. If Syrus were to free himself, he would need all the help he could get.
But as luck would have it, there were friendly forces at work.
"The beast raised his trunk and roared, shattering windows and sending people scurrying on their feet."
One morning a flying beast that had the face of an elephant, the body of a lion, and the wings of a condor appeared in the sky. He hovered over Lord Oram’s mansion. Then the beast raised his trunk and roared, shattering windows and sending people scurrying on their feet. Then he sprayed fire all over the roof, scorching everything that Oram possessed. Servants and slaves took the opportunity to scram from the hands of their evil master. Oram fled behind his fleeing slaves, ordering them to return and protect him from the beast. As he ran, the beast swooped from the sky, flapping his mighty wings. He scooped Oram with his long trunk and swallowed him alive.
In an instant, Lord Oram’s reign was over, and Syrus was free. His feet led him to King Kor’s palace. A feeling of familiarity set his heart racing.
He had arrived at a time of great changes. The tyrant had died in his sleep. The invitation to claim the princess’ hand in marriage had created a ruckus in the kingdom. Bedraggled and wearied, Syrus stood at the colossal gate of the palace.
A group of men, women, and children arrived, crowding him. Pushing themselves in, they shoved him along. Soon he found himself right in the area where the princes gathered. Eleven princes of great wealth and power from far away lands, stood high and mighty, before him. Everyone weighing for the princess of Burlow's hand.
The people cheered him, but the princes glared in disgust.
Pointing at Syrus, addressing no one in particular, a prince yelled, “He cannot be allowed to take the princess’s hand in marriage. Look at his ear. He is tagged. He is a slave!”
The situation he was in confused Syrus. He never had the intention to marry, let alone a princess. He turned to the cheering crowd. He smiled and waved at them. For the first time in his life, he felt welcomed. He felt at home.
He was about to explain his presence when someone thrust him to the ground and bellowed, “Leave, slave. You are in the wrong place!"
Before Syrus could get up, a firm and unyielding yet silvery voice silenced the crowd.
“All are equal before my eyes. I shall wed the one who completes the task I demand of you all,” said Princess Eia.
Without turning, Syrus closed his eyes to immerse himself in the sweetness of her voice. Then the princess ordered him to face her and state his name.
He turned around. When his eyes met hers, Syrus forgot his name. He had never seen such a beauty before.
“Pray, tell us your name, young man.” The princess asked him once more. She looked amused at the sight before her.
Scratching his head, Syrus stated his name. The princess tried hiding a smile.
Then she continued, “Well then, gentlemen. You are to embark on a perilous journey to prove yourself worthy of the kingdom. Towards the setting sun, in the deepest part of the forest lies hidden a black stone. It is the rex-oculus, also known as the Eye of the King. Bring it back to me.”
Twelve brave men, including Syrus, set out towards the forest. While the others had horses carrying days of provision, Syrus walked empty-handed. But before he disappeared into the forest, an old woman came running after him and handed him a bag. Inside were loaves of bread, apples and a rug to help him in his journey.
“You are more worthy to be our next king than those men ahead. You can do it, son,” she said.
“I, uh...well, thank you!" was all he could say.
The other men on horses were nowhere to be seen, but it didn’t bother Syrus. He marveled at his new-found freedom. He filled his lungs with fresh air and stuffed his eyes with the wonders of nature. He bathed in a stream and enjoyed the rest of the day basking in the sun and listening to the songs of the birds.
Next day, a sudden determination to finish the quest filled his heart. He had no idea how to complete it, but he felt he owed the cheering crowd and the kind old woman something. Most of all, the words of the princess resonated in his heart. She spoke of equality, and equality for all was what the world needed. If he could help her create such a kingdom for her people, he wouldn’t want to fail her.
Walking fast, sometimes running, Syrus headed west. By mid-noon, he came across a trail of footprints. It led him to a tree where a horse was chained reminding him of his days as a slave. Without delay, he released the horse. As soon as she was free, the horse turned into a unicorn. She jumped and neighed with joy.
When she was done rejoicing, she kneeled as though inviting Syrus to ride her. Syrus sat on her back and, at the speed of light, the unicorn galloped through the jungle. He caught up with the rest of the men.
Soon they came across a woman waving her hands, bidding them to stop. One of the princes kicked her. She fell. Syrus got down from the unicorn and rushed to her aid. The woman was a hag, old and bony. Her parched lips looked like she had neither food nor water for a long time.
Syrus opened his bag to offer her an apple. It was his last morsel, for he had finished most of the food on the first day itself. But when he turned around, the old woman was gone. Before him was a beautiful fairy, smiling at him. Bewitched by her, Syrus’s hand remained suspended in the air.
“Young man, your heart is full of kindness. That apple is your last meal, but you didn’t hesitate to share it with a stranger. You were kind to an ugly old woman who offered you no benefit. Your breed is rare.”
The fairy placed her hands on Syrus’s eyes, and he came back to his senses.
“What are you doing?” he asked as flashes of lights escaped from the fairy’s hands.
“I am giving you the sight that would help you find what you are looking for. Trust your vision!” In a fillip of a finger, the fairy disappeared.
His new eyesight sketched a direct path to the place of the black stone. It bypassed all long and winding trails, dead ends, steep cliffs, and slippery terrains. With the unicorn’s lightning speed, he reached the place in no time.
"A creature that had the face of a boulder and the body of a crocodile plunged into the boiling water. He slowly slithered his way to Syrus."
Shimmering under the crimson sun, the black stone lay on a big round rock. Syrus’s face beamed upon seeing it. But to take it, he had to cross a pool of boiling water. He looked around to search for something to bridge the gap. Not far away, he spotted a log as big as his thigh and long enough to do the job. He dragged it closer, only to drop it when a roaring voice startled him.
“Who dared to disturb my peaceful sleep?”
Syrus’s eyes grew twice their size on seeing the owner of the voice. It came from the rock that held the black stone. A creature that had the face of a boulder and the body of a crocodile plunged into the boiling water. He slowly slithered his way to Syrus.
Realizing his troubling situation, Syrus bowed and said, “I apologize for my intrusion. I did not have the intention to disturb any living creature in the forest.”
“Look me in the eyes, intruder!” the creature demanded. “What is your purpose here?”
Meeting the creature’s eyes, Syrus replied, “I have come to take the rex-oculus.”
The creature laughed. “Why do you think you are worthy of it?”
“I am not really sure.”
“Well then. Why don’t we play a game? I ask, you answer. If your answers are correct, I shall willingly part with my precious possession.”
Syrus agreed. Beads of sweat broke out on his brows.
The creature asked, “Between you and the unicorn, who is the master?”
“The unicorn, of course,” Syrus answered.
“Why is that so?”
“For without her, there is no journey.”
“If she is the master, why is she a slave to you?”
“Not for long."
“With the black stone in my hand, I will go back to Burlow and set everyone free.”
“Even the people?”
“Yes! The people shall answer to no one but to the One Truth in their hearts.”
When the creature heard Syrus’s words, he revealed his true self. Standing before Syrus was the wizard who had visited him on the day of his birth.
“Welcome, Syrus! You have shown your worth. Take the black stone. Go forth and fulfill your destiny as was foretold long ago!”
And so Syrus took the rex-oculus in his hand. The tag in his ear fell and shattered as soon as it landed on the ground. The unicorn bolted like the winds. In a blink of an eye, Syrus stood before the palace gate.
The people of Burlow had already gathered at the palace. Unlike the day he arrived for the first time, the crowd was silent. As Syrus walked past the people, their heads turned to follow him.
Eleven princes stood before Princess Eia; hanging their heads in shame. Syrus joined them, but the princess ordered him to come forward.
“Do you know what they have done?” she asked.
With knitted brows, Syrus answered, “Nay, I know not.”
“These men shall leave, taking their false stones with them. They shall never set foot on this kingdom again. You shall join them if you have come back with the same falsehood.”
Syrus took out the black stone from his pocket. A ragged cloth covered it.
“My princess, I believe this is the black stone you asked us to find.”
At that, Syrus removed the cloth covering it. The crowd gasped as the black stone cast a straight light towards the sky. The people fell to their knees and bowed their heads, including Princess Eia.
Next moment, the people chanted, “Hail the new King!"
A month later, Princess Eia wedded Syrus. Together they ruled the kingdom of Burlow with the people as their allies. The palace remained the home of the new king and queen, but the doors were open to everyone any time of the day or night.
So after many adventures, Syrus fulfilled his destiny as prophesied. Peace and prosperity filled the kingdom of Burlow. And the people, with Queen Eia and King Syrus ever beside them, lived happily ever after.