Creativity Time by Alison Spier

Collage – Betty’s Wedding by Grace Beilman

CREATIVITY TIME BY ALISON SPIER

The warriors huddled around the campfire, the nighttime chorusing of summer crickets chirping in the background. Above them, the stars twinkled and winked, glittering diamonds against a deep blue velvet sky. The youngest of them had her head lifted upwards, admiring the intricate constellations and twinkling planets, visible even from her spot on the ground. 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The mighty hawk constellation.” A voice spoke behind her. She jumped, whirling around to face T’Chuu, a warrior elder. She had, in fact, been wondering about that particular collection of stars, why the colors shifted, giving the impression of a living, breathing animal.

“Yes, but…why is it like that?” Eemalia asked. T’Chuu smiled warmly, the beginning sparks of a story glimmering in his eyes. He cleared his throat, and the others in their warrior-band shuffled together, eager to listen. In their language, “T’Chuu” meant “storyweaver”. Eemalia nestled closer to her friend who had moved beside her, the heat from the fire warming their faces against the chilled night. Eemalia nodded at T’Chuu to begin weaving this particular tale, anticipation fluttering around in her stomach.

“Long, long ago,” he began in a deep, earthy tone. “In a kingdom long since forgotten, there was a king.

“This king was the reason for all the peace and harmony found throughout the kingdom, a land of unity and plenty. But one day, tragedy struck. The wise, old monarch fell ill and died. Since he had not married nor had he named an heir, the kingdom was left without rule and without order. At first, nothing happened. But all it took was one rebellious spark to set the fire of chaos ablaze. Soon, the kingdom was overrun with rivalries and pain and torment and hardship. This once beautiful utopia had turned into a constant war-zone. Our story begins with little Arthur, caring for his numerous brothers and sisters as well as he could after the death of their parents…”

~~~~

He shuffled through the dirt paths, hunting for something to eat, his younger sister not far behind him. The mud squelched beneath his bare feet, sand sticking to his clothes and skin, adding to the layer of grime he could never seem to scrub off. Night had fallen some hours ago, but the grumbling in his and his siblings’ stomachs had kept them from sleep. Unable to stand it, Arthur had dragged the second oldest of his siblings, Ashlynn, out the door of their run-down, ramshackle hut to hunt with him, leaving her twin in charge of their so-called pack at home.

“Arthur!” His sister called from within a nearby bramble of bushes. He turned around towards her voice, unable to clearly see in the deep dark. Squinting his eyes, he could just make out her silhouette as she rustled free from one of the tangled branches to jog towards him. “Look what I found!” She said excitedly once she reached him, her hands cupping several plump blackberries. 

“Yes! Are there more?” He glanced back to where she had come from to see if more plants were ripe with the berries. She nodded vigorously. 

“Two whole bushes of them! Come on!” She giggled, running back towards the brambles. Arthur followed her eagerly. Finally, they had found food to bring back to the pack. Once he and Ashlynn reached the berries, Arthur noticed the plants were still young,  their roots not embedded firmly into the sandy soil just yet.

“Help me dig up the roots. But be careful not to break them. Maybe we can replant them  outside our hut or something.” He told her. If they could have a steady source of food, albeit a small one, it could possibly mean the difference between starvation and survival. Digging up the bushes, however, was a more difficult task than Arthur had anticipated. The branches cut their hands, the roots reluctant to let go. Eventually though, they uprooted the blackberry bushes and started on the path home, Ashlynn leading the way. “Wait,” Arthur paused. Ashlynn turned around to look quizzically at him, a feat difficult when most of her face was obscured by the branches. He was nervous about trekking their find all the way back home in case they ran into thieves, but his siblings needed the food. “I have an idea.”

~~~~

“I can’t believe I listened to you.” Ashlynn told him bitterly, panting and struggling to continue forward. 

“We’re almost there,” Arthur told her, short of breath himself. He had convinced her to take the long way back home, a way that fewer people knew about, just in case they ran into trouble on the normal path. 

“You’re such a worry-wart.” She retorted, hefting her bush higher and continuing on. Arthur’s patience quickly waned as they kept walking, each hoot of an owl and rustle of the wind sending his nerves on overdrive. Ashlynn didn’t seem to move with the same caution as he did however, grumbling to herself and stomping louder than he felt comfortable with. Eventually though, they reached their hut, greeted by a chorus of hellos and “you’re not dead”s. Arthur sighed, setting down his bush, his arms aching and cramped. Ashlynn began complaining to all who would listen about how annoying Arthur had been, and how next time, she would make him night-hunt by himself. Too grateful towards her for finding the berries, Arthur let her complain as he rationed out the food. Finally satiated, he and his siblings flopped on the floor to sleep, the night still dark and long.

However, little did Arthur know, his fate was about to change for good. For not that far past the Evergreen Forest and following the current along the Babbling Brook, lived a river witch, nestled in her cottage by the water. The river witch, who was gifted with foresight, awoke one night with a prophecy fresh in her mind. In order to deliver it to those who needed the miracle, she traveled on foot in the dead of night with only her hawk for company. The hawk acted as her eyes and her guide, for the witch herself was blind. Long throughout the night they raced against time, determined to save the once-glorious kingdom before it was too late. By sunrise, they had arrived. But though the sun may have risen, dark storm clouds thundered ominously above the kingdom. The air was cold, a bite unfamiliar in the usually pleasant spring months, the cottages ramshackled, the people and animals starving. The witch, though she could not see, knew the condition of which the land had fallen. She walked towards the center of the village, her hawk crying out for all those who could to rise. Arthur woke immediately upon hearing the hawk’s screech, pushing himself up from off the floor and bounced silently over his siblings, before slipping out the door to find the source of the noise. To his surprise, several others were gathered around an ancient-looking woman, a mighty hawk circling above her. The hawk waited for a moment before it loosed one final cry and plunged down onto the woman. Arthur gasped, but the hawk didn’t hurt her; in fact, it landed on the woman’s shoulder with surprising tenderness. Arthur glanced around at the gathered citizens, a sea of confused faces, wondering why they had all gathered here. Some even looked as though they were going to head back to their cottages and sleep for a while longer, when the woman shuddered, doubling over. She hacked and coughed, her whole body shaking. Arthur dashed forward as if to help, though he wouldn’t know how. 

“M-Ma’am?” He stuttered. The woman stopped struggling. “Ma’am?” He asked again, panicked. The woman shot out a hand, her iron grip on his shoulder more painful and surprising than he would have expected from someone her age. Her head snapped up, eyes glowing an unnatural gold. Arthur resisted the urge to stumble back away from her.

“A witch!” Someone behind him cursed. The witch’s mouth dropped open, as words began tumbling out: 

“In a land once of polished gold

Of harmony and peace and friendships old

Your king, kind and wise

Left his kingdom without an heir to rise

Chaos fell, violence reigned

A land now of endless misery and pain

But fear not, o forgotten ones, for the fight is not yet over

Bring a torch to the throne room tonight, and you’ll find it hidden beneath the smallest boulder: 

A gleaming, polished surface of adventures told

Hard-cut edges wielded by the bold 

From deepest earth and highest sky

There you’ll find where the Fool’s Heart lies

Only they who may push the boulder and pick up the jewel stone 

Be the newest heir, true to the throne

Yet be warned, for there is a caution to this tale

If their heart is already blackened with hate and envy, it will fail

The jewel will know who to choose, only if you listen 

But if you clash and kick and fight, the Fool’s Heart will vanish into oblivion.” 

As the witch uttered the last word of the prophecy, she sprinkled away, becoming stardust and floated upwards into the sky. Stunned silence echoed in the courtyard for several heartbeats as everyone tilted their heads upwards to find a new constellation, shaped like that of a hawk, each individual star shifting, changing color and light intensity, creating the illusion of a bird moving mid-flight. Arthur blanched, stumbling forward, and turned around to face the village, fear, queasiness and unrest conflicting in their eyes, emotions he was sure were blatantly present in his own. A meeting was called, debates that lasted long through daylight hours: what to do about the prophecy. Many believed the woman was mad, that she was no witch at all, the prophecy fake. Many others knew that the woman was indeed a witch, and when one emerged to deliver a prophecy (accompanied by her familiar, no less) you ought to listen. Arthur had been closer to the witch than any of them when she spoke her prophecy. He knew her words rang true. Still, it took him several hours to convince the village, and by the time they all set out to the castle with torches, not even wasting the time to saddle horses, night had fallen. A sense of urgency sent them sprinting to the castle, clanging open the extravagant doors and racing across dust-ridden marble flooring, until they found themselves quickly to the throne room. Once there, they began the frantic search for this Fool’s Heart, the gemstone that was destined to save them all and pick a new leader to rule. Arthur dashed from one corner of the room to the next, raising his torch high and low, desperate to find this Fool’s Heart gemstone thing or whatever so the kingdom could be restored to its former glory. So his siblings would be safe.

“’Of deepest earth and highest sky’ must have been referring to the mural!” Someone shouted across the room. Arthur paused to think about this. The mural was not of the traditional kind; it was life-sized, made not of vibrant paints but was instead carved into the stone walls of the throne room itself, had been there as long as anyone could remember. The mural also functioned as a map, a direct duplicate of their world, shifting and changing with every last breath of the sparrow and sway of the trees. It could very well possibly be the place they needed to search. The citizens, Arthur included, all surged forward to the mural, awestruck. Arthur had never seen the mural before, and he was certain that no one alive and here right now had either. But the allure of a moving stone carving quickly lost its appeal; as the citizens sprinted about, trying to unearth the Fool’s Heart before their kingdom lost all hope of being saved, the rolling waves cut into their palms as they felt along the carving’s shores, tigers in the jungle and bears in the woods chased down others who went looking for it amongst the trees. It seemed that each time one would get close to the possible location of the Fool’s Heart, the mural would thwart them from being able to retrieve it. It didn’t take long for fights to break out, each determined that she or he were the destined ruler of the land, each determined to find the jewel even if it meant destroying others in the process. All, however, except for Arthur. He separated fights, soothed hateful shouting matches, and did his best to remind the citizens that the Fool’s Heart wouldn’t save them if they acted like, well, fools. 

“Tyran, check over there by the West Shore. Briar, you search north of the Evergreen Forest. We need to find the Heart but we’ll be doomed if we continue this fighting!” He barked orders at people, his own nerves and anxiety feeding off of that of the others’. The sooner they found the Heart and got out of here, the better. Arthur walked alongside the mural, his hand a hair’s breadth away from touching the wall. The witch’s words echoed in his mind, a broken record. Of deepest earth and highest sky of deepest earth and highest sky of deepest earth and… He crouched, placing his hand at the very base of the mural. Deepest earth. Then, he dragged it upwards, slowly, carefully so as not to cut himself, as tall as he could go, fingers splayed across the clouds, reaching for the place where the mural touched the ceiling of the room. Highest sky. Blinding light flashed, and Arthur found himself standing with a ruby the size of an ostrich’s egg in his hands. The Fool’s Heart. He hefted the jewel, its weight oddly comforting. It worked! He smiled gratefully, dragging his gaze back up to all who had come to ransack the castle. Their eyes bore into him with hate, envy, and disgust. 

“Of course you found it,” Tyran hissed, advancing on Arthur. “And right after you sent me to the opposite side of the room, too.” 

“I-I didn’t do it on purpose-” Arthur began, his smile dissipating, as others cut him off, joining Tyran in yelling things at him and accusing him of pointing them all in the wrong direction so they wouldn’t find the stone. As if Arthur had known where the Fool’s Heart was. Arthur kept trying to defend himself, but their furious voices grew louder and more menacing, the villagers all stalking towards him, cornering him. Arthur stumbled back, clutching the ruby close to his chest. “You’re all being fools! The witch’s prophecy warned against this!” He yelled, hoping they’d stop. They didn’t. If anything, they became even more furious. Genuine fear settled into the pit of Arthur’s stomach as he felt his back collide with the stone walls of the throne room. He shut his eyes tight, curling his body around the stone, offering up that feeble amount of protection against their wrath as he felt the villagers reach out with greedy hands to snatch the ruby away from him. Yet, as they attempted to grab the ruby, a stinging electric shock chorused through the air, crackling energy zapping everyone in the room, including Arthur. Pain like he’d never known sparked along his bones, setting his blood ablaze. He could not scream or shout or breathe as the electricity held his body in its thrall, he could not move nor try to escape the crackle of energy as it held him in place, the agony intense enough to drive him insane. Just as it seemed that he would simply die from the sheer pain of it, the electricity zapped off, as quickly and suddenly as it had come. Arthur thudded to the ground, shaking, but on his feet. The same could not be said for the rest. The citizens all lay spread out on the floor, smoking and lifeless. Arthur nudged one, a young woman, with his foot. Dead. Arthur fled, panicked and sickened, the Fool’s Heart still clutched close to his chest. He sprinted out of the throne room, faster than he’d ever run before, sliding across the castle floors, zipping through the back courtyard, feet pounding against solid earth as he bounded into the Evergreen Forest. 

“Children had been warned to stay away from the Evergreen Forest as soon as they were able to talk. Strange things happened there, his parents had warned. The world was different there, the older kids used to say, in spooky tones. Anyone who went in never came back, the king had often cautioned the kingdom. Yet despite these warnings, Arthur still found himself racing through the woods, leaping over fallen trees and dodging vines that tried to strangle him, until at long last, he saw a light on the opposite side. Using the last bit of energy he had, he ran towards that light as if hell itself were on his heels.”

T’Chuu stopped speaking, letting the story drop as if it were a physical thing. Eemalia could practically hear the clank of it hitting the ground cut through the silence that followed. She leaned forward, her eyes full of anticipation, and urged T’Chuu to continue the story.

“That’s all there is to tell,” he told her “No one knows what happened after that.”

“No one?” She inquired, skeptically. 

“No one for sure. Some believe he made it to the other side, others believe he stayed within that forest, ruling over a new population of people and animals with compassion and bravery, conversing with his knights at a round table. Others think that the jewel’s curse about vanishing into oblivion held true, taking Arthur with it; that Arthur is still there, running for a freedom he will never obtain.” T’Chuu answered. Despite the fire in front of them all, the warriors shivered, imagining a life in which they were Arthur, forever running to a safety that was beyond his reach.

Above them. Deep in the night sky, the hawk constellation glittered and shifted, before the hawk’s wings began to flap and move, chasing the sinking moon and making way for a rising sun. Eemalia watched it dive, convinced that the mournful hawk’s cry that echoed throughout the morning confirmed an ending to the story she wished weren’t true.

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