A Short Story in Three Chapters
This story is an adaptation of chapters from the novel No One Named Tim.
Chapter 1: The First Whisper
Once upon a time in a land far away lived a beautiful princess named Joan. When the knock came at her door, she knew why. Joan was the only person in the kingdom who could read or write, so she guessed the prince needed her to compose another threatening letter to someone. There weren’t many like her—only one per kingdom. Joan was niece to the king and had come to the castle when she was five to learn the secrets of writing from the aged scribe. On some future day it would become Joan’s turn to train the next young apprentice. No one else was allowed to possess the skill; it was far too dangerous a craft.
“Come in,” said Joan to the visitor.
A red-haired servant entered and stared down at the floor. She didn’t say a word.
“Prince Chaz wishes to see me?” Joan asked.
“Yes,” came the feeble reply.
Prince Chaz ran the kingdom, though he was not king. The real king, the father of the prince, rotted away in one of the bedrooms upstairs. The king was frail and sickly and had sunk too far into his bed to ever get out again.
Joan walked through the silent corridors. Servants never spoke unless asked a direct question, and then the expected response was always yes. Only members of the royal household were allowed the privilege to speak freely. Otherwise, the kingdom was utterly silent.
At the door to the royal hall, Joan heard laughter from within, and she paused to listen. Prince Chaz and his various guards were speaking.
“Okay,” said one. “Listen to this.”
Joan next heard a series of fart noises and a roar of laughter.
“Hey. I can do it with my foot,” another voice proclaimed.
Fart, fart, fart issued from the hall.
Laugh, laugh, laugh followed.
“I can use my eye socket.”
Fart, fart, fart.
Laugh, laugh, laugh.
An entire symphony of farts soon erupted from a variety of bodily instruments. Joan entered as one of the guards, with his hand cupped into his armpit, pumped his arm like a frantic bird with a broken wing.
Prince Chaz posed on his father’s throne two steps above the level of the floor. Behind the royal seat, tall paned windows rose to the high ceiling, flooding light into the hall and making it seem as if the prince radiated a heavenly glow. Anyone addressing the throne would have to squint and would not see much more than a silhouette.
“Joan,” said Prince Chaz when he saw her. “It’s about time you got here. Write a letter to that moron King Rex and tell him to stay off my land and that he owes me two thousand crowns in reparation, or I shall crush his puny kingdom and take payment from his hide. I don’t know if he has a reader or not, but that’s his problem.”
“Yes, my lord,” Joan replied dutifully.
“Well, what are you waiting for? I’m busy here.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Joan began to leave when more guards entered dragging between them what at first looked like a limp tattered blanket, but turned out to be a man. Chaz watched curiously as they hauled the prisoner up to the dais.
“What is this?” he demanded from his elevated seat.
“Milord,” said one. “This man is threatening the kingdom.”
“What!” screamed the prince. He rose from the throne as his face turned violently red. “A storyteller?”
“No, milord,” the guard clarified. “Just a listener.”
“How do you know?” Chaz asked.
“He looked us in the eye,” the guard explained. It was the telltale sign of a storied person—a person who dared know more than he had a right to.
“You!” Prince Chaz addressed the man. “Who’s telling stories?”
“Absolute silence until spoken to,” the man muttered the first of the two rules pounded into every child’s head.
“I didn’t tell you to recite your catechism,” Chaz rebuked impatiently. “I asked who is telling stories.”
“The answer is always yes,” the man recited the other rule.
To Joan, the poor man looked no smarter than a sheep.
“Who is telling stories!?” shouted Chaz.
The man shifted from one foot to the other, and his lips fumbled and contorted, but no sounds came out. It was as if he knew no other words except those pounded into his memory.
“Take him down,” Chaz said and blew out an exasperated breath.
Joan knew what this meant. No one ever came back from the dungeons. This prisoner would be dead soon. They dragged the limp rag-man out, and Chaz turned to his remaining guards.
“What are you waiting for?” the prince commanded. “Go out and kill me a storyteller.”
Joan was not quite sure what a story was. She had been told they were falsehoods made up by evil people who wanted to bring ruin onto the kingdom. Like everyone else, she believed this. Why would anyone want to invent lies to hurt others? It was mean. And why would people listen to them? A person needed to be crazy to do something like that.
As she walked back to her room she heard an unusual sound, almost like a soft wind easing through a window and billowing the silk curtains, but there were no curtained windows in the corridor. She slowed her pace and listened. Words. Someone was having a soft conversation. An unutterable fear bristled up her spine. Often ranking staff needed to give orders to others; such conversations were normal—do this, do that—but this secrecy could get someone into serious trouble. Joan thought she heard the words prisoner, story and dungeon. She coughed loudly, and the whispering stopped. Joan passed by a door and looked in to see the red-haired servant and another with their surprised faces turned toward her. She nodded to them and continued on her way.