The Last Storyteller

After Joan finished writing the letter to King Rex, the ringing church bell called everyone to service. It was an unusual time, but clearly the prince thought the people needed a reminder. Joan made her way downstairs and out to the cathedral. The royal household had special seats to the side of the altar. With just a slight turn of their heads, they could watch the multitude of workers lumber in from the fields. There were too many for all of them to sit, so the pews had been removed. Most of the church was just a large empty space for the people to stand in.

Joan watched them enter. They were dirty and walked slowly with their heads down, never looking up. They seemed spiritless, or maybe they seemed like actual spirits. Joan didn’t know if there would be a great difference between a body without a spirit and a spirit without a body. Both lacked the necessary element to make it whole.

When the last ghostly figure plodded in, the priest began the service from behind the raised stone altar.

“Law number one,” he demanded.

In unison, the crowd numbly chanted, “Absolute silence until spoken to.”

“Law number two.”

“The answer is always yes,” they droned.

“You will do well to remember. These two simple laws will guarantee you a long, happy and prosperous life. To forget them will ensure you a miserable death. Do you want a long, happy and prosperous life?”

“Yes,” they chanted.

“Will you obey the laws?”


He continued for some time extolling the virtues of obeying the laws and describing the punishments for breaking them. After the priest elicited enough yes’s from the congregation, he signaled to the guards who then opened a side door and pulled a prisoner forth. Joan recognized him as the man she had seen this morning. They dragged the wilted form to the front of the altar. The priest approached him.

“This man broke the law,” he proclaimed. “Do you forsake him?”

“Yes,” murmured the congregation.

“Do you utterly reject him?”


“The prisoner has now heard from the people,” the priest pronounced. “The prisoner is no longer a part of this community and will be punished until death. For the crime of listening to stories, I will administer the first reprimand.”

The priest pulled from his robes a gold handled knife and cut off the man’s ears. The prisoner did not scream as one might expect; instead he whimpered. Joan had to turn her eyes away, but she could still hear his hollow moans drift through the cavernous cathedral.

“The rest of the sentence will be carried out in due time,” he informed the congregation. “Away!”

With this last word, they dragged the bleeding man back to the dungeons, and the workers shuffled out to the fields.

“Excellent service,” Chaz proclaimed with a satisfied lilt to his voice.

Princess Joan returned to her room with heavy thoughts. The prisoner had broken the law, so she supposed he had to be punished, but the punishment had been so severe. Stories must be really evil things for a man to get tortured to death just for hearing one.

Joan had no clear concept of what a story was. If she didn’t know what a story sounded like, how would she know one if she heard it? Could she have already been exposed to such contamination without realizing it? Could she be found guilty for something she didn’t know she had done? The idea frightened her.

Later in the afternoon, a knock on her door interrupted Joan’s troubled thoughts. When the red-haired servant entered, Joan was reminded of what she had heard in the hall that morning. Maybe this girl could offer some answers.

“Dinner is ready?” guessed Joan.

“Yes, milady.”

The servant turned to leave, but Joan called her back.

“What is your name?” the princess asked.

The red-haired servant stared at the floor.

“You may speak to me,” Joan assured her. “I give you permission to speak. What is your name?”

“Rose, milady.” The servant’s voice barely reached across the room.

“Rose. That’s a lovely name.”

“Thank you, milady.” Rose turned to go again.

“Wait. Please,” the princess begged. “I have a question for you, Rose. Do you know what a story is?”

The girl’s head jerked up, a look of alarm upon her face, and her eyes met Joan’s. Remembering herself, Rose immediately threw her gaze back to the floor. She didn’t speak.

“It’s okay,” Joan assured her. “I’m not the prince or a guard. Can you tell me what a story is?”

Rose’s mouth twitched, but no words came out.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to alarm you.” Joan hadn’t expected her question to create such anxiety, and she felt bad for torturing the girl. “You are not in any trouble. You may go.”

Rose left in such a hurry, she didn’t even have time for a yes, milady.

Joan suffered through a meal with Prince Chaz and his courtiers where the conversation focused on who wanted to kick whose ass, who could actually do it, who had the biggest sword, and of course, farts.