Rebekah L. Copeland
27 March 2011
This is piggy-back fairytale assignment completed for my creative writing class. The assignment was to either write a short prequel or sequel to a well-known fairytale that exists on paperback, film, or on the radio.
"Labyrinth" belongs to the Jim Henson Companies and is not mine. "Anaiaseth" and "Onaleia" are copywrited to me, and are characters used in my "Sarah's Grand ReEntry" Graphic Novel on DeviantArt. The link is in my profile.
The Midnight King
The winds whispered amongst themselves about the course of human history while counting down the hours within a day. They spoke of the early seventh century, when Bubonic Plague had swept nearly a third of the falling Roman Empire's once great population from off of the maps of future Europe. They knew that those who had survived the ravage from the devastating disease had been lied to by the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The people were told by the breaths of men that the pestilence had been sent as a curse from God because of Empress Constantia's love for the mystical arts amongst her growing list of deadly sins. Shortly after this decree, the witch hunts began throughout lands. A person suspected of using magic of any kind was immediately condemned and brought before the high officials of the church to be exorcised and then promptly burned as the winds swept their ashes away.
The peasants, in fear of their diminishing lives, hid themselves and became segregated from civilization. Amongst those that took cover, was a young woman of nearly twenty years named Onaleia Eden and her younger orphaned sibling, Jeremy. Her mother had been burned only a short time ago, because she had utilized the nectar of fruit and the pollen of flowers, in order to make herbal remedies that would remove infections and heal otherwise fatal wounds. Her practices were unorthodox and supposedly opposed what Scripture had taught, therefore Onaleia's mother had been branded a witch. Onaleia had quickly learned that there was no shame in removing one's self from intentional harm, especially after she had watched her mother writhe in agony upon a burning, wooden pyre before a ravenous, jeering crowd of spectators.
She hid herself deep within the center of a thick, deciduous forests named, Briarwood. No grown man, barbarian, or brave Roman soldier had ever dared to step foot within those deep, dark, gnarled woods. They were said to have been haunted with demons and wizards who would steal the souls of virgins and would eat the hearts of young children in order to obtain eternal life. The Catholic Church, wielding their unparalleled influence and their obese power, had denied that such superstitious stories were backed by any of the Bible's teachings, but since all forms of the written Word had been denied to the commoner, people had become illiterate and began to doubt that the Holy Tome was being transcribed to them with any semblance of accuracy. Slowly, darkness and doubt consumed the world.
Onaleia had been carefully monitoring the noises echoing in east Briarwood since early that morning. She knew that it was a more risky area of the wood, with its steep inclines and sharply dropping cliffs, but it had been the safest location for she and her brother to live which would take her out of the long-armed reach of religious catechisms and barbaric interlopers. Her almond-colored eyes, and her very long, chestnut-colored hair glistened in the juts of sunlight shooting through the thick, black branches lingering high overhead. Onaleia was out collecting firewood, in order to cook the scrawny rabbit which she had killed and skinned yesterday afternoon. Her baby brother, Jeremy Eden, clung to her leg and sucked his thumb endearingly. He was her only living relative that she had left in the world. He had been sounding akin to a barking dog, with his gruff, exaggerated, whooping cough that began only three nights ago. He was only two years old now, and his health had become very dire in the last few months. His already gaunt frame was only getting thinner by the week. Onaleia knew that he probably wouldn't live through the rapidly approaching winter, just like her other younger siblings had not.
As Onaleia knelt down to wipe some pea-colored snot from off of the side of Jeremy's pale, sunken face, she thought that she had heard the sounds of many tiny footsteps approaching from behind. On instinct, she grabbed the toddler and darted for the nearest hiding spot behind a massive, dead tree trunk. She covered her brother's mouth, while he fidgeted uncomfortably within her arms and began to moan. At his young age, Jeremy was oblivious to the dangers of his surroundings unlike his big sister.
On the other hand, Onaleia knew what kind of menace scavenged through the overshadowed forest at noonday. It was nothing human nor animal that she could describe clearly, because she had never dared to stride close enough to see the monsters eye-to-eye.
"Goblins and faeries," Onaleia whispered to Jeremy, as his moaning turned into raspy, muffled whines. "Their armies are marching through the wood again, Jem. They're seeking new recruits for their ongoing battle against each other. They want babies. Babies like you, Jem. If they catch you, they're turn you into one of them forever and ever, and then replace you with a changeling – a disfigured offspring of their own, who cannot survive without a human's love."
Jeremy, or 'Jem' as his sister had called him, didn't fully comprehend the words that were spoken to him, but Onaleia's low, soft, soothing voice was enough to quiet him. It was as gentle and soothing as the autumn breeze that whistled softly through the pine encrusted air. She glanced down into Jem's tear-filled, hazel eyes, and stroked his wispy, golden-colored hair. As soon as the noises had subsided, Onaleia inspected the area for any remaining centuries or spies, but disregarded the curious wildlife perching steathfully above her on a branch.
With great curiosity and amusement, a pair of obsidian, hallow eyes as black as midnight, watched her far below. The predator overhead was so obscenely quiet that Onaleia foolishly determined all had been safe and crept from her hiding spot with her brother snuggled closely against her bosom. Slowly, the young woman tiptoed back towards her makeshift cottage deep within the glen of Briarwood before the sun dipped below the tree line and blanketed the entire wood in a cool, unfriendly darkness.
After dinner that evening, she placed an extra blanket on Jeremy. He was breaking out in cold sweats, and shivering violently. Miss Eden checked his neck for black, swollen marks to ensure that he had not contracted the plague. Her fears were subsided when she discovered that there were none, however she knew that he was not going to live past the week if she didn't venture out tonight to locate and pluck some arrowroot, an obscure plant which grew in the west of Briarwood and would remove the boy's fever when he ingested it as a ground medicine.
Jeremy Eden had fallen fast asleep and had not stirred since his sister had tucked him about an hour ago. Onaleia decided that now would be a good time to put on her tattered, brown cloak over her gray, burlap dress and venture deep into the west of Briarwood in order to seek the arrowroot. She grabbed for the rusty, iron lantern on the windowsill and clutched its gritty handle tightly within her slender, white fingers. Quickly, Miss Eden lit the lantern while she closed and barricaded the cottage door carefully behind her. As she began to wander beyond the boundaries of the glen that she was familiar with, a set of downy, pale, owl wings floated silently overhead and tracked her every movement like a phantom.
It wasn't until Onaleia had reached Wyvern River, that she felt as if something had been watching her. It began with a scuttle of dried, withered leaves below a nearby maple tree. As Onaleia spun about to face the sounds behind her, she noticed the ring of mushrooms sitting serenely around her feet.
"Faerie rings," Onaleia mumbled fearfully to herself. She realized that she had wandered into a faerie camp inside of the forest. The rings always grew where the creatures had danced from the night before. They often formed places like these during their visitations, in order to lure young human children back into their lands.
"HA-HA-HAA!" a screech resonated behind Miss Eden. Quickly, she lept up into thick trunk of the maple in order to avoid being snatched by whatever magical monster lurked nearby. The light of the lantern danced violently across the forest floor spewing strange shadows beneath Onaleia's quaking feet. She breathed sharp, shallow gasps of the musty forest air as her heart pounded furiously within her eardrums. Onaleia shouted defensively, "WHO'S THERE?"
No response. Again Eden bellowed in a deeper, more threatening voice, "I can hear you! I know you're watching me! You won't take me! I-I'll fight you!"
"We usually only 'take' very young children, but if we were after you, then it's highly unlikely that a beautiful, young, defenseless lady – such as yourself – could ever win against an army of thousands, Onaleia," A deep, masculine voice purred slowly from overhead. Eden froze. Her almond-brown eyes were as wide as apples and her plump, pouting, petal-pink lips were pursed as thin as a blade of grass. A couple of ghastly white, Barn owl feathers floated across her face and forced her to crane her head towards the left, ever-so-slowly in order to track where they had come from.
She held her breath for a second, as the dark figure alighted down onto the vast tree trunk behind her and rustled the leaves at the end of the branches. It reached a leathery, gray glove forward to help Onaleia steady her light. She could feel the slow, hot breath of the intruder glide dangerously against her left ear. Onaleia Eden dared not turn, but something willed her to. She could not resist it.
As she began to shift her slender, exposed, white legs towards the creature behind her, the gloved-hand touched her chin and directed it towards the body to which it belonged. There before her eyes was a man, more ethereally beautiful and fairer than even the Empress Constantia. His golden, strands of short, wild, spiky hair were wind blown in every direction, and they smelled of soft, perfumed musk. His eyes were the color of blueberries, and looked just as sickly sweet. His skin was as ivory white as newly-fallen snow and appeared just as soft. His exposed ears were pointed at the tips, just like those of the fabled elf kind. Onaleia knew that must have been a Faë, a keeper of the smaller hordes of the faeries and goblins, but she had never seen one so close before, nor had she ever seen a male! She knew all about the Faë, because her mother, a veritable dictionary of the supernatural, had told her of them long ago.
For a minute, the two stared at each other in curiosity, but then Onaleia remembered that Faë's were supposed to be crafty, cunning, and dangerous creatures that wove their magical spells against powerless humans, like herself, in order to get what they desired. Her mind raced towards the thought of Jeremy and how she had left him all alone in that cottage. Surely, if this Faë had found her here, then he would find out about Jeremy soon enough and try to claim him for his armies. Immediately, Onaleia lept back down to the forest floor and tried to sprint away from the mystical being. She ran and ran as fast as her legs could possibly carry her, while the sharp stones from the ground lacerated her bare feet and left trails of blood behind her. She didn't have any idea what she was racing towards in the middle of an abandoned forest in the middle of the night, and eventually a low-hanging branch knocked the lantern from her hands leaving her wandering blindly in absolute blackness. Onaleia began to weep mournfully. She had made this dangerous pilgrimage to help her baby brother, but instead she had probably doomed him. For one thing, she was lost, and wasn't sure how to return home again. Also, Onaleia knew that the Faë-kind had arcane magic which was strong enough to change the seasons on the planet or to will the trees to speak like humans.
As Onaleia sorted the facts from fiction about the Faë within her mind, suddenly her heel hit a large ditch and twisted awkwardly to the side. She heard an ungodly snap and felt a searing pain shoot up into her leg. Onaleia let out a scream that frightened a nest of sleeping ravens in a tree nearby and forced them to take wing into the darkness. She knew that it would only be moments now, and her pursuer would be upon her. There was nothing that the young lady could do, but sit and pray that fate would intervene on her behalf…. Unfortunately for her, 'Fate' had become the Faë man who stalked her silently.
Within seconds of her mishap, Onaleia was surrounded by throngs of little monsters that were both ugly and not much larger than a fox. They howled and giggled amongst themselves, not really having much more interest in their human prisoner than the trees next to them within the wood. The monsters looked akin to brown toads that stood upright on two legs and had bulging eyes of glowing red. They wore makeshift helmets of cast iron cooking pots upon their heads and scraps of rags became their clothing. Their voices sounded like a crowd of jeering falsetto children with squeaky high-pitched squeals and droning chatter that could not be deciphered by human ears. They danced about in rings around Onaleia's fallen body and they chanted songs to themselves. Between the blistering pain and the unparalleled fear bubbling up inside Eden, she had completely reached her limitations of patience and tolerance for such behavior and noise.
Balling her mud-stained fists tightly, she slammed them down into the earth with all her might and bellowed, "Will you SHUT UP!"
It was worded more like a question, but the way that she spat the words made them become a direct command. All of the creatures cowered and took cover behind the nearby shrubs. Onaleia might have been amused by the shivering silhouettes of ferns if she had not been in such terrible pain. A presence softly crept in from behind her and illuminated the night ground the way a candle eerily lights a vast room. A voice began to scold with much calmness, "Tsk, tsk, Miss Eden. Well-cultured people ought to hold their tongue and speak in soft tones."
Onaleia turned with a vicious glare in her eye and answered willfully, "I'm not a well-cultured person, then. I've never claimed such a …. ow… such a thing." Eden returned to her throbbing ankle and began to rub without regard to the Faë man looming over her in his warlock-like, high-collared, black cloak that dragged along the ground as it caught fallen leaved beneath it while he moved. Onaleia noted that his feet barely touched the earth as he glided towards the front of her body. She rounded her shoulders to show that she would not be defeated without a proper fight. The angelically beautiful man threw his head back and laughed defiantly at her display of courage.
"Then you admit that you are an uncivilized and uncultured species then? You humans… You barbarian types," the man remarked, as he raised his devil-like pointed eyebrows.
"I admit no such thing, Sir," Onaleia replied with a fury in her eyes. "It is your kind that is barbaric. You lure and kidnap innocent babies into your lands, and then turn them into one of these monster things," she pointed towards the quaking bushes. "And all for what? To fight in your wars against your own kind like we do to ours."
"Touché, Miss Eden," the man smiled condescendingly. "But I believe that your story has several problems with some more, shall we say, minor details. First, I would like to point out, that we are not specifically fighting our own kind per se. The goblins are amongst those of the ugly fair folk, while the faeries are those belonging to the clans of the beautiful fair folk. so neither is a direct relation in technical terms, at least not anymore anyway in our opinion. Secondly, we are not engaged in a war of any kind against each other, but we do partake in trifle squabbles from time to time."
Onaleia blinked in dismay, recalling that Faë were rumored to twist words around in order to confuse even the wisest men. She asked, "'Squabbles'? You call brutally swinging clubs and violently flinging huge stones at one another a 'trifle squabble?' You kidnap human children to increase your numbers for nothing more than 'trifle squabbles?' Your armies of creatures thrust themselves upon each other with cries of fury and rage in the middle of Briarwood for nothing more than a 'trifle squabble'?"
The man chuckled as his countenance grew darker, "Humans. You're so clueless sometimes that I almost pity you. Almost. You're confusing us with other creatures. Surely, there are more than just goblins and faeries that invade your world, but then you don't believe in us anyway. Isn't that right, M'dear?" Onaleia could see a fire dance within the man's sunken eyes that made her shutter nervously. He was mulling over something, while he purposely dodged her last question. Finally, after much pensive silence, he turned away from her and finished, "There are no wars in the Underground, Onaleia. None whatsoever."
"'Underground?'" Onaleia asked. The man sniffed several times and rubbed at his nose arrogantly, knowing that she had taken the bait. He waved his hands jovially into the air and replied, "My home, my home, but you don't believe in anything like that anyway, so I'll spare you my commentary on the land of eternal youth, where the Unicorn roams, and the babbling brooks really babbles. In fact, it never shuts up, to be honest."
Onaleia did believe in a land of eternal youth, for her mother had told her about it long ago, although she didn't call it the name that this man had called it. As Eden tried to recall the name of the land that her mother had told her about, the gloved hand rested demurely under her chin again and lifted it back towards the eye level of the cloaked Faë. Being very perceptive, Onaleia could tell that he was trying to hide something from her. She winced in agony again, as she attempted to shift her weight towards the other leg. The strange, wizard-like man knelt down and touched her ankle ever-so-slightly. Onaleia tried to pull away, but could not. He studied her face for a minute, his fairness bathing the nearby weeds in a serene and sparkling white light. "Here, let me heal that," the cloaked man said.
"Don't touch me!" Onaleia cried out on instinct at the thought of a strange, and probably unfriendly man-like creature trying to place his hands upon her.
"You're injured, my Dear," He commented with a mischeivous glint within his pupils. Onaleia retorted, "I wouldn't be if you hadn't ordered your armies upon me!"
"Remember," he raised his index finger, "you were the one who demanded to know who was there, and you were also the one who ran before I could properly introduce myself and state my order of business."
"Who are you, then," Onaleia asked, "and what is your reason for being here?" She slid backwards uncomfortably on her rear towards a nearby tree limb, in order to lean upon it and give her aching back some much needed rest.
"My name is Anaiaseth, and I rule these goblins who surround you, and the Goblin Kingdom. I am the twelfth hour within the Order of Time, and am otherwise known as the Midnight King. I have come here to make you an offer, Onaleia," he paused for a minute as he gauged the expression within her eyes, and then continued, "I can see you are confused… Let me explain. In your world, there are twelve hours in half a day, right?"
Onaleia nodded slowly, as he continued, "Good! In my land there are thirteen hours in one whole day and each of us, the Goblin Kings, that is, is deemed to rule one of these hours for our designated amount of time. Each of us only get thirteen hundred years of rule, and then our throne passes on to the next heir, however I have no heir to continue my bloodline and keep the integrity intact within my lands… sadly enough. Ha! You can see that thirteen is our magical number, right? Now, I am the twelfth Goblin King to rule within the Underground, and my time as Goblin King has nearly expired."
Eden interrupted, "What does this have to do with me?"
"Indeed, I shall tell you," he chuckled dangerously. "I see you have a sickly baby brother, by the name of Jeremy, whom I would like to make my heir if you would only wish him over to my care."
Onaleia squinted her eyes and cried, "You leave him alone! I know your tricks! You won't make him a king, you'll use your black magic against him and turn him into a goblin – just like all the rest of the human babies that you've claimed before!"
"Tut-tut-tut," Anaiaseth tapped her on the shoulder, "but I have the power to make him well and he would be treated like royalty. Isn't that enough?" Onaleia didn't want to hear anymore words. She clapped her hands over her ears and wished inwardly that the Midnight King would leave she and her brother alone. The Goblin King had just admitted to her that he naturally had no intentions of allowing her sibling to remain a human after he scooped him up under his wing. She wondered if Jeremy would have a better fate in the hands of a magic, baby-nabbing, king. He would be fed – maybe clothed –– and perhaps even entertained.
Suddenly, when the woman was about to say the words and wish her sibling away to the Goblin King, she spotted some arrowroot at the base of the tree trunk. It was a sign of intervention on her behalf. There was hope for healing Jeremy! Now, the voice of Onaleia's late mother rang out inside her head, "Never trust a Faë. Their words might seem like sugar sweetness falling from their lips, but their intentions will linger like a bitter poison in the end."
The young woman made up her mind that nothing Anaiaseth had said would convince her to wish her brother away to him. As passively as she could with a broken ankle, Onaleia pretended to be interested in the Midnight King's offer, so she could buy herself some extra time in order to plan an escape from him. He continued to ramble on as she ignored him, and thought on what could possibly redirect Anaiaseth's attentions away from her baby brother. She thought long and hard on the matter, but realized that she had nothing to give in exchange for her brother, but the rags that she wore.
Anaiaseth turned around and asked, "So? How about it then?"
"No," Onaleia replied as clear as a bell and as unwavering as wall of stone.
"Don't you want him to get better? If you don't wish him away, then I assure you he'll die this very evening, but if you do, then I promise to heal him and keep him like my very own son… well, if I had a son. You know."
"I have a better offer" Onaleia said sternly, as her almond-colored eyes completely fixed upon the Midnight King. He raised his arched eyebrows in curiosity while she continued, "I'll offer you me, in exchange for the promise that you will never bother Jeremy, nor touch one hair upon his head so long as you remain the king of your land."
"Are you offering yourself as a slave to me, or as anything I want you to be?" He asked rather defensively. Anaiaseth had realized that his charmed words had not taken hold of Onaleia like they had on the other victims that he had tricked in the past. Miss Eden nodded and replied, "Slavery. Anything at all, but leave him be, I beg you."
Anaiaseth pondered the idea for a minute. Onaleia Eden was far too old for him to turn into a goblin. She was beautiful, but mortal women were forbidden as queens and wives within his land. Besides, she would not be allowed to remain within his realm for over thirteen hours as a human who had not been wished away. It had been the order of things within his immortal land. The ancient and unbreakable rules could not be changed by him. In the end, the Midnight King simply didn't know what to do with the woman.
Onaleia could see that he was confused over the matter, and she seized the opportune moment as best as she could, praying that it would work. She dropped her cloak to the ground and lowered her dress to unveil her soft, cream-colored shoulders, and then raised her eyebrows coquettishly towards the king. He looked remarkably surprised and very much entertained while he asked, "Really?"
She swallowed dryly and tried to find her voice, "Flesh for flesh, Midnight King. And don't look at me like that. We both know that in the end, one way or another you were going to screw me over anyhow. At least, this way it will be of my own volition."
Some years later, Onaleia stepped outside of her cottage within Briarwood's glen with little Jeremy nestled deep within her arms. There was a silence of the woods around her as the toddler within her arms giggled and laughed innocently. Onaleia walked with a limp, where her ankle had been shattered. It had never fully healed, but she refused to spend her wish on selfish things. Anaiaseth, the twelfth hour within the Order of Time and king of the goblins had kept his promise and left her Jeremy in peace.
It was rumored by the faeries and goblins alike that his heart continued to yearn for the human woman until the end of his reign, but she had never left little Jeremy's side long enough for him to approach her again. However, what Anaiaseth didn't realize is that the babe currently nestled within Onaleia's arms had not been her little brother Jeremy, but it had been his son of the same name. Miss Eden had named the child after her late baby brother, who had been healed by the arrowroot which she had found, but the harsh winters had compromised him in the end. Onaleia knew that the Midnight King's promise applied to 'Jeremy Eden,' and when she bore Anaiaseth's son, she temporarily named him such for the boy's own protection.
The winds howled from the east to the west, spreading rumors between the blooming cypress trees and the fluttering crows. They whispered tales of a magical king who had fallen in love with a girl. They riddled stories of a magical little boy who would illuminate the night ground the way a candle eerily lights a vast room and had mismatched eyes, one the color of blueberries and the other the color of almonds. They billowed fables that the thirteenth hour of the Underground was vastly approaching, but Onaleia had never caught word of it, because she had eventually vanished without a trace one day while gathering firewood in the forest. And while the wars that Anaiaseth had denied continued to grow fiercer between the minions of faeries and goblins, a name was revealed that would change the course of all things within the Underground.
"Jareth," the wind whispered silently as the clock ticked down another hour of the day, and the midnight hour ended at last.