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The stone shepherds son, p.1
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       The Stone Shepherd's Son, p.1

           James Comins
 
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The Stone Shepherd's Son
The Stone Shepherd’s Son

  by James Comins

  Copyright 2012 James Comins

  This book may not be reproduced, copied and distributed without permission from the author. Your support and respect for the property of the author is appreciated. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead, places, events or locales is purely coincidental.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Twenty

  About the Author

  for Channa, with kites for Raiya

  always for you

  Chapter One

  Once upon a time there lived a shepherd of stones. Every day he'd wake up at dawn to tend to the stones in his fields. He’d collect the morning’s stone eggs, shear the stones for their stone wool, and milk them for their stone milk.

  It goes without saying, of course, that the shepherd was also made of stone, a stone man living in a wooden house. Why a wooden house? Because the stone man was too sentimental to kill a single stone.

  The shepherd of stone had a son. When the boy was old enough, he told his father, “Dad, it’s time for me to go out into the world to seek my fortune.”

  “But my son,” the shepherd said, “look around you. Stones in every direction. The only thing you know about in all the world is stones. You don’t know anything about the world out there. You should stay at home and help me on the farm.”

  “Until when? There’s a whole world out there,” said his son, pointing. “I want to learn all about it. I’ve got to learn about it.”

  The shepherd sighed. “Very well. Stay one last night in your home, help with the morning chores one last time, and then you can set off into the world.”

  That evening, the shepherd told his son a story.

  “My son, once there was a man who was afraid of stones. All his life he stayed as far away from them as possible. He wore extra-tall shoes, just to keep a little further away from the stones of the earth. And when he found a stone on his land, he’d pick it up with long tongs and set it in a pile at the far edge of his land.

  “Over time, the pile of stones grew larger and larger, and the man grew more and more afraid. He went hunting for stones that were hiding in his land, digging deep into the earth for them, pulling them to the surface and adding them to the growing wall that surrounded him.

  “Eventually the wall of stones grew so high that they knocked the sun out of the sky. But still the man piled up every stone he could find.

  “At longest long last, the man had cleared his land of stones. But as soon as he had finished, he fell ill from his fear. He knew a doctor who could heal him, but the doctor lived a village away. With such a tall wall around his land, the man couldn’t climb to the other side. He shouted and shouted for help, but no one heard him. He tried pulling the stones down, but there were decades’ worth of stones. Too many. He tried knocking the wall down, but it was too strong.

  “In the end, the man lay against the wall he had built, lay against it and spoke to the stones. He told them that he would die unless he found his way to the other side.

  “And the stones listened, and parted for him,” the shepherd finished.

  After the story was told, the shepherd gave his son some proverbs to live by:

  “No stone ever hurt another,” the shepherd said. “Neither do stones hurt people, unless they’re thrown. Hold fast to stone, for no stone was ever dishonest. And remember the gifts that the stones have given us: stone eggs, stone wool, stone milk. Remember how kind and giving the stones have been. Stones are for giving.”

  “I’ll remember,” his son said.

  The next morning, the shepherd’s son helped his father with the chores. His father hugged him and gave him three gifts: a journeycake made from stone eggs, a coat made from stone wool, and a bottle of stone cream wine made from stone milk. Wrapping these in a sack, the stone shepherd’s son set off down the road to seek his fortune.

  Chapter Two

  Wending his way down the road with his father's gifts in his coat pocket, the stone shepherd’s son came upon an old man made of wood. The old wooden man waved him over. “My lad, I haven’t had a bite to eat in days. Could you spare some bread?”

  Remembering how kind and giving stones are, the stone shepherd’s son took out the journeycake and gave it to the old man. After trying one teeth-crunching bite, the old man gave it back. “Thank you, m’boy, for your generosity. But I’m a man of wood, and my teeth can’t handle a stone pancake. But I’ll tell you what. If you’ll do me another favor, this stump I’ve been sitting on has fed me for weeks. But my axe broke, and I haven’t been able to chop any wooden pancakes without it. Maybe your stone pancake could fix my axe.”

  The stone shepherd’s son tied the stone journeycake to the wood man’s broken axehandle and swung it against the stump. The edge of the stone pancake was sharp, and in three swings he had chopped a wooden pancake off the top of the stump. He gave the new axe and the wooden pancake to the old wooden man.

  “M’lad, I can’t thank you enough. In return for your kindness, I’ll give you a secret thing.”

  The old man waved his hand, and in it appeared a tiny violin of the finest wood. “This is the world’s smallest violin. It’s for you. I’ll teach you a song, too--a song that can charm a dragon to sleep.” He played a small song on the small violin, everything except the last note, and he taught the shepherd’s son how to play it. Then he gave the tiny violin to him and sent the boy along down the road.

  As he went, the stone shepherd’s son wondered. There weren’t any dragons, were there? Dragons aren’t real. But the violin must be magic. It had appeared out of nowhere.

  Evening fell, and he grew tired. He saw a small campfire in the distance and decided to ask if he could sleep beside it. When he reached it, however, he saw that it wasn’t a campfire at all, but a girl made all of fire, curled up and shivering on the side of the road. He asked the girl what she was doing there.

  “I’m lost,” she said. “I live in a cavern deep inside the earth, where it’s always hot and my people can live happily without ever going out. One day, I saw a circle of fire far away, and I climbed through a hole in the world to see if I could reach it. But by the time I climbed out, the fire in the sky had gone, and it was so cold.”

  “But you’re made of fire,” said the shepherd’s son. “Shouldn’t you be warm?”

  “I can only stay alive if my charcoal heart is hot,” the girl replied. “Without the heat of the earth or the heat of the circle of fire, I’ll go out.”

  “If you need to stay warm, I have a coat you could borrow,” said the shepherd’s son.

  The girl of fire smiled at him. “Thank you, but I’d burn it up, and you look cold yourself,” the girl of fire said.

  “My coat’s made of stone wool,” the shepherd’s son replied. “Stone can’t burn, and stone wool is the warmest cloth I know of.”

  So he gave the fire girl his coat. She put it on and wrapped herself up in it.

  “It is warm,” she said. “With this I’ll be able to get some sleep before the journey home.”

  “If I could sleep near you, I wouldn’t need a campfire,” said the shepherd’s son.

  “Of course,” she answered.

  The stone shepherd’s son told her about the sun and the moon and the stars, and she told him about the glittering caves inside the earth. Soon they were both fast asleep.

  Chapter Three

  When the shepherd’s son woke, he found his stone wool coat, still warm as fire, on the grass beside him. In the pocket was half a charcoal heart, so hot that a little flicker
of flame twisted around it. The girl of fire had returned into the earth, but she had left a piece of her heart behind. The shepherd’s son took it with him as he continued down the road.

  At noon, the sun was hot overhead and he sat down, hungry and thirsty. He took out the last gift his father had given him, the wine made from stone cream. Just as he was about to take a first sip, a strong breeze knocked it out of his hand. To his horror, every last drop of stone cream wine spilled in a puddle and sank into the ground. Looking around, the stone shepherd’s son realized that it wasn’t just any old breeze. There was a man made all of wind, the tallest man the shepherd’s son had ever seen, carrying a sack. The sack was so big and heavy that the wind man was hunched over and couldn’t see where he was going.

  But the stone shepherd’s son was hungry and thirsty and angry that his gift was gone.

  “Hey!” he shouted. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

  “Hmmm?” said the wind man airily. “Did you say something?”

  The stone shepherd’s son stalked over to the peasant of wind and crossed his arms. “Yes I did,” he said. “I was just about to have a sip of my only bottle of stone cream wine when you came along and knocked it over!”

  “Mmm,” said the wind man. “I see how careless I was. I can be careless, sometimes, you see.”

  “Oh yeah?” yelled the stone shepherd’s son. “And what are you gonna do about it?”

  “Hmmm. I see you’re angry about your spilled stone wine.”

  “It was made from the best stone milk in the whole world. It was a present from my father. It was my last gift. It was the only thing I had and it was the most special thing in the whole world and now it’s gone!” the shepherd’s son shouted.

  The wind man turned to the boy. He lay down his sack of wind and took the boy’s hand.

  “I’m very sorry I spilled your mmm stone cream wine. It was just an accident, as sure as stars are turning. Can you ever forgive my carelessness?”

  The stone shepherd’s son frowned, thinking. Do stones forgive? If someone hurt a stone, how would the stone feel? The shepherd’s son thought about how much he had given up already, and how much he had gained by giving.

  Stones are for giving.

  “I forgive you,” he said quietly. “I guess it wasn’t your fault.”

  “Mmm, thank you,” replied the peasant of wind. “I don’t know if it can make up for your very special gift from your father, but I’ll share with you what I have.”

  So from his bag the wind man took out a sandwich, which he shared with the shepherd’s son, as well as a tiny speck. “This is a windflower seed,” he told the boy. “Have you heard of sunflower seeds? Well, this is a seed from a windflower. If you chew it, you can sneeze a gale. You never know when you’ll need to blow out those stone birthday candles!”

  “Uh, thanks,” said the stone shepherd’s son, taking the seed, and each continued on his way.

  Chapter Four

  Along down the road, the shepherd’s son came to a city. And this was not just any city. Oh, no. This was the capital city, the important city, the city everyone went to trade and shop and buy. There were people selling cloth. There were people selling books. There were people selling ribbons and flowers and jewels and all sorts of strange and wonderful things. Carts trundled down cobblestone streets; shops had windows full of wonders.

  But the people weren’t happy.

  They were worried.

  The king’s family was missing. Disappeared. The shepherd’s son knew because everyone was talking about it. Folks chattered about it to each other as they shopped. They leaned over to whisper in one another’s ears. The queen and the princess were nowhere to be found, everyone said. Rumor had it the king was desperately worried.

  As the stone shepherd’s son made his way to the town square, a spindly old straw woman with a cart full of hats asked him if he had heard.

  “Something about a missing queen,” he replied.

  “Now, don’t believe every rumor you hear,” said the old straw woman, “but this one’s true!” She peered down at him with button eyes. “The silver queen up and got herself stolen!” She peered closer. “Some say was the tin princess herself did it. A bad ‘un, she is. That’s what they say. But,” she went on, “others say was trolls from Spiral Tower done it. And others,” she continued, “say it was the Bad Birds of the Skies. No matter whom you ask, they’ll tell ya how bad it is.”

  “How bad?” asked the stone shepherd’s son.

  “Real bad,” the old straw woman replied.

  The shepherd’s son was about to ask more questions about the missing queen when he was interrupted by an important little man with scrolls in his hat. The important little man marched down the nearly endless steps of the palace to the front of the square. Trumpets stuck themselves out of windows and blurted “BRUM.”

  At the bottom of the steps, in the middle of the square, the important little man pulled out a scroll and began to read.

  “Hear ye, hear ye! Eggs, milk, cat food . . .” He stopped reading, frowned and rolled the scroll back up. Reaching up, he pulled a different one out of his hat.

  “Hear ye, hear ye! His Most Fabulous Majesty, the golden king, wants everyone to check this scroll out!”

  The important little man took out a hammer and a couple of old nails and clunked the parchment up on the palace wall.

  “Too far away to read it? Let me help!” he boomed. “The King Magnifique declares that anyone who rescues his wife, the silver queen, and his daughter, the, um, princess, and brings them back In One Piece will receive a Bodacious Bonanza to call his own! Anyone interested ought to Get To It, and make it snappy!”

  The little man inhaled deeply, slurrrp, and finished: “That’s all, folks.” He scurried back up the steps.

  “Bodacious Bonanza?” the stone shepherd’s son asked the spindly straw woman.

  She shrugged. “I don’t know what it means either.” She leaned over him, her button eyes blinking. “They’re just like that,” she whispered, and pushed her cart down the street, hats flopping everywhere.

  Chapter Five

  The stone shepherd’s son asked more people about the missing ladies, but no one seemed to know anything. That didn’t stop them from talking; oh no, they chattered like magpies. Talk, talk, talk. But even the gossiping housewives knew no more about the situation than the old straw woman. So the shepherd’s son tried asking whether anyone knew where Spiral Tower was. It seemed like a good place to start.

  A crazy-looking man made of white marble hopped over. He was carrying a blazing iron lamp in the middle of the day, and his eyes were bugged out.

  “Do you know where Spiral Tower is?” the marble man asked the shepherd's son.

  “No. Actually, I was looking for it myself,” the shepherd’s son replied. “I was hoping you knew where it was.”

  “Why are you looking for it?” the crazy marble man asked.

  “Um, I guess I’m looking for the royal ladies,” said the shepherd’s son.

  “Why?” asked the marble man.

  “Um, well ... I guess because they need to be rescued.”

  “Do they really?” asked the marble man interestedly.

  The shepherd’s son shrugged. “I guess.”

  “Why do you guess?” asked the marble man.

  “Huh?”

  “Why do you guess?” the marble man repeated.

  “Because I don’t know,” said the stone shepherd’s son.

  The marble man held his lantern up to the shepherd’s son and peered close to his face. His marble eyes spun in different directions.

  “Ah-h-h. Do you know about spirals?”

  “Sure,” said the shepherd’s son. “They’re like circles that never come back to where they start.”

  “Why don’t they?” the marble man asked.

  “They keep moving toward the middle.”

  “Ah-h-h. Do you know the trick?”

  The stone sheph
erd’s son frowned. “I didn’t know there was a trick.”

  “The trick is to ask the right question,” the marble man whispered. Looming gray, black and white, he took his bright lamp on up the street.

  The stone shepherd’s son went looking for the middle of the city. It seemed a likely place for a tower. But every time he walked in a straight line towards the grand center of the city he found himself on the dirty outskirts.

  Walking in a spiral didn’t help either, although it seemed like a good idea.

  Getting frustrated, the shepherd’s son yelled, “How do I get to the middle of the city?” to no one in particular. A nearby merchant chuckled.

  “Look around you, son. What do you see?”

  “The city,” said the shepherd’s son.

  “That’s right. Wherever you are in the city is the exact middle, because the city’s all around you. You’re already here.”

  “So where’s Spiral Tower?” asked the shepherd’s son.

  “Heading this way.”

  And it was. Bumbling through the streets was the tallest tower the stone shepherd’s son could imagine, maybe taller than that. It moved on two sets of duck legs, running in two different directions. The littler pair kept trying to go sideways.

  “What’s wrong with the tower’s legs?” asked the shepherd’s son.

  “Nothing’s wrong with ‘em. It wouldn’t be Spiral Tower if it went in a straight line, would it?” said the merchant.

  “Huh. But how do I get on board?”

  “Just ask.”

  Chapter Six

  So the stone shepherd’s son ran up to the hopping tower and, in his most polite voice, asked if he could climb up. The tower skittered to a stop and leaned over to look at him. From two porch windows burst two trolls. Their faces were hairy but not unkind. They looked at him and they looked at each other.

  “The little fishbone wants to visit, Elbert,” shouted one of the trolls, a little too loud. “What do you think about ‘im?”

  “Wotzie think about ‘imself?” the troll call Elbert shouted back. “Izze happy, Flo? Izze charming and darling and smiley?”

 
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