Good King Hal
Hal was a king who ruled over a very small province. There were only a handful of villages and one small city for him to boast of, but boast he did. Hal took pride in the accomplishments of each and every one of his citizens – because he considered himself responsible for each and every accomplishment.
"I rule over them, setting such a fine example; how could they not but be fine folk?"
One day the Royal, lordly Tuskaninny was riding in his litter through one of the smaller villages of his land. Hal liked to visit his villagers and believed that these visits helped inspire his people. He helped them to become so good at their trade, so he taxed the goods they produced quite heavily. Why shouldn't he? They were glad to reward him and help him to live the lifestyle he chose.
As he passed the local lampwright, he called, "STOP!" in his great booming voice. The litter stopped at once and he stepped down.
"Lampwright! Oh, lampwright! Your king desires a word with you!"
This particular craftsman, a Shadow Kacheek named Pierre, had been born and raised in this village. He stayed because it was his family's land and the materials he needed to create the lamps he loved were in such excellent supply. His wife, a Red Xweetok named Labelle, however, was not from this village. She loved her husband and the lamps he created and the land that had been his family's, but she did not like the king. She considered him too selfish and boastful. Her king had been kind and had his own personal accomplishments to brag about.
She heard the king calling and stopped her husband as he passed on his way to the yard. "Oh, let him bray a bit longer. Your furnace is loud enough that you might let him wait. He should learn what it is to respect another's schedule."
"Now, dear, he is our king. He protects us and supports our businesses."
She pursed her lips as he continued on his way. "Hmph, if that's the case, I think I have something he will really enjoy." With a meaningful glance out of the window she dashed into the back room.
When she joined her husband it was to hear the tail end of his sentence "- really, sir, it is a pleasure to serve you any way we can."
Labelle tried to keep from rolling her eyes, succeeding only because she knew she had a part to play. "Indeed, my lord, we are so grateful for your presence. I know Pierre has commented often what an inspiration you are." Pierre's eyes darted to the side at the unfamiliar words, but he dared not say anything.
Hal stood preening at what he considered most deserved praise. "I do make such an effort; I am so glad to support you in any way I can."
Labelle laughed a charming, encouraging laugh. "I thought, my lord, that you might be interested in seeing this lamp that has just been sent to us from another land." She had had her hands behind her back, concealing the package that she now presented to everyone. Setting it on a nearby stump, she unwrapped it, revealing a rather large oil lamp.
"Oho," said the king. "And why should they send you this? You would think a lampwright would have all of the lamps he needs!" Hal laughed his booming laugh, quite amused by his own joke.
Labelle joined him, still using her most charming manners. "Well, my lord, this lamp is made from material we do not have in our kingdom. It is glass made from the sand of the Lost Desert."
Hal's eyes widened. He had heard of this desert, but had never journeyed there. In fact, he had never been outside his own borders.
She continued, "They thought we might like to study its different properties. We have studied it in detail, and now, my lord, we would be honored if you would accept it as a gift." She shot her husband a meaningful look as his expression might have betrayed her plan. The king, however, paid Pierre no attention, his eyes focused greedily on the lamp.
"My dear citizen, it delights me to no end that you would honor me in this way. I accept this as fitting tribute, and wish you a good day." With that he hastily wrapped up his gift and ordered his bearers to take him home at once, eager to study this exotic lamp in private.
As soon as he was gone, Labelle let out peals of true laughter. Pierre looked at her, worried. "Why did you give him that? You didn't even warn him not to light it!"
She spoke through her laughter, "Hush now, I gave him nothing that I did not think 'fitting tribute'. Now get back to work or your whole morning will be lost."
He cast one more worried look up the road and headed back to his workshop. Labelle went to finish the glazes she had been making, sending one more amused smirk after the disappearing litter.
Back in the castle, King Hal took his gift immediately to his study. He set the box on the table and unwrapped the lamp, delighted by this unique addition to his collection. His wonder was only increased by the fact that his citizens thought it worthy of him. It had never crossed his mind that any of them could find him odious at all.
The lamp was shaped like an opening flower and seemed to glow already. He reached for his matchsticks and lit the lamp with shaking hands.
WHOOSH ~ Hal barely had time to register how the flame looked in the lamp before it emitted a puff of cloud. Out of this cloud popped a small Dark Faerie.
"My word!" he exclaimed.
"-Is not my command I can tell you that, mister," the faerie said, floating around the opening of the lamp, her wings beating madly.
"I beg your pardon!" Hal said, quite taken aback. She may not have known he was king, but she should certainly have been able to see he was a creature worthy of her deepest respect.
"Not granted," she said flatly. "So who are you and where am I?" the faerie demanded.
"I might well be asking you whom you are, but as you do not appear to possess the same level of class, I will answer. I am King Hal and this is my castle."
The faerie looked around, clearly unimpressed. "Call this a castle? Eh, I've seen better."
Hal was getting terribly affronted at this point and was considering blowing out the lamp to see if it would take her back. He felt, however, that he needed to impress upon her his importance first.
"Madam, I request that you tell me whom I am addressing."
The faerie raised her tiny eyebrow, "Right, well, I'm Antilda."
He bowed in what he considered a most magnanimous gesture. "Miss Antilda, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. May I now request that you tell me how you came to live in that lamp?"
"Live there! HA! I was trapped there, bozo, by some 'witch' who just wanted to 'practice' a spell or two. Last time I fall for that, I tell you."
"I do apologize for the terrible treatment you have undergone, but you should show me quite a bit more courtesy than you have yet shown!" Hal was beginning to get very angry. This was much harsher treatment than he had ever endured! Hadn't his mother told him that the very sun shone only when he smiled?
"Well, I do believe you should show me quite a bit less of your backside then," the faerie answered crudely. "I wasn't put on this plane to please you. You haven't earn one ounce of respect from me."
"I-I say! I am king!" Hal blustered.
"Blah blah," Antilda said, rolling her eyes. "King of what?"
"This castle and land in which you now float!"
"And are you a good king?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
He laughed, "Of course I am."
Antilda smirked. "Prove it."
Hal gestured widely, "See all of these treasures? All gifts from my subjects, most lately the very lamp from which you emerged."
"Pssh, I bet most of these were taken by you or were bribes. I mean really prove it."
His face flushed in anger. "Set me the task and I shall complete it."
"All right then," she said, clapping her hands. "Let's go."
Hal felt himself be lifted from the ground – he was being transported through the air, out of the window, across the landscape. When they landed, he recognized one of the small farming villages east of his castle. It seems she intended to see him interact with his subjects.
Hal strode boldly up to the nearest of these, a Brown Blumaroo and waited to be addressed. When the farmer continued to stare past him, his frazzled nerves gave way and he began to bleat angrily, "See here! Greet me, you"
He turned when he heard ringing laughter behind him. "He can't perceive you, dolt. It wouldn't be a true test if they had to fear your anger," Antilda explained, still giggling.
As he stood glaring at her, Hal heard another farmer approach. "Evening, Bronson."
The first farmer nodded at her, "Evening, Alma."
"Tax-Tonu come to you, too?"
"Sure enough. Took a full third of my earnings," he said resignedly.
"As well I should," Hal said firmly to the faerie still floating by his head.
She rolled her eyes as Alma answered. "Ouch. A little less for me. Still, it's not as though he doesn't deserve it."
Hal was in the midst of smiling smugly at Antilda when Bronson and Alma burst out laughing. "Oh, Alma, you always know how to make me smile again. I haven't been able to go home yet to face my family. Didn't know how to tell them."
The Striped Pteri put a wing around him, saying, "They all know what good King Hal is like. They know he takes without giving. That we have to work to the bone to ensure there will be enough left when he's gone to feed ourselves. You go home and hold your head high; you have enough to eat tonight, and that's a start."
Bronson smiled at her and they set off in their separate directions. Hal was speechless.
"I like that," Antilda said. "'Good King Hal'. Someone as puffed as you would never suspect it wasn't genuine."
Hal was thinking furiously. "Every great king has his naysayers!" he exclaimed, convincing himself as he spoke. "Besides, you do hear of corrupt tax-collectors. I shall look into this at once to be sure that everything is above board."
Antilda rolled her eyes. He continued, "I demand we pursue this inquiry elsewhere."
Smiling wickedly, she clapped her hands again. This time they landed in the garrison of guards at the gates of the city. Hal was elated; these folk, he knew, loved him.
He strode confidently up to Cahul, a Spotted Lupe he had personally spoken to more than once. Antilda fluttered beside him.
Cahul sat sharpening his dagger, a Biscuit Yurble beside him tuning a pan flute he was making.
"What were you telling me before we changed posts?" the Yurble asked.
Cahul paused in his occupation and looked up, considering. "Oh yes," he said. "My brother has earned another accolade from the King of Brightvale."
Hal said proudly to Antilda, "King Hagan contacted me personally to tell me of this."
"What for this time?" the Yurble said, tying the reeds more tightly together.
"Advances in the field of philosophy. He has written a new book."
"Good for him then." He paused and looked up at Cahul. "You don't sound too chuffed though."
Cahul sighed. "Ah, Fergus, it all sounds good on paper, but my brother's advances get him nowhere."
Fergus looked puzzled. "He's been recognized by Hagan! How is that nowhere?"
"The king of Brightvale is impressed by my brother's work, but our king is impressed only by himself. My brother can have none of the respect or funding he deserves because our king keeps all of it to himself." Cahul threw down his whetstone in anger. "When I think of all he had to do just to study! We had no money – taxes being what they are – and my dear mother tried to scrape something together to send him to school. Do you know what she was told?"
Fergus shook his head.
"That our king had better things to spend money on. That if he was as bright as she said he would do fine on his own." Cahul spat on the ground. "Well, he is that bright, and brighter! But just think how much more he could have done. And now what? Now this king of ours has the nerve to take credit for my brother's work to my face? When it may not have happened at all thanks to him?" He sighed deeply, looking away in disgust.
"We all know what he's like, Cahul. He can't do anything himself and so he takes credit for our work. What he can't take credit for, he takes money for. What can we do?"
Hal was backing away shaking his head. He didn't understand any of this. "Faerie! Take me home at once!" he bellowed.
Cackling, Antilda clapped. "As you wish."
Hal fell to the ground of his study, panting. He couldn't believe any of the things he had heard. It wasn't possible. It was some trick, surely!
"Still believe I should be showing you respect, good King Hal?" she asked mockingly.
He pouted from his position on the floor. He could not find the energy to raise himself. Hal shook his head. "I have done nothing that my father did not do, that my mother did not teach me to do."
"Then who are you? Just some regurgitated mess? Did you never question any of it?"
"No! I adored my parents! Why should I question them?"
Antilda rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I'm not your therapist. Solve your own problems. I'm going home."
Before he could say another word, she had flown out of the window. Hal gazed at the lamp that had started all of this. Had the lampwrights known what would happen? Did they hate him too?
No, nonsense. That Xweetok had been nothing but kind to him.
So had Cahul, though. And the farmers. He had met each of his citizens and they had never been anything but wonderful.
Had it all been a lie? Were they all simply afraid of him? Did they all hate him?
For a Tuskaninny who questioned nothing, Hal had become someone who questioned everything. He spent the next few weeks quietly moping around his castle, not daring to venture out, hardly speaking to anyone.
Things had changed. This new outlook made him notice things he had not before. He noticed the looks they exchanged and the whispers that stopped on his arrival. The latter he had taken as respect previously; now it was all tainted.
So what was his lesson? How did King Hal change? He began to think more deeply, to listen more closely. Finally he made a decision.
"Issue a royal proclamation," he ordered in a voice that held only a fraction of its former bravado. "I am renouncing my claim on the throne. I have yielded our land to King Hagan. Our citizens are now citizens of Brightvale."
After many amazed looks and stuttered protests, Hal signed the proclamation and set off. He was going to travel the world, learning all he could. He was going to start in the Lost Desert and make his way around. One day he hoped to return and show his former subjects who he truly was. First, he had to determine who that was.