Librarian's Note ...
The recorded tales of Kieran the Bard fall
into three categories: the Woodland Cycle, Castles and Kings,
and an unnamed cycle of lusty tales (recently destroyed by
mysterious accident). Some are in the bard's own hand, while
others, mere shadows of the originals, remain only as bedtime
tales for children. The structure exemplifies the helical
form favoured by listeners about the hearth on a long winter's
eve. As to whether they describe real events, be allegory,
or be mere entertaining fancy, the reader must decide.
Kieran was on the road from Wren to Fairtree,
when he grew weary from the midday sun. His boots were tight
and he thought to remove them for a bit in the shade of a
nearby oak (oaks being a favourite of bards). This particular
oak was venerable and gnarled, with sturdy branches that dipped
and swooped, nearly touching the ground in spots. From its
shade Kieran watched the forest creatures playing in the warm
sun. But for the rustling of leaves, high above, the only
sounds were of butterfly wings and birdsong.
"What a peaceful day," Kieran thought
as he watched a butterfly drift by, "What a beautiful
day! In truth, since bards first told tales, has there ever
been a day more peaceful and beautiful than this?"
He drank from his waterskin and, taking his
lute from its sack, cleared his throat and began to sing:
"Oh, the maidens of Wren are passing
...with breasts like melons, and flaxen hair ..."
He had just taken a deep breath to bellow
the lusty chorus when a small, feminine voice said, "Kind
He leaped to his stockinged feet, his face
flaming red. "Who's there?" he cried.
The small voice repeated, "Please, sir,
if you will be so kind ..."
Kieran looked about but saw no person or creature
"Pray thee," he cried. "Show
thyself or have cause to fear my dagger." (He tried desperately
to remember where he had last seen it.) "Whether thee
be friend or foe, pray thee show thyself now."
The small voice replied from above him, "Kind
sir, thou hast no cause to fear me, and I am in need of help.
Can thou find it in thy heart to aid me?"
He looked up and saw naught but a small robin's
nest, three branches above him. Climbing swiftly, he found
a robin with three tiny robinlings, their mouths open wide.
"Good mother robin," he asked, "Can
it be thee who addresses me thus?"
"Kind sir," she replied, "I
have hurt my wing and it will be at least a day before I might
fly. If my children do not eat soon, they will die. Would
you be so kind as to bring a fat, juicy meal? Would you find
a caterpillar or earthworm or grub for my children?"
Now, Kieran was kind of heart and it was not
within him to refuse a plea such as this, so off he went into
the forest. Searching under some mulberry leaves, he soon
found a small green caterpillar. It seemed a perfect meal
for young robins.
Plucking it from the leaf upon which it fed,
he prepared to hurry back to the oak when he heard a tiny
voice. He opened his hand and the caterpillar looked up at
him with her big brown eyes wide with fear. "Kind sir,"
she said, "wouldst thou kill me so thoughtlessly?"
Kieran scratched his head in puzzlement and
the caterpillar continued: "When thou cooled thy feet
beneath the oak, didst thou not find joy in my parents' beauty
as they danced before thee in the sun? I, too, am soon to
change. Wouldst thou deny thy successors the joy of my dancing?
And if I do not live to have children, how will thine own
children find such joy? Please, sir, would not an earthworm
serve the needs of the robinlings just as well?
Kieran looked into the eyes of the caterpillar
and knew that he could not feed her to the robins. Carefully,
he placed her beneath her mulberry bush and continued his
Near a rushing brook, Kieran found a flat
stone that, when moved, revealed a juicy earthworm enjoying
the cool moist earth. "Aha." he thought. "As
nice as the caterpillar may have been, this truly seems a
more fitting meal for young robins."
He had no sooner plucked the earthworm from
it's cool abode (where it had been frantically trying to burrow
away from him), when he heard a voice so faint he might have
"Kind sir," he thought he heard,
and Kieran looked in his hand. The worm continued: "I
am but a lowly creature, it's true, but might I plead such
case that I have?"
Kieran rolled his eyes skyward as the worm
sat up and seized its chance. "I am not a lowborn worm
like others you might find. No, I am a prince among earthworms.
I come from an ancient lineage. My ancestors burrowed the
earth when fires belched from black pits throughout these
lands. I command millions like myself. Were it not for my
loyal followers, you, good sir, would be up to your neck in
leaves, tree trunks and mouldy carcasses. I'll make a bargain
with you. If you release me and choose, instead, a pathetic
grub for the robinlings, I will dispatch an entire clan of
earthworms to keep your foreyard clean and sweet-smelling
for as long as ye shall live." The earthworm looked hopefully
at Kieran (while calculating the distance to the ground).
"Good sir, what say ye?"
Kieran was beginning to lose his patience,
but, seeing the value of the earthworm's offer, decided that
a grub would, indeed, make a tasty morsel for the young robins.
He returned the earthworm to its moist haven and carefully
replaced the flat stone above it. And, true to his desire,
a short while later, in a forest glade, beneath a wide slab
of discarded bark, Kieran chanced upon that which he sought:
a fat white grub that would grow the robinlings into beautiful
songsters. He plucked it from its hiding place and set forth.
It was a beautiful day, indeed.
Nearby, in stately Trowbridge, King Caladan
did live with his lovely daughter, Einlea. The princess was
the apple of the old man's eye and the crown jewel of his
small kingdom. He looked upon her with the blind pride of
a doting father, and she, for her part, did naught but bask
and flourish in his bounty.
Trowbridge was quiet now, the chief sounds
being the clatter of cart wheels and the cries of street vendors,
but it was not always so. Three years earlier there had been
trouble with Carthan to the west. It was not much, a border
dispute, but the king persuaded a wizard named Loziard to
come to Trowbridge in his employ, to aid him in the contest.
Loziard was unknown by all in Trowbridge and kept to himself
within the palace, coming and going as he pleased. When Trowbridge
prevailed, with almost no loss of life, there was joyous celebration
for days and weeks thereafter. Time passed, yet Loziard remained.
The King, not wanting to seem ungrateful, said nothing, but
became increasingly discomforted with the wizard's presence
and wished for his departure.
On Einlea's twentieth birthday, King Caladan
called for a celebration and holiday through all his land.
Unknown to his subjects, he intended to proclaim his retirement
and the transference of his crown to his beautiful daughter.
Out of politeness, and nothing more, he invited the wizard
Loziard to aid him in devising a proper speech.
Loziard was furious. He paced his chamber,
his black brows knitted with intensity that would have soured
any cow's milk. "Why," he cried aloud, "am
I treated so unjustly by the old buffoon? Were it not for
my skills, the border contest, mayhaps even the kingdom itself,
might have been lost. I deserve more. I deserve the crown.
To give it to that primping simpering daughter of his, who
thinks naught of more than her own whim, is a slap more stinging
than that of gauntlet. I will have justice. I will demonstrate,
amply, for all to see, wherein lies true power."
Thereupon, Loziard made his preparations.
Princess Einlea's birthday came on a summer
morning. Everyone within the city, and from the farms without,
gathered to the palace for the festival. Banners waved from
every rooftop. Fiddlers fiddled and dancers danced. Bakers
baked wonderful sweets for the occasion. It was a day long
to be remembered.
At noon, precisely, King Caladan and Princess
Einlea emerged onto the main balcony to the cheers of the
kingdom. "Good citizens of Trowbridge," called the
King, "We are but a tiny kingdom, but we prosper, do
Loud hails (mostly) erupted from the crowd
below. Encouraged, Caladan continued, "But now I am an
old man. The day has arrived when younger blood can better
attend to the needs and events of the kingdom. My subjects
... My loyal subjects and friends ... It is with honour ...and
pride ...and the greatest of expectations ...that I transfer
my kingdom and my crown to my loving daughter. To one and
all, I give you" (a long pause here) "Einlea."
As cheers filled the air, Caladan made a grand,
sweeping gesture with his arm, intending to make the presentation
as spectacular as the pride that filled him. His robe went
"swoooosh" and his hand pointed to ... nobody. What
was this? Where had she gone? Where Einlea had been, moments
earlier, there now was naught but vacant air.
"Er ...Einlea ...?" he called, uncertainly.
But there was no response. Silence fell over park and courtyard.
People glanced at each other nervously.
Old Loziard clapped his hands in glee. He
danced. He hugged himself with uncontained laughter. "How
wonderful ..." he cried. "What a breathtakingly
stunning and talented a wizard I am.." For what he had
done, of course, was to rid himself of Einlea for once and
for all. With one stroke, crafty and evil, he had removed
the vain creature from the palace. Nought else remained between
him and that which he desired.
Now, magic is a tricky thing. Like all forces
in the world, it must be kept in balance. As surely as day
balances night and summer balances winter, so too must positive
magic balance negative. For every hurtful or destructive spell,
there must be an act of equal goodness or charity lest trouble
overflow into the world. For every black wizard, there must
be a white. For every spell of combat destruction, there must
be healing. Know ye this ...if all who practice magic cast
naught but healing or protective spells, dark, horrible forces
would build up until chaos and ruin would burst forth and
rain our doom down upon us. Thus may spells of healing be
broken by harm, and the worst of spells be broken by charity.
Knowing this, Loziard planned well his act
of vengeance. To permanently rid himself of Einlea (short
of killing her outright) he must devise a spell so cunning
that no act of kindness would ever break it. He was pulling
lice out of his long beard, late one evening, when he burst
into laughter. He would make her into something ...disgusting.
"I will make her into a frog." he
laughed, then frowned. No ... that had been done. People might
expect it and go around, like mindless idiots, seeking frogs,
hoping to earn a kings ransom.
And then, a brilliant plan occurred to him.
"I will make her into a bug, an insect,
a WORM ..." He almost choked on his wine. "Oh. How
perfect.. I will make her into something so truly loathsome
that she will spend the rest of her little bug life in terror
of being squashed by the first person who sees her."
He squealed and his rings jangled and his fat jiggled and
he snorted wine out his nose in laughter. "Oh, how absolutely
And that's exactly what he did. While King
Caladan and his subjects scratched their heads in puzzlement,
nobody saw a small fat white tree grub plop to the cobblestones
beneath the main balcony and immediately curl up, glistening
Einlea was terrified. What had happened? Well,
she had seen enough of Loziard's magic to know what had happened.
But why? Why would he do this to her? She didn't have long
to ponder the question. A huge black hound, hundreds of times
her size, ran to the cobblestone where she lay, and almost
gobbled her with one slurp of his tongue. From somewhere,
she found the wherewithal to roll out of his way and into
the crevice between the stones. His HUGE slurpy tongue followed
her, drooling and panting great hurricanes of hot awful breath
down at her. But just as the tongue was about to lick her
into the waiting stomach, the hound's owner yanked his massive
chain and pulled the beast toward home.
It is true that Einlea, in her life as a human,
was self indulgent and not inclined to effort or resource,
but that was merely because she had no need of either. In
the following days, she had cause to discover plenty of both
within her. After the incident with the hound, she knew she
must go far away from people and dogs. And she knew what kinds
of creatures dined on grubs, too. She slept out of sight under
leaves, in places where grubs would not likely be sought.
Even so, Einlea's days were filled with terror
and adventure. There were circling hawks by day and owls by
night. A bear, tearing at a rotting tree trunk, gobbled grubs,
indistinguishable from Einlea, by the hundreds, as she watched
in horror from behind a nearby rock. The smallest stream was
now an enormous, gushing torrent, to be crossed in a nutshell
under the greatest of peril. Einlea passed these tests, along
with many others, and she passed them well.
It was on her tenth such day that a clumsy
boot kicked aside the piece of bark under which she had sought
shelter from the sun. Blinded by the sudden light, she heard
an exclamation from high above. Then, before she could react,
two fingers dropped from the sky and plucked her up and deposited
her firmly inside a huge fist.
Ten days ago, Einlea would have been paralysed
with terror. But that was ten days ago. Her mind raced. "Who
is this clumsy idiot, anyway??" she thought, "and
what on earth does he want with a tree grub? At least he didn't
squash me on the spot. That's encouraging, isn't it? So he
must be here to rescue me.."
She wriggled and squirmed in his fist until
she could see his face, high above her, between two of his
fingers. "Ugh. A beard. If I'm going to be rescued, why
can't it be by a fine young prince?" But it then occurred
to her that she was speaking from old habit. "I wonder
how many of those foppish boys could have survived these past
ten days?" She laughed, thinking of them. "Not many,
I bet. Those who wouldn't have curled up and died immediately
would, by now, be whimpering and crying for their mothers."
She looked at Kieran again. "Well ... maybe he would
look better if I wasn't looking straight up his nostrils.
Ouch.. Why isn't he more careful with me??"
And then it occurred to Einlea that, if this
oaf were truly rescuing her, he probably would have said something
"Uh-oh." Einlea's heart raced and
she started wriggling furiously , imagining the worst of all
possible deaths. "He must be going fishing."
Einlea couldn't do much in her current state,
but she could spit. And spit she did. In quantities unimaginable
for so small a grub. She spit and spit and spit until her
tiny grub mouth was too dry to spit another drop. She felt
Kieran's hand squirming and thought, "It's working.."
Kieran was fair disgusted. Twas bad enough
that he had to touch the slimy thing, but now it was oozing
something and becoming truly revolting. Finally, just before
he reached the robin's oak, he could take it no longer. He
stopped and examined the creature in his hand. White and plump
and glistening, it was, in truth, a repellent creature. Yet
the poor thing was obviously terrified. It gazed up at him
with what he imagined to be minuscule grub eyes, pleading.
Kieran thought of the caterpillar and the earthworm, and his
heart gave in. Heaving a great resigned sigh, he found a nice
clean root and placed the grub upon it.
And thus was Loziard's spell broken.
None could have been more astonished than
Einlea when she unexpectedly grew to her former size, except,
perhaps for Kieran, who nearly died of fright. He was no more
than catching his breath when Einlea regained her wits. Raising
her index finger, warning Kieran not to say even ONE word,
Einlea snatched Kieran's coat to cover herself. Then, with
fire in her eyes, and as much dignity as she could muster,
she was off to Trowbridge, leaving Kieran to stare, open-mouthed,
at her departing figure.
Einlea knew she could not simply enter the
city and confront Loziard. The moment he saw her, he would
but cast another enchantment upon her. So, disguising herself
as a shepherd, she found an abandoned house on the moors and
began to make her plans. What happened next is a tale worth
hearing. But it is a tale for another evening. Indeed, it
is a tale to be told over many an evening, and many a good
pot of ale.
And what of the baby robins? Having no alternative,
Kieran climbed the tree and took from his pack his last piece
of fatty mutton. Tearing it into small shreds, he gave it
to the grateful mother robin, who fed it to her family.
Upon returning to the ground, Kieran looked
first toward Fairtree, his former destination, then, grinning,
set off after the most surprising young lady, for whom he
now had many questions. "Who knows ..." he called
back to the robins, "It may be fate. And besides, I need
He was heard, late that evening, far down
the road, singing:
"Oh, the maidens of Trowbridge are passing
...with breasts like melons, and flaxen hair ..."
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