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The Gold In Grief

A Retelling of "The Golden Goose"

By Brynne NelsonPublished 6 months ago 14 min read
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In the face of the Denarhi, the fire demons, laughter is more powerful than a cudgel—more significant, even, than magic. By laughter, joy, hope, the Denarhi may be turned away. Both hew and hammer, destruction and creation, laughter is the very thread by which magic is woven. If the laugh is true, the Denarhi can burn, scorch, and scar, but never fully devour.

So it was that King Uderon worked tirelessly to protect his daughter. Protect her from evil, from fear, from pain—even from love. He believed that her innocent laughter was the kingdom’s greatest weapon against the onslaught of the Denarhi, for she was entirely pure of heart.

For her part, Princess Tyll had no interest in being her father’s mighty weapon. Oh, she wanted to serve her people. She understood well enough the duty that she had been born under. She had no problem with being pure hearted, either. But she did not, could not, believe that her best service to her people could be given by not living, by being preserved in total ignorance as a final resort for war—a life's purpose that might never even be fulfilled.

The princess grew quite adept at climbing out through her tower window at dusk, and returning by dawn.

“Highness!” Obarra, the court jester, had yelped one evening as she reached the ground. Tyll had eyed him thoughtfully.

“You won’t tell my father about this.” A statement, not a question. Then—”You’ve served against the Denarhi, haven’t you, Obarra?”

He swallowed, his typically mirth-filled features stilled in a distant look of misery.

“On the front lines, Princess.”

“And how would you say the war goes? Honestly?

Obarra’s breath snagged in his throat for a moment; Princess Tyll watched his Adam’s apple lurch.

“Being honest is not my job, m’lady. It’s my duty to bring laughter,” he said at last.

“That bad…?” The princess whispered. She remembered in that moment that she was a fugitive of sorts. She grabbed Obarra by the sleeve, pulling him into the tower’s shadow.

“You can’t imagine, Princess. Through no fault of your own, of course—you cannot summon to your mind the…the tragedy your people face at the battlefront.” His deep, dark eyes were sorrowful. Soulful.

“Then how can I claim to care for them?” She muttered in a bitter tone. She wasn’t really speaking to Obarra, but he raised an eyebrow at her anyway.

“You mean it,” he said softly. “I see the truth in you. You would sacrifice this—“ he gestured at the castle, taking in the peaceful hum from distant harps, the scent of baking bread as it wafted past—“ for a way to help your people, wouldn’t you?”

Princess Tyll bit the inner corner of her lip.

“It’s probably incredibly stupid, but… yes.”

“No, Highness,” Obarra asserted. “Not stupidity, not at all. Strength.”

Tyll and Obarra began from that evening to share their hopes, their heavinesses, their hearts; in time, they fell into deep, sincere, real love. For the first time, Tyll felt truly seen, truly understood—and truly valued. She was more than her naivete, more than simply the power of her laughter.

The two had begun discussing how to bring the notion of their union to her father, to petition for his understanding, when Obarra received his next summons.

Fate can scorch as cruelly as any demon.

Obarra was to return to the front, to stand out before the soldiers and raise their voices in laughter before the Denarhi.

“What if you are lost?” Tyll asked, gazing out of the tower window, over the town. Children played; geese honked; looms crashed in rhythm.

“How could I be lost?” Obarra asked.

“There are times… there have been moments when even you have been unable to laugh.”

Obarra turned her gently and took her hands in his, serious.

“I cannot be robbed of my joy. Not now. Not knowing that I will return to you,” he said. “Not knowing of your love.”

“Many men must dream of their beloveds, and still die in Denarhi fires.”

“Their love is not our love.”

“You believe it will be enough?” Tyll asked. Her voice seemed an echo in its hollowness.

“It’s cute, the way you bite your lip when you worry.”

“Don’t avoid the question,” Tyll said, turning away. “How can I know you are coming back to me?”

“I will have to send you a sign, I suppose,” Obarra declared.

“Oh? What sign?”

He leaned around her, his cheek pressed to hers. They looked out over the town for a moment.

“I will send you a goose,” he declared with a chuckle, pointing as one bird chased a gaggle of children. “They’re difficult to ignore.”

“There are many geese, my heart,” Princess Tyll declared. “How will I know it promises your return?”

“I shall use my magic to turn it to purest gold before I send it,” Obarra said. “Surely that will stand out.”

Tyll’s eyes sparkled with amusement.

“But what if someone steals it on the way?”

“Oh, I won’t allow that. I’ll weave the spell so that any who tries is caught on it until you touch the creature.”

“That’s a tricky spell,” Tyll observed. Obarra tapped her nose gently.

“Your joy is worth it.”

In the distance, the bell to summon Obarra’s company pealed.

“I will return to you, my love,” he swore, and kissed the princess’s hand. She watched him go, praying that he would be able to keep his word.

***

News of the company’s slaughter reached the palace four days later. Something in Tyll—her heart, yes, but also her hope, her dreams to better the future—broke. She was pulled into her devastation, and as she was, her devastation pulled in something of its own.

Denarhi.

Their lines burned ever closer to the heart of the kingdom, summoned by the broken heart of one so pure, so strong, so innocent. Drawn by the emptiness of the love, new and true, that had been dashed from one who would have been free in it.

The king, Uderon, fretted. He counseled with his wise men, searching for a reason for the rise in Denarhi assaults.

“The princess no longer laughs,” one advisor mentioned after a week of considering and conversing.

King Uderon straightened, sitting even taller than he usually did.

“What?”

“I cannot offer more information, Majesty. I only know what I’ve heard.”

Uderon rose from his throne and rushed from the room in search of Tyll.

***

“My daughter!” Tyll turned to see her father, worry lines severe as the trenches of war across his face. “What is wrong? I am told that your laugh has been stilled.”

Tyll tried to smile. To tell her father that all was well, that she was fine, that the kingdom was safe.

But it was too much. Too big a lie; too obvious that she was failing him, failing the kingdom, in her despair. Yet, struggle though she did, she could not assuage the burning agony in her heart.

“Father—“ tears choked her. “Oh, Father!” Sobbing, she laid her head on his shoulder, burying her face in his robes as she had as a girl.

“Who is to blame for this?” Uderon demanded. Tyll couldn’t have allowed her father to speak ill of Obarra, even if she could have managed to utter his name. Instead, she simply wept, and wept, and slipped ever-deeper into her grief.

***

Dreary weeks passed. King Uderon discovered quickly that calling in new jesters to perform for the princess made her more miserable. Unwilling to surrender both daughter and kingdom, he issued a proclamation: any man who could restore his daughter’s laughter would win her hand in marriage.

Princess Tyll heard of it with vague acceptance and unconcern.

The Denarhi continued to move closer to the heart of the kingdom, threatening to overwhelm, to destroy. They left victims in their wake: scarred and mutilated, altered to the depths of their souls by the burning and the sorrow.

That is, the ones that survived.

Princess Tyll tried to care. She tried to feel. Yet to allow joy into her heart seemed a grave betrayal, a mockery of all she had lost. Numbness, however empty, was easier than facing the loss.

***

Six months after Obarra had left, King Uderon began to give in to despair. Denarhi assassins had struck twice within the castle itself. The kingdom was crumbling, torn apart by flame and smoke and destruction. Where once laughter had rung out with vigor, sobs drifted on the wind.

“I ride out to meet them,” the king told Tyll. For the first time in months, she responded with something other than empty eyes and sighing. She turned, shocked, to the king.

“Father! You cannot.”

“I must. I must face these demons, and see if there is any way to placate them before they destroy us utterly.”

“And if you fail?” The princess’s teeth found the corner of her lip.

“Then you will rule, my child. And if you do, if you are brought to that, you must fight.” He paused. “Surely Obarra did not mean for you to dwell in despair.”

Princess Tyll blinked rapidly, hand rising halfway to her mouth.

“How did—“

“I, too, have loved and lost, child,” the king said. He rested a hand against the locket, wherein lay a curl of the late queen’s hair. “I have, and I do, know that pain. I sought to spare you from it, from any grief, but…” he spread his arms, taking in the tragedy that permeated every corner of the castle.

“I will try, Father,” Tyll swore. “I will fight.”

The king gently kissed his daughter’s hair.

***

Tyll had not ceased to stare out the window, though what she watched for, she could not say. Her vigil stretched for days, then weeks, then months. Counselors brought her questions in the tower, and as she did her best to rule, she waited.

A strange parade, of sorts, had crossed her view: Denarhi fires popped ever more frequently into being across the town. Some were extinguished; some burned their fuel to ashes.

And yet still, every so often, a man would come below her window, hoping to make her laugh. A dancing flautist played her favorite song; a juggler tossed her favorite fruit; a storyteller wove long, involved tales with absurd endings. Some of them gazed up with desperation, others with kindness. She knew they all came to her in the hope that she could end the devastation.

She smiled sometimes. But to laugh still lay beyond her strength.

***

“Make way! Make way!” Princess Tyll woke with a start, lifting her head groggily from its place on the windowsill, turning toward the setting sun. She wiped at her drooling mouth, rubbed at her tired eyes.

“What comes now?” She asked aloud, though no one heard.

“Princess! Princess Tyll!

Shouts and chatter began to swell in the distance, rising on a cloud of dust from the road. The princess squinted. What is all the ruckus about? She wondered.

A figure appeared through the dust. Then another, clinging to the arm of the first like a child—yet looming over the cloaked figure at the front.

Gripping the second person’s shoulder was the town’s friar.

Odd. Princess Tyll thought. Yet the line did not end there; indeed, half the village seemed to be strung together, trailing behind the hooded leader, whose head was bowed over a shining something gripped tightly in its arms.

“Princess! We need your help!”

Half in a daze of confusion, exhaustion, and the fugue she’d been in for so long, the princess rushed down the stairs, out to the front of the castle. Her feet clattered forward purposefully.

The street was a mess. Everywhere, people crowded together, clinging to one another. Each person, the princess noted, bore their own scars and burns from the Denarhi attacks.Yet they seemed not angry, but amused by the ridiculous situation they were in. The princess smiled a little as she noted that the town’s baker and butcher, longtime enemies, seemed bonded as with glue, while they shared furious glares.

“What is this? What is going on?” The princess asked.

“We can’t get free!” The cobbler’s wife announced, arms around her small son, who in turn grasped the skirt of a maiden who worked at the inn.

“What can I do?” Princess Tyll asked.

“We were told that you could free us,” Lady Telitt hollered.

“…I?”

“Your laughter is supposed to be more powerful than any,” a man in the back called out. There was a murmur of assent.

“The king always said you could break any curse with the strength of your heart,” a woman commented. “Even of the Denarhi.”

“This is not Denarhi magic,” Princess Tyll said. “Who started this? Where is the front of the line?”

After much elbowing and jostling, the person in front tripped out, the others dragged along behind.

“I’m afraid the spell grew more than I anticipated, Princess,” said a low, scraped voice. It was almost familiar.

“What spell—?” Tyll asked. A loud honk interrupted her. The thing in the fellow’s hands thrashed and wiggled, and a goose’s head popped out.

A shining goose.

A golden goose.

“Impossible,” Princess Tyll breathed.

“I fear… that you will find me much changed,” Obarra whispered from beneath his hood. “I am not the man you knew. I—“

Princess Tyll reached forward, pulling back his hood.

Obarra was scarred in several places. His flesh was raw and red in others, patches that had been burned and not quite healed. His hairline was crooked, cauterized; his eyes seemed to have dimmed. The townspeople nearest him gasped, trying and failing to move away.

Tears rolled down Tyll’s cheeks. As though in answer, rain began to fall from the sky. A hiss filled the air as Denarhi flames were extinguished a drop at a time.

“I am not what you recall, either,” the princess said softly. “I fear I am as changed as you.” She stood near him, her gaze tender. “But I think, together, we can find much healing.”

She reached out, taking his hand. As she did, her fingers brushed the goose. The spell broke, and the townspeople staggered and fell apart from one another. They began to chuckle, and to pull one another up, and to smile and laugh and wander back to their homes, to the raging war at their doorsteps.

They did not see the look on Princess Tyll’s face as she glanced over them. They did not see her smile at the goose, who was intent on escaping Obarra’s clutches. They did not even notice as she looked into the eyes of her love, and giggled, and chuckled, and guffawed until she could hardly breathe.

The goose honked indignantly and waddled away.

King Uderon approached them from the end of the crowd, covered in dust that suggested he’d fallen rather dramatically when he’d been released from the goose’s pull.

“Tyll,” he exclaimed, his smile broad. “Obarra has returned, and you have laughed. We are saved!” He glanced up at the sky; before the princess’ laughter and the drizzling rain, the nearest Denarhi had dissipated into black smoke and were thinning across the sky. “Your love was gone, and—“

“It is not that Obarra’s return healed my heart, Father, though it helps a great deal,” Tyll said, her laughter subsiding into radiant relief. “I have lost much, and learned much.” She paused, looking at Obarra. “We both have.” He nodded. “But my heart has found a way to fight for its joy. A way to press back. Time helps. Love helps. But, in the end…”

She looked at Obarra, trying to find the words. He found them for her.

“Healing is not a quick change, not a simple pull of a lever or a flash of lightning. It is a growing, a process, a waiting with weight. It is finding your purpose. It is falling in love with life anew.”

The king considered, nodding.

“And speaking of love, Majesty,” Obarra said, eyes locked with Princess Tyll’s, “I love your daughter. I should have made it known to you long ago. Now, I would like to make it known to the world.”

Without waiting for Uderon’s response, though the king grinned and nodded, Obarra sank to one knee. He winced in pain, and Tyll moved to help him, but he put up a hand.

“In many things, you assist help me, if you choose. And I will help you, too. But in this, I can only offer of myself, and hope you will accept me, even as I am.”

Tyll laughed again, clear and strong. It was not the laugh she’d given before that night when she’d first spoken with the young jester; it was a laugh that knew the meaning of pain, of loss, of sorrow. But it was fuller. Richer. Stronger.

“What do you think?” The princess asked, and pulled Obarra to his feet so that they could kiss.

Short StoryFantasy
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About the Creator

Brynne Nelson

I'm a writer. I'm a wife and a mom. I'm a human.

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