King Arnon and the Ursa Fairies
Long ago, the Ursa fairies made their home in the forest of Anashim, in the westernmost part of the kingdom of Kyr. The Ursa fairies spent their days singing, dancing and feasting. They kept to themselves, living in the wildest and thickest parts of the forest. They ignored those around them, focusing their attention on their own concerns and pleasures.
In those days, King Arnon ruled over all of Kyr. He was a wise and gentle king who loved his people. Those who followed his commands were happy and content, for King Arnon was just and merciful.
Deep in the forest of Anashim, in a very dark and wild place, lived an evil wizard named Kazab. He had a smooth, soothing voice which he used to lure the unsuspecting and unwary into his traps. He craved power and would do anything to get it. He greatest desire was to rule over Kyr as king. He whispered a rumor here and cast a spell there, hoping to turn the hearts of the people against their king.
King Arnon kept a careful watch of Kazabís schemes, waiting for the proper time to defeat his enemy. He also warned the people of Kyr how dangerous it was to listen to the wizardís lies. Those who traveled through the forest of Anashim knew to avoid the dark places where Kazab practiced his evil spells.
The Ursa fairies, however, did not always listen to King Arnonís wisdom. "The wizard Kazab is no threat to us," they would often say. "If we leave him alone, he will leave us alone. We are not afraid of him."
Now it happened one day that a small band of Ursa fairies strayed into a clearing not far from the ruined tower where Kazab lived. They were gathering sweet berries for a great feast that was to be held that day. Tym, the leader of the Ursa fairies, flew eagerly to a berry bush. "Look!" he cried. "These berries are the finest Iíve seen all summer." He plucked one from the nearest branch and popped it into his mouth. "They are the sweetest I have ever tasted!"
The Ursa fairies began to fill their pouches with sweet berries. They were so busy with their task, they did not see Kazab approaching.
"What is this?" said a smooth, gentle voice. "Strangers helping themselves to my berries?" The Ursa fairies stopped picking berries and turned to see who had spoken.
Tym bowed before the wizard. "We meant no harm. We are gathering berries for our feast today. We did not know these bushes belonged to you."
Kazab smiled and spoke in his soothing way. "No harm was meant, so no harm has been done. You may take as many berries as you wish. I only ask that I may attend your feast as your guest."
"Of course. You are welcome to join us," Tym answered. "I am called Tym. I am the leader of the Ursa fairies."
Kazab bowed low, smiling to himself. It was clear the Ursa fairies had no idea who he was. "I am known as Rea," he said with a gleam in his eye. "I am a friend to all travelers and a guide to those who have lost their way. I am honored to be your guest."
"We will finish gathering berries soon," Tym said. "Then you must come and join our celebration!"
A short time later, Kazab followed his guides to the place where the Ursa fairies made their home. They lived in a valley that was surrounded on three sides by trees and vines that grew so close together that no man could pass through them. The fourth side of the valley was guarded by a steep cliff, which could not be safely climbed. But, a cave hidden by vines led to a winding tunnel through the cliff. Kazab followed the Ursa fairies behind a sparkling waterfall and into their secret home.
"Welcome, Rea, friend of the Ursa fairies!" Tym said as they stepped out from behind the waterfall. "And now, let the celebration begin!"
At this, several Ursa fairies began blowing on horns made from acorn caps. Others played on drums and wooden flutes. Still others scattered sweet-smelling flower petals in the air.
As Kazab watched the Ursa fairies, a slow smile crossed his face. "These creatures could serve me well. They could gather the plants I need for my spells. They are so small, they could be perfect spies and messengers."
Carefully, making sure no one could see what he was doing, Kazab pulled a magic pouch from inside his cloak. He sprinkled a fine powder over all the food and drink at the feast. In no time, every Ursa fairy in the valley was fast asleep.
Several days later, the Ursa fairies began to stir from their enchanted sleep. Tym sat up and rubbed his eyes. He was startled to find himself in a small cage, crowded with other Ursa fairies. He also noticed that each Ursa fairy now wore a metal collar around his or her neck.
"Ah, I see you are finally waking up," Kazab said with an evil smile on his face. "And just in time. I have much work for you to do."
"We will not serve you!" Tym cried. "We serve no one but ourselves."
Kazab chuckled. "There are only two true masters in Kyr Ė King Arnon or myself. Those who do not follow King Arnon eventually wind up serving me. Besides, you no longer have a choice. The metal collars you now wear give me complete control over you." He held up a crystal the size of his fist. Kazab chuckled as the crystal began to glow.
"Listen carefully," Kazab said. "This is what I want you to do."
Kazab held the crystal high and gave his commands. The metal collars pulsed with the light from the crystal. Although some of the Ursa fairies tried to fight the spell, they soon could see they were powerless against it. Sadly, they set out on the errands Kazab gave them.
All that day, the Ursa fairies slaved for the evil wizard. They stung their paws gathering nettles and stained their fur collecting evil-smelling herbs. They flew until their wings ached. Late into the evening they toiled. Finally, Kazab returned them to their cages, tossing them some stale bread for food.
"What are we going to do?" whispered a young Ursa fairy named Kelsey.
"I donít know," Tym answered. "Escape seems impossible."
An old Ursa fairy named Abyn nodded. "We were foolish to venture so deep into the forest," he said. "King Arnon has often warned us that Kazab and the dark places where he lives are dangerous."
"He seemed so kind and gentle," someone said quietly.
"He said he was a friend," Kelsey sighed.
"But, we still donít know what to do," Tym said.
Abyn spoke quietly. "It is said that when those who are in trouble call out to King Arnon for help, he will hear and answer them."
"How can King Arnon hear us?" Tym demanded. "We are miles from the palace!"
"How can he rescue us?" someone else asked.
"It couldnít hurt to try," Kelsey said softly.
Abyn offered Kelsey his paw. Another Ursa fairy took Abynís other paw. Softly, the three began to call out to King Arnon, asking him for help. Tym and the others watched in doubting silence.
When the call for help was ended, Abyn slowly sat down. "Now, we will wait and see what answer King Arnon will send." He closed his eyes and sank into a weary sleep.
"We should all sleep, while we can," Tym said. "Kazab will have many tasks for us tomorrow."
One by one, all the Ursa fairies closed their eyes and slept.
Kazab awakened the Ursa fairies several hours before dawn and set them to work. They were still tired from the day before, but they had no choice. Kazabís magic forced them to obey his commands.
"Will King Arnon help us?" Kelsey whispered to Abyn.
"Watch and wait. Help will come soon," Abyn whispered back.
Tym snorted in disgust. "Donít count on it. Use your energy to find a way to escape."
Kazab forced the Ursa fairies to work until well past sunset. Then he returned them to their cages, where they collapsed wearily. He had just locked them in for the night, when there was a knock at the door.
"Who could that be?" he muttered. He crossed the room and cautiously opened the door. "Who are you and what do you want?" he demanded crossly.
King Arnon stepped into the room. "I have come to free the Ursa fairies. Release them at once!"
"The Ursa fairies belong to me now," Kazab answered. "They invited me into their valley. It was easy to take them captive." He chuckled. Then a frown crossed his face. "I will not set them free."
"Then I will buy them from you," King Arnon said. "Name your price."
Kazabís eyes began to gleam. "Name my price?" he whispered. He studied the King in silence for several moments. Then he smiled. "What do you have to offer?"
King Arnon drew a pouch from his belt and tossed it on the table. Gold coins spilled out of the open pouch.
Kazabís smile grew wider. "The Ursa fairies are very valuable to me. Your offer is generous, but not generous enough."
At this, King Arnon tossed another pouch onto the table. Diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones spilled out.
"A good start," Kazab said greedily. "But I require more." He studied King Arnon carefully. "Your cloak would be nice."
Without a word, King Arnon removed his cloak and handed it to Kazab.
"What about the medallion you are wearing?" Kazab asked. King Arnon pulled the chain over his head, handing it to Kazab without speaking.
"Iíll take that belt and sword," Kazab said. "That tunic would look very nice in my wardrobe," he added.
One by one, King Arnon handed each item to the wizard. The Ursa fairies watched the bargaining wondering when, or if, Kazab would ever be satisfied.
Now King Arnon stood before the wizard, wearing only his undergarments. His crown lay on the table with the other items Kazab had requested. Both men studied the pile on the table in silence.
"I have given you everything you asked for in return for the Ursa fairiesí freedom," King Arnon said quietly.
"I need only one item to complete the bargain," Kazab said.
"A simple exchange. Your life for their freedom."
Kelsey gasped and her eyes grew wide. Would King Arnon become Kazabís slave?
It soon became clear, however, that Kazabís desire was for much more than that. Smiling cruelly, he drew the Kingís own sword from its sheath. He held it in the air. "One life for the freedom of many."
King Arnon met the wizardís gaze. "So be it."
Kelsey covered her eyes. She could not bear to watch.
Suddenly, Kazabís evil cackling assaulted her ears. "The King is dead!" Kazab snatched the crown from the table and placed it on his head. "Kyr is mine at last!"
Kazab began to dance about the room, swinging the sword above his head. He peered into the cages which held his prisoners. "Now that King Arnon is dead, there is no one to rescue you. You will be my slaves forever!" He cackled again. "Come. We have much work to do. We are moving to the palace!"
As he spoke these words, thunder rolled across the sky. The tower began to tremble. The cages holding the Ursa fairies tumbled from their places and broke on the stone floor. The metal collars snapped and fell from their necks. The Ursa fairies huddled together, trying to avoid shattering pots and jars. One by one, every potion and evil-smelling herb fell from its shelf and crashed onto the floor.
Suddenly, a flash of light shot through the room. It completely consumed the wizardís potions and powders.
"It is finished," a strong voice announced. "Your power has been broken, Kazab. Your defeat has come."
The wizard turned to face the speaker and gasped. There, wearing all that Kazab had taken from him, was King Arnon. Light seemed to come from within him as he stood victorious before his enemy.
"How is this possible?" Kazab stammered. "I killed you with your own sword."
"Long ago, it was foretold that an evil wizard would come to Kyr and try to twist peopleís hearts and minds against their King." He studied the terrified wizard. "You have built your power slowly, whispering lies with your soothing tongue. You have deceived people and creatures, making them believe evil is good. Many have listened to your whispers and turned against the wisdom of my commands.
"But, the prophesies spoke of the wizardís defeat. One was coming who would pay for the freedom of everyone in Kyr. All who had fallen under the wizardís power, as well as those who fought against him, would be set free forever by the death of the One who was promised." King Arnon stood tall, his eyes flashing. "I am that One. Your greed for power drove you to kill me and fulfill the prophesy. Rather than gaining the throne, you have lost the little power you had. You are banished from Kyr forever. If you ever return to my kingdom, you will die. Now, be gone!"
Kazab cowered before the King. The wizard scrambled away on his hands and knees, disappearing into the night.
"And now," King Arnon said in a gentler tone. "I have business with all those who have been prisoners of Kazab. Tym, leader of the Ursa fairies, come before me."
Tym flew on trembling wings to King Arnonís outstretched hand. "You and your people are free, as are all those living in Kyr Ė all creatures as well as all the people. But, your freedom comes with a price. For many long years, you and your people have cared only for yourselves. You have ignored my commands and refused to listen to my wisdom.
"You are free to remain in Kyr, but only if you are willing to recognize my authority as your King. If you refuse, you will join Kazab in exile. However, if you accept the gift of freedom I offer, you may return to your home to serve me there. For, as even Kazab realized, everyone if Kyr serves one of two masters. You and your people must choose now which master you will serve."
There was a moment of silence. Tym looked down at his feet. At last he said, "I am not worthy to serve you, Your Majesty. I did not believe you could do anything to save us."
"That is past and forgiven," King Arnon said gently. "What matters now is your choice. Will you serve me?"
Tym glanced up and saw kindness in King Arnonís eyes. "I will serve you, Your Majesty. That is, if you really want me in your kingdom."
King Arnon smiled. "Of course I want you in my kingdom. Why do you think I paid such a great price for your freedom?"
Tym felt an overwhelming wave of love and welcome wash over him. He threw himself into the air and danced a jig until he flopped, exhausted, on King Arnonís shoulder.
"Hooray!" Abyn cried. "I will serve King Arnon, too!"
"Me, too!" Kelsey shouted, springing into the air.
Soon others were pledging their loyalty to the King. A few Ursa fairies slipped out the door. They were glad to be free from the wizardís spell, but they did not wish to serve anyone other than themselves. So, they left Kyr behind and became exiles.
"The door is always open for them to return," King Arnon told Tym. "Their freedom has been purchased for all time. But, they cannot have it unless they learn that true freedom is something only I can give them."
"Will they ever change their minds?" Tym asked.
"Their hearts must change first," King Arnon answered. "But, so not fear. Some will return. Wait and watch."
Early the next morning, the Ursa fairies returned to their valley. They held a great feast, with King Arnon as their guest of honor. Once again, they pledged their loyalty to the King of Kyr.
"Now you have the gift of freedom," King Arnon said. "But I will give you yet another gift." He reached beneath his cloak and pulled out an Ursa fairy-sized mirror, which he presented to Abyn.
"This is a magic mirror," King Arnon said. "You, Abyn, will be the keeper of the mirror, because you are the oldest of the Ursa fairies. It is to be kept by the oldest of your company and it is for all to use. When you look in the mirror, it will show you those who are in need within my kingdom. You will no longer live for yourselves. Many travelers pass through the forest of Anashim. You will serve me by helping them."
Abyn accepted the mirror solemnly and bowed. "We will try to use this gift wisely."
King Arnon smiled. "That is good. The mirror will help you, but you may also use your own eyes. Fly throughout my kingdom, seeking those who are in need. And any time you need my help or my wisdom, you have only to call and I will hear you."
And so, the Ursa fairies traveled to every corner of Kyr, seeking those in need. Many were surprised to find the thing they needed most supplied by an unseen friend. Many a weary traveler found comfort and welcome in the hidden valley deep in the forest. For the Ursa fairies had learned that true freedom is found in serving others, and in serving the King most of all.