Comedy of Fables
A harpsichord strung from the innards of a felled golden-fleeced deer. That was the gift which Queen Anabora requested, so that it could be plucked whimsically at her birthday banquet by her favorite musician, Philipe. Philipe could only play the lute, but this and the fact that there were no golden-fleeced deer left in existence from whose innards a harpsichord could be strung, escaped the queen and thus, because she so desired, ten men were tasked with the quest of retrieving said instrument.
Loyal to their king, one might say almost fool-heartedly so, the men set out on horseback, galloping gallantly away every which direction, and into every which fate.
The first man decided to follow the path of the sun, wisely theorizing that the path upon which the sun rose and fell was also the path of the gods and since the golden-fleeced deer was the beloved mascot of the gods, it would lead him to it. So he set out every morning, directing his horse straight for the bright yellow star as it traveled across the sky but after passing the same rock in the shape of a seahorse for the five-hundred-and-twenty-seven-thousandth time, he finally subsided to insanity and drove his horse off the side of a cliff.
The second man knew there to be deer in the forests to the west of the kingdom. He believed that all things in life were a gamble and that fortuned favored the daring. If he hunted long enough, eventually, chance would win out in the end, a golden-fleeced deer would be born in that forest and he would find it. As far as we know, he still hunts to this day.
The third man took to the streets. He believed that if there was a golden-fleeced deer to be found, then someone, somewhere, had already found it. The best way to find information about the whereabouts of this deer would be through word-of-mouth. He began with the villagers of the kingdom, delighted that tales of sighted golden-fleeced deer were plentiful. He left the village with many-a-lead, and each direction he took led him to greater, grander, and sometimes stranger tales of the golden-fleeced deer. Though decades passed and he had yet to find a golden-fleeced deer, he became quite the expert. Fifty-hands tall it could be, or smaller than a stack of dust. They were shy creatures, but also bold, and sometimes, downright unabashed. While they made no sound, they sang quite beatifically, unless, of course, they made horrible screeching noises that caused the ears to bleed. Although their diet typically consists of only vegetation, they can be man-eaters if you’re unlucky enough to be the third cousin of an aunt’s friend’s brother-in-law’s sister’s acquaintance. And you can find them in tundra, forest, jungle, desert, and mountains, in the north, south, never east, but often west, and if you look very hard, you might even find a few of the underwater kind. All of this and more he told to the fourth, fifth, and sixth man, not to the seventh who went east and we will speak of him in a moment.
The fourth went north, clambering the icy cliffs of Mount Pompadeau. At the very tippy-top, he met a penguin and fell in love. At least, he was fairly certain she was a penguin; it was difficult to tell under all of those layers of blubber and fur. Do penguins have fur, or are they not feathers? Perhaps they are finely woven socks, of the argyle variety, made of slippery vines. Regardless, she was the most comely of sights, all withered and rust colored. He married her on the spot. She gave birth to fifteen-hundred pups, but they ate a few to cull the numbers and keep their bellies on fire. Either that or he died of elevation sickness and frostbite after writhing on the icy floor of a cavern for several torturous days in a sever state of delirium. We may never know.
The fifth man, following the vexing advice of the third, traveled westward until he came to the sea. Though he recalled hearing tale, again from the third man, that golden-fleeced deer could quite possibly, maybe, though no one had yet verified that they might live under the sea, he found it more prudent to pay passage on a boat. While out on sea, their ship was attacked by pirates, much of the crew were slaughtered or made to walk the plank, which is like being slaughtered except by slowly drowning water instead of being hacked to bits by dirty, steel blades unless sharks find you, and then it is exactly like being slaughtered. The fifth man knew exactly two magic tricks, however, one that produced a coin from behind a person’s ear and the other which made it disappear once more. He entertained the pirates with this trick long enough to plot an escape, stealing the pirate’s dingy, pet parrot, and a whole crate of rum – here it should be noted that he’d assumed the crate full of food and not booze, for no man is so foolish or drunkard to leave with only such a thing, at least, that is his claim. He beached the dingy into a deserted island, spent several days drunk, got on alright with the parrot until they had a disagreement and the parrot flew off abandoning him.
The sixth man traveled southward. He watched the dreary landscape of his beloved home kingdom, transform into a myriad of tropical colors, a veritable paradise. He learned to speak the native language, a romantic dialect that dripped savory from his tongue. He tossed aside his chinked armor, and donned a silk blouse, split open to display his mannish hairy chest, and smooth, tight fitted pantaloons that accentuated his perfectly round bum. He also wore polished boots with pointed toes, though they pinched and squeaked when he walked and he grew to hate them passionately, allowing him to rant eccentrically at night. He grew his hair and mustache out long, and learned to play the guitar, stamping his foot rhythmically to keep time. Why was he there, the buxom women of the land asked. I am on a quest, he replied. And they screeched in delight. Then they sang and danced and made love into the night.
The seventh man did not speak with the third, so he traveled east. A terrible, savage land he was told, lie eastward. Where winged beasts breathed fire into the air, women draped themselves in snakes, magic was still the law of the land, and frightening, tiny manlike creatures appeared from shadow and could steal a man’s soul with a single touch. He prepped himself for battle, loading his steed with armaments aplenty. Onward into the eastern sun he trekked, assured that he would meet a fate worse than death, but for his king’s queen, it would be a noble fate indeed. The desert came first, horrid blistering sun that nearly sapped him of all life. Men with thickly matted furry faces, and women curved and voluptuous, took him into their camp and fed him water and salted meat that melted an indescribable delicious on the tongue. They talked to him in ancient, rasped whispers, and when he parted from them, he felt certain they had been no more than a hallucination. Then came the rugged, wintry lands. The robes he wore, gifts from the desert dwellers, were too arid and could not keep out the cold. He passed out, near froze and feverish, awaking in a communal hut beside a toasty fire. The people fed him strong flavored, bitter broths that eased his congestion and thundering head. They wrapped him up in clothes made from the fur of native animals. After came the humid swamp lands. He stripped off all his clothes, stumbled through the waters nearly naked, and was bitten by a snake. He nearly died of the snake venom, but when he awoke, again, he had been brought in by a strangely kind people. They drained his injury, treated him with more pungent, foul-tasting brews, and brought him back to health. By then he had grown weary of travel, and in a way, fallen in love with the ‘savage’ eastern lands. He asked the villagers if he might settle there with them and they saw no reason he could not. He lived in the east for many years, ashamed he’d believed the tales that such a beautiful place was savage and terrible, until one day, a tiny manlike creature appeared from the shadows, slapped him on the forehead and stole his soul.
For many years, the eighth and ninth man traveled inadvertently along similar paths, constantly crossing into one another. Their adventures were epic and legendary things. They rescued damsels, slayed dragons, rescued villages from ogres and trolls, they tamed shrews and melted witches with water. Oft times, they assisted one another in their days of daring do. It only seemed natural that the day should come that the eighth, shyly, asked of the ninth, shall we just travel together? Which the ninth readily agreed. It was not long after, on a night that saw them camping beneath a sky blanketed in stars, that the ninth admitted it was not mere coincidence they met so often in travel, for, he may have purposefully kept track of which path the eighth had followed. To which, the eighth admitted, he may have done the same. And then, not much longer after, following a particularly heated battle with a hydra, that left both men with awful injury, the eighth confessed to the ninth that he would very much not like to die without his feelings clear, and the ninth returned the sentiment. In a hidden cavern, behind a veil of cascading water, in the twilight hours, they removed their armor and, careful of their wounds, made passionate love to one another. From that day on, they journeyed together and had many great escapades, and while they never found a golden-fleeced deer, they found one another, and isn’t that a far better thing?
Now the tenth man, knowing that the queen would never be able to tell if a harpsichord had been strung from the innards of a golden-fleeced deer or not, bought a cheap harpsichord from a traveling merchant than proceeded to spend a few months in a tavern getting mind-numbingly drunk and snogging the barmaids. Then he swaggered into the castle, declared the quest complete, and presented the harpsichord to the queen just in time for her birthday. So delighted was she, and the king delighted by her delight, the man was rewarded with riches beyond his wildest dreams. He was granted marriage to the first princess of the land, but she was slightly cross-eyed and buck-toothed, so he requested the far fairer second princess instead and so it was granted. Unfortunately, his shallow desires were misguided, for the first princess cried tears that, once collected into a crystal vial, transformed into the elixir of eternal life and the second princess was a pugnacious brat whose tears were slightly acidic. He lived the rest of his life scarred by the numerous sorrows of his simpering wife.
Immediately after receiving the fake harpsichord, the queen demanded that her birthday banquet be held. She gave her precious new instrument to Philipe and requested he play a ballad fit for a queen. Of course, Philipe could not play the harpsichord, and so his ballad sounded somewhat like a thousand cats dying a horrendous death, which upset the queen to no end, though many behind her back applauded his song as certainly being fit for that queen. Philipe fell from his long held status as queen’s favorite musician and was cast from the kingdom, which suited him fine; he wanted to be a traveling minstrel anyhow. His journeys took him far and wide, and met him many a fair people, and saw him many a wondrous sight. And it was on these travels that one pleasant summer day, as he sat on the edge of the river bank playing a cheerful tune on his lute, out of the water popped the head of a golden-fleeced deer.