In the mines within the five mountains that lay at the kingdom’s borders, Baron Raven discovered a most wondrous stone. Even in its raw form, it shone with a cosmic gleam that kindled the baron’s curiosity. The gears of his clever mind spun and whirred.
Such a rare treasure was not his to claim, though it had come from his mountains. For who had granted him dominion over those mountains? Baron Raven prepared the stone as a gift. And he made the gift richer still by polishing and cutting the stone into a large pendant with eight sides.
Baron Raven traveled to his kingdom’s capital, there to present the beautiful gemstone to his liege, King Monkey.
When the baron lifted the lid of the sumptuous velvet box in which he had lain the gemstone, on a satin pillow the color of light cream, a gasp passed through those assembled in the royal chamber.
None had ever seen such a gemstone. Its color shifted across the hues of all known gems, from the clear and juicy red of a ruby to the deep and sparkling blue of a sapphire to the wild violet of an amethyst. And yet it had a color of its own that none could name, save but to say that if one could see beneath the brightness of a star, it would be the color of that gemstone.
The king marveled at the gem, stepping down from his high seat to meet the baron, who still knelt before his liege. So brilliant was the gem that it caught the light and reflected it in King Monkey’s eyes. The king was enchanted, but expressed at once his concern that such a fine gemstone would surely be a constant target for thieves. He would have to place a great number of guards on the gemstone. And he would have to have a great number of guards guarding him whenever he wore the gemstone. He would have to forbid the queen from wearing it, though he saw that she was as dazzled by the gem as he was, for he would never wish to put her in such danger.
“My king, I would never give you a gift that would cost you more than it granted you,” said Baron Raven.
He insisted that the king need not fear theft or danger over the gemstone, for while it was enchanting to behold by all, it was enchanted to be held by none…save the king, and any whom he named.
Baron Raven was clever in the ways of building delicate things. He held the gemstone up to the sunlight and the king noted how everyone else present averted their eyes.
“The gemstone reflects the light of the sun almost as intensely as the sun itself burns,” said Baron Raven. “But not for you and I, for I have engineered the gem to protect itself against any but its keepers. And its keepers are—as I have said—only the king and those whom he names.”
“And what of the hours when sunlight does not shine?” the king said.
Baron Raven answered the challenge by asking if he might demonstrate the gemstone’s further powers when evening fell.
The moon would be full that night, for the baron had planned it to be so.
When evening fell, after a rich and merry meal, Baron Raven asked the king to step outside the palace, and hold the gemstone up to the moonlight. This the king did, with other guests of the court spilling out into the royal gardens.
The king saw at once how all else present stood frozen and mesmerized by the enchanting milky light drifting through the gemstone from the moon. Only when the king wrapped his fist around the gemstone, covering its luminescence, did everyone else wake from their dazes.
The baron smiled with satisfaction.
“And what of the nights when the moon does not shine?” the king said.
“Permit me to stay at the palace until such a night arises,” said Baron Raven. “I will guard your gift until then.”
King Monkey granted Baron Raven this indulgence, for the gemstone had piqued the king’s curiosity almost as well as it had piqued the baron’s.
So one night, after the moon had faded from the sky, Baron Raven gave the gemstone to the king, and asked him to raise the gemstone up to the sky. This he did in the presence of his court, many of whom gasped, for the gemstone had suddenly vanished from their sight. Indeed, the king could turn it one way and make it appear, and turn it another, and make it disappear. But only to the sight of those who were not named as the gemstone’s keepers. To the king and the baron, the starlight’s only effect on the gemstone was to grant it a soft and charming glow.
“And what of when I am inside my palace—or any other place?” the king said. “What of when sunlight, moonlight, nor starlight can reach me?”
In answer to this challenge, Baron Raven bid the king and his court return to the palace’s receiving chamber, where a hearth fire burned, and candle flames flickered from their alcoves.
“In candlelight or fire light, your gemstone will appear like a common pebble,” said the baron, “should you be parted from it. If dropped by any thief who dared to thieve it, the stone would be lost to any who did not have the eyes to see. But you would easily see it, and restore it to yourself.”
“Then so long as there is light, my treasure is protected,” said King Monkey.
“Indeed, your Majesty.”
The king bristled. “Then all a thief need do to render your protections useless is to cast the gemstone into darkness.”
“It would have to be a complete and utter darkness, my king,” the baron replied. He smiled. “There is no such place in your bright kingdom.”
King Monkey whipped his tail about and chewed his lip.
“But…suppose that there is such a place, devoid of all light,” said Baron Raven. “Fear not. For I have built a special protection into this most special of stones. And this protection will only be revealed if the stone should ever fall into complete and utter darkness.”
King Monkey peered at the stone, admiring its radiance. He considered the baron’s assurances. He was at last satisfied. He held aloft the gemstone and declared its name—for such was the practice with gems so rare as to be unique.
“Henceforth shall this stone be known as ‘Octavia,’ the Radiant!”
As the name signified, King Monkey had noted that the gemstone was cut in an octagon. Quite adept at counting was the king. Baron Raven knew quite well that the king preferred rounded shapes. But he had reason and cause to cut the stone in such a sharp shape.
The king invited the baron to stay yet another night, for the king wished to learn of this special protection that Baron Raven had constructed into the stone. King Monkey planned to go down into the palace’s deepest dungeon, where there was surely utter and complete darkness.
The king’s guards protested, for they could not protect what they could not see. But King Monkey would hear no protests.
So after an evening of merriment and rest, the king summoned the baron and a chosen group of trusted guards and advisors to descend into the dungeons.
As they followed the winding stairs down, further and further, the air grew stifling, then still. The darkness approached, hovering just beyond their torchlights, and then it grew closer, looming over the torches, squeezing the light.
The king held aloft his gem, his Octavia. And with the torchlights still burning, what appeared to the baron and the king to be a luminescent gem, casting shards of many-colored lights, appeared to the rest of the party to be a simple pebble. Only the king’s admiring gaze upon the pebble marked it as the gem.
At last, they came to the end of the dungeons, which were all empty, for King Monkey found jailing to be distasteful. The king ordered that all the torches be put out.
And once they were out, he called for the baron and asked him to reveal the secret protection.
“Alas, my king, we are not yet in utter darkness,” said the baron.
And though the rest were puzzled at first, they soon saw what he meant. Tiny embers remained from the torches, burning with the dimmest of orange glows. The guards tamped these down.
“Now, at last, are we in utter darkness?” asked the king.
“We are, my king,” answered the baron.
And before Baron Raven could speak another word, a commotion erupted.
“Seize them!” cried an unfamiliar voice, one of the guards.
Baron Raven felt armored arms clamp around him. “My king! The stone!”
“Tell me—how do I trigger its protections!” cried the king.
“Keep your stone, Highness,” a deep gruff voice answered. “It’s you we want. And that stone has given you to us.”
“Treachery!” cried another voice, and this one was familiar, for it was the captain of the guards.
“Swallow it!” cried Baron Raven. “Swallow the stone!”
Baron Raven did not know if the king heard or heeded his instruction. For he could see naught. He struggled against the guard who held him, to no avail. He only managed to bang his head against something hard and curved, a tusk. His strength was nowhere near equal to that of a boar’s. The baron had keen eyes, but he could see nothing, not even the gemstone, Octavia, which had the power to draw even the tiniest of lights to itself.
“By the might of the Bear Queen!”
It was the king who had exclaimed.
“Where is this light coming from?” the king asked.
Thus it was that the baron knew that the king had done as he had instructed. “Within you, my king!” cried the baron with a laugh. “Four powers does the stone have in light. Four does it have in darkness.”
The king cried out, and a sharp clang echoed through the chamber.
“I am stuck!” cried the king.
“But not harmed!” answered the baron, straining against his captor. “Only when swallowed is the stone cast in utter darkness. There it grants the rightful keeper the power to see even in that darkness, for now it is your eyes that draw the light from the chamber. And though you are struck, you are not harmed, for the stone grants you the power of its hardness. You skin is now like stone.”
Another clang rang through chamber. A weapon must have struck the king’s stone-hard skin.
“Ha! You are right, dear baron!” shouted the king. “But I need not let them hit me, when I can merely—ha! When I can merely dodge them.”
“You can do better than that, my king!” the baron said, shifting his head from side to side, for the guard holding him was trying to silence him. But when the guard released one arm so he could cover the baron’s mouth, the baron took advantage of the guard’s imbalance, and slipped through the other arm.
Baron Raven dropped low and readied himself to move away. Though the guards could not see, they could hear him. They would move toward him whenever he spoke. But he had to risk speaking to help his king.
“The stone catches light when light is near,” Baron Raven said, “but when there is no light to catch, it can catch something else. Take a breath, my king, and cry out to those who attack you.”
The baron covered his ears then. But still, his ears rang and rattled, his quills shook in their shafts, and his delicate bones trembled at the sound of King Monkey’s cry.
The shrill, pulsing, shriek struck the stone walls of the chamber. The baron heard stone crumbling and rocks and earth tumbling.
“We must flee!” the king shouted, his voice booming.
The baron felt strong lithe fingers grip his shoulder. He rose and let his king guide him out of the chamber to the stairs. Once upon the stairs, there was no need of guidance. They only led one way.
“Keep going, you two!” the king said from behind. “Baron and Captain, keep climbing! I have villains yet to dispatch.”
With that, the baron heard another devastating shriek behind him. He did not bother to cover his ears this time. He only fled from the sound.
The higher they climbed, the farther they left the sound of crumbling collapse behind.
“Your Highness!” cried the captain of the guard. She stopped climbing, and so did the baron. “Baron, have you a match stick?”
Baron Raven panted and shook his head, though they were still in pitch darkness. “No, I’m afraid not.”
They heard a scrambling sound from behind them. The baron held his breath.
“Your Highness?” asked the captain.
A chuckle came as answer.
“It is I,” said the king.
King, Baron, and Captain climbed the stairs out of the dungeon. When they began to see light, the king complained of a great brightness. And the baron explained that it was the stone. He warned the king to spit out the stone before it caught so much light that it blinded the king’s natural eyes.
By the baron’s instruction, the king took a deep breath, blew it out, and up came the stone. With a cough, the king spit the stone out onto his paw.
As he was no longer protected by the stone, the baron and the captain kept their king between them as all three ascended to the light.
When they were safely back in the palace proper, the palace guards converged upon the king. Their captain eyed her subordinates with suspicion. She proclaimed to the king that she had failed him.
But the king chuckled. “Only because I let you.” For it was the king who had chosen the guards who would descend into the dungeon with them. And he had chosen a few whose covetous gazes he had seen upon the stone Octavia.
“You expected the attack then?” the baron asked. “Not a wise risk to take.”
“I expected that they wanted the gem, not me,” said the king, holding the stone up to the torchlight. He narrowed his eyes. “It has dimmed in radiance, I fear. Has it caught the darkness, even as it catches light?”
The baron shook his head. “Pardon me for saying so, but you are a king. It is foolish to think that none would want to steal you even more than they would want to steal a rare gem.”
King Monkey raised a brow and cocked his head away from the baron. “And you, dear Raven? Did you not wish to be the one who wielded the power of the stone? Certainly you tested its powers, else you would not have known they would work.”
“My king, you know me well, do you not? What do I truly treasure most? Is it gems? Is it power?”
“No, indeed. You treasure cleverness most of all.”
The baron bowed his head. He began to turn. “By you leave, Highness,” he said.
“Baron Raven,” the king said, halting him. “I counted only seven powers.”
The baron turned back toward the king.
“You said Octavia should have four powers in light and four in darkness,” said the king. “Eight powers in all. But I count seven. The four powers in sunlight, moonlight, starlight, and fire-light. And three powers in darkness. Magnifying the voice, hardening the skin, and catching the light so that the bearer may see in the darkness. What is the fourth power in darkness?”
“My king is quite adept at counting,” said the baron. “There is indeed a fourth power in darkness. But it is not one that can serve my king.”
“Oh? Then who can it serve?”
The baron bowed his head. “As many complex things are, the fourth power is better shown than described. Perhaps the king would descend in the dungeons again tomorrow?”
The king waved his paw dismissively. “I’ve had enough of dungeons. Haven’t you?”
The baron smiled. “Indeed. And my king is clever enough to decipher the stone’s secrets without his humble servant. I would take your leave, my liege, at dawn.”
“Abandoning me with a puzzle, are you?” The king gave the slightest of nods. “You are given leave.”
Baron Raven gathered the few belongings he had brought to court. He gathered them slowly, and he walked through the halls of the palace slowly. To every passing guard, he gave a nod. As he reached the outer courtyard the pace of his heartbeat quickened.
The baron was certain that King Monkey had already solved the puzzle of the stone. For the king was quite adept at counting. He surely noted—as none other would have—the extra feather on the baron’s chest.
The baron could have assured that his feathers counted the same when he entered the palace and when he left. He was clever enough, of course, to thwart the king’s particular talent. But he chose to reveal himself to his king in this subtle way. It was Baron Raven’s way of asking for a gift from the king. The king had let him go. The king had given him leave. That was King Monkey’s way of granting the gift.
The king was the king. And a king could always change his mind. But Baron Raven knew King Monkey as King Monkey knew Baron Raven. Once the baron was outside the palace grounds, it would mean that the king had truly given him leave. It would mean that the king had truly granted himthe gift he desired, a secret gift that only the baron and the king knew of.
Baron Raven glanced down at the gleaming feathers of his chest. One in particular gleamed with great mysteries in arcane colors. For that one feather had sprouted in complete and utter darkness.
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel