A New Fairy Tale
Joshua Alan Sturgill
The Chrysoberyl Necklace
Once upon a time,
the Queen of a remote but wealthy land desired a necklace of Chrysoberyl and Amethyst. The necklace was delivered to her, and when she saw its unique beauty she banished all the jewelers from her kingdom and caused the mine entrance to be buried so no one could fashion another necklace like it.
The necklace was indeed a work of high art. It hung from her neck and across her shoulders, almost like a coat of gems strung on golden wires. The Queen loved nothing more than to stand at the top of the highest tower wearing white linen robes and her exquisite necklace.
By day the necklace sparkled with deep reds and purples, and by night it glowed with flashes of yellow and pink.
Every morning, birds of all kinds who delight in shining objects to hide in their nests would flock around the tower.
And every night, astrologers were deceived on seeing the necklace from far away—they believed it to be a newly-appeared star or heavenly apparition, and traveled great distances to investigate.
The cruel queen had the astrologers captured and put in prison and the birds captured and baked into pies.
This evil sport of the Queen’s continued for many months. Until one day, the god of sky in the form of a great hawk, happened to be flying over the kingdom.
He saw the necklace dancing and shimmering in the morning light and was entranced, and before she knew the danger she had brought on herself, the queen was caught in the god’s talons and carried off to the sky.
When the courtiers discovered that the Queen had disappeared, there was much confusion and scramble in the castle! No one knew what to do.
The courtiers went to the astrologers in the prison. “Divine for us the location of the queen!” they demanded. But the astrologers were disinclined.
They went to the royal soldiers and ordered them to search the surrounding forests and mountains. But the soldiers, whose loyalty to the queen had been sorely tested by a long diet of bird-pies, were similarly disinclined.
Meanwhile, the god of the sky had carried the queen away to his castle high in the upper atmosphere and into his private chambers. He locked the Queen in a golden cage by an east-facing window and demanded every morning that she sing for him while the necklace sparkled in the sunlight to delight his eyes.
At night when he finished eating, the god would tip the crumbs from his supper onto the floor of the cage and splash a little water from the clouds into a bowl.
But sky-god’s food is poor fare for mortals, and the Queen became daily more like a cloud herself—pale and thin and nearly transparent. She prepared herself for a long, slow death in exile, and her singing gradually progressed from defiant to resigned, and from resigned to despairing.
When the Queen had all but given up hope, she was startled one day by a mournful cry. And looking out of the window, she saw two birds, a dove and a raven, flying out of a great, dark cloud.
Her first thought was to shoo them away, but when she saw they were weak and exhausted so that her heart was moved with pity for them.
“Come and eat some of this food,” she said, “there is more than enough, and a sky-god’s meal is better for birds than for humans.” The bars of the cage were more than wide enough for the birds, and they cautiously came inside and began to eat.
“Thank you,” they said. “We were blown far from home in a violent storm, and thought we might starve before we found our way back. How can we repay you for sharing your food with us?”
“This is how,” the queen told them: “When you have eaten this food, it will make you very strong for such small creatures. You are of the sky and can be nourished by the food of the sky. But see how this same food has made me thin and weak? I am thin enough that I could easily fit through the bars of this cage—though I can’t escape, for fear of falling out of the window. I am light enough that you could carry me gently down to the Earth. I am Queen of a land of rich forests and farms, and I will reward you for helping me.”
The dove and the raven agreed, though they were skeptical of bearing both the queen and her great jeweled necklace. “But perhaps she is light enough and the food powerful enough,” they decided.
The next day, the sky god woke and began to mock the Queen. “Your music has become very weak, my little songbird,” he laughed. “But your necklace shines as bright as ever. I wonder what I will do with it when you have died?” And he left the chamber in high spirits.
When the god was out of sight, the Queen called to the birds where they had been hiding in a corner of the cage, and they stepped through the bars and onto the window ledge. The Queen’s weak state made her very dizzy as she looked down and down and down to where she thought she saw a glimpse of the familiar rivers and mountains of her land.
The Queen held out her arms, and, grasping her by the sleeves of her now tattered linen robe, the dove and the raven began to lift her, cautiously at first, but with more courage as they realized they could bear her.
“We could not go far,” they said, “but we will be able to lower you slowly to the land.” And with that, the queen’s feet left the windowsill, and she floated rapidly downwards, under the birds’ outstretched wings.
Just as the Queen thought she was finally free, the sun came out from behind a cloud, and the light fell fully on her necklace. It flashed out red and purple and caught the eye of the sky-god as he was going about his daily chores.
His anger was terrible! He immediately took the form of the great hawk, and soared from the castle in pursuit.
The birds saw the god speeding toward them, but they did not let go. “Your majesty,” they called, “you must drop your necklace! The sky-god is coming, and we cannot fly fast enough to escape if we are carrying both you and it!”
What a moment of harsh decision for the Queen. She loved the beauty of her necklace and the power it gave her more than anything. In her castle, it was a sign of her authority, and it was a cold, solitary comfort during her long imprisonment. She felt that her glory and reputation would be diminished if it were lost.
She had only seconds to make her choice.
“Let me have the use of my right hand,” she said, and the dove quickly let go and grasped her instead by the collar of her robe. Then, with a tremendous wrench of her will, she reached for the clasp of the necklace and pulled it from around her shoulders.
It was so lovely, so extraordinary! Roses and iris, fire and snow, morning and evening, all seemed to blaze out from within it. With a pang of grief, the Queen suddenly realized: this was only the second time she had ever seen her necklace.
She had looked at it momentarily when it was delivered to her, and afterward she only saw reflections of it in her mirror. She had never taken it off for fear that it would be lost or stolen, even at night when she slept.
Looking down, the queen saw the deep lake where the rivers of her kingdom converge on their way to the sea.
And she let go of the necklace.
Just for a moment, it seemed immobile, suspended. Then, it plummeted with a brilliant swirl of glittering light.
The sky-god screamed a piercing hawk-scream of deadly anger, and down he dove at once to catch it, while the dove and the raven, spurred on by the easing of their burden, swerved out of his way.
The Queen watched the necklace fall. It seemed to dance, buffeted by its progress through the wind, turning and spinning joyfully. The Chrysoberyl and Amethyst in their golden settings put on a display more dazzling than ever.
The necklace seemed happy to be given its freedom. It rushed for the surface of the lake just ahead of the god’s close pursuit. And as the great hawk-shape reached out to grab it, it gave out one last burst of radiance and then its light was quenched by the cold, dark lake.
The sky-god struck the surface of the water with a loud crack! And for a long time lay there, stunned, rocking on the waves. The waters were beyond his dominion, and he could not penetrate them.
The kind-hearted birds bore the Queen to her castle, and set her gently on its highest tower. “Friends,” she said, “I can never fully repay you, but you are forever welcome to roost and live in the eaves of my home.”
Restored to her throne, the Queen made a proclamation of her repentance for all her past cruelty. She recalled the jewelers from exile and released the astrologers from prison. She reopened the mine and made chrysoberyl and amethyst the currency of her realm.
And she never caught or ate a bird again, and in later years, many birds came to make their homes in and around her castle. Some had feathers as bright as jewels, and some had songs to make a sky-god jealous.
But the simple doves and the ravens were favorites of the Queen.
All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2021 by Joshua Alan Sturgill. All Rights Reserved.
Back to Thin Places