Monday, May 21, 2012

Fiction: Harvard's Tale


Harvard lived in a village, woven out of cobwebs by specially trained, giant spiders.  It was lovely for everyone, but the people who were afraid of spiders.
A writer, Harvard wrote by moonlight.  Candlelight was too dangerous.  It would attract the dream-moths and Harvard needed his dreams.
On market days, Harvard sold his stories.  He wrote about the legendary heroes: Jenny Kick, Neil-in-the-Graves, the Farstepper Twins.  They were very popular.  His customers came from as far away as Widow's Ledge and Brokedown Palace.
Most of Harvard’s stories were sentimental rubbish, but writing them paid well.  And, in his heart of hearts, Harvard loved telling heroic tales.  He would have admitted it, if such sentiment wasn't unfashionable.  If he did admit it, he would be the laughingstock of the salons.  And if he was laughed out of the salons, Harvard would never have a chance with the lady he loved.
Parisa was the prettiest girl in town.  She had hair as golden white as fairy-silk, midnight blue eyes, a button nose, rose-red lips. It was a pity that so pretty a girl had a heart as cold and hard as a gravestone.  Despite this, she had many suitors.
If her flinty heart repelled them, her beauty compensated for it.  And her wealth more than compensated for any character defect.  At least, that's what some of her suitors whispered to each other, over glasses of wine in the Harlot's Rest.
Harvard, alas, was genuinely smitten by Parisa.  She, of course, wouldn't look twice at him, in his dusty black clothes.  So, Harvard's love went unrequited, which, for a writer, can be the best kind of love to suffer. Suffering, after all, inspires.
And, oh! How Harvard suffered!  How that suffering inspired him!
He poured his heart into his stories, which became more delectable each day.  Like lovely cakes, his tales stuck to people.  They grew fat and happy off them.
One market day, a man came to see Harvard.  A tall, thin fellow, sinister in a fashionable way.  His eyes were tawny, his ebon beard was oiled and scented.  He wore a suit of fine, scarlet silk. Around his neck, the stranger wore an enormous, white ruff.
The stranger introduced himself as Sir Las.  He wished to hire Harvard, to commission a series of stories for the Flying Court.  Harvard was thrilled and said yes without learning the details of the commission.  Too quickly, he committed himself.
The poor fool.
Heroes were out of fashion. In fact, the Flying Circus thought the old stories were dangerous. Harvard was hired to rewrite them, to turn them into comedies. 
He balked, tried to get out of the commission, but it was impossible. No one with any sense refused the Flying Court.
So, he sat and rewrote the old tales.  And with every letter he put on paper, Harvard's soul withered just a little bit more.  And for every story he finished, the Flying Circus paid Harvard a purse of gold.
He grew quite wealthy off his work. By the time he was done, Harvard was rich. Rich enough to catch the notice of his infatuation, the hardhearted Parisa. Rich enough to buy a fine web-house in the nice part of time, rich enough to stop writing. 
After what he had done, turning his heroes into laughingstocks, Harvard thought that might be best.He put down his pen and became a recluse. 
Every night, he sat in his back yard, with a lit candle to lure the dream-moths to him.  Harvard did not want his dreams anymore. He let the moths feast on them. 
Over time, Harvard became as dull and drab as a funeral shroud.  He did not care for anything, so did not notice the stirrings around him.  The brimstone stench of Revolution drifting on the air.
The Flying Court's sabotage of the heroic tales had backfired.  They had gone too far, incensing the common man. 
War erupted.
It did not last long. The Flying Court fell, the courtiers' heads separated from their necks by the executioner's axe.
Sir Las was offered a deal.  He would be spared the axe in exchange for the name of the man who had mutilated the old stories.
He gave them Harvard. 
Pleased, the Revolutionaries kept their word.  Sir Las was spared the axe.  Instead, they hung him with a fine hemp rope.
Parisa had fallen in with the Revolutionary crowd, more out of self-preservation than honest outrage.  She led the mob that stormed Harvard's house, that carried him off to a makeshift gallows in the town's square.  They meant to hang him, then and there.  As he was led to the noose, Parisa asked, "Do you have anything to say?"
Harvard looked at the woman he had once loved.  "Yes," he said, very softly.  "I do have a story I'd like to tell."
Standing on the gallows, the noose around his neck, Harvard spoke softly and plainly.  He told about his life, writing stories about the heroes, the salons and his hypocrisy.  After confessing his love for Parisa, to defaming the heroes for the Flying Court,  Harvard expressed his regrets.  And even though he spoke softly, Harvard's words were heard by everyone in the square.  Eyes glittered with unshed tears.  Only Parisa remained unaffected.
"Hang him," she ordered, when Harvard had finished his tale.
And they did.
After a time, the Revolution burned itself out.  Things went back to normal. Or as normal as they could after so much spilt blood and shed tears.
Only, in the village of Web, on market days, there was something different.  One stall was kept empty.  A reminder of a good man who made a rash agreement and foolishly kept his word.

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