Blog Posts Updated Every Wednesday and Friday

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Envelope Please

 
We recently held a contest called the Every Picture Tells a Story Challenge.  Fans of Jen’s art were invited to write a story inspired by one of her pieces and I have to say that all of the submissions we received were fantastic; I was so impressed by the amount of effort all of the contestants put into their stories.  After much deliberation, we have finally picked a winner (not an easy task).  I give you the winning story, The Bird Keeper’s Daughter, written by Trena Farnes…

THE BIRD KEEPER’S DAUGHTER

Yan Song lived with his beautiful daughter, Qui, in a remote village in the southwest area of mainland China. A bird keeper by trade, Yan was the meticulous caretaker of the largest bird sanctuary in the country. He spent every waking moment caring for the many winged creatures living amongst this small game preserve... which included rare and beautiful birds such as the Red Footed Falcon, Tibetan Partridge, Yellow Legged Buttonquail, and his favorite bird of all, the Asian Fairy Bluebird - whom he often said reminded him of his sweet and gentle daughter, Qui.

People came from all around to view the wondrous and exotic birds residing in this small, mountainous habitat - and to listen to Yan share his incredible knowledge of each and every species. Those visiting the sanctuary were also struck by Qui’s incredible beauty, as she truly was a vision of loveliness unsurpassed by any other woman in the land.

Yan realized his daughter had grown to be an attractive young woman, and soon her long, radiant, auburn hair and mystic green eyes would attract the attention of an aggressive suitor. But, for now, he relished every moment they spent together in the sanctuary, and was thankful for Qui’s apparent lack of interest in the many gentlemen callers who traveled near and far, simply to gaze upon her incredible beauty. His one hidden fear, however, was the growing rumor that Tai Li, the wicked Emperor of China, had sent his warriors across the land in search of the perfect bride. It was also a well known fact that this evil emperor had an extreme hatred of ‘birds’.

On one particularly cold September morning, as a flurry of light snow drifted about the open areas of the sanctuary, Yan and Qui were busy caring for an Oriental Plover that had been attacked by an aggressive White Eyed Buzzard, when, suddenly, a troop of men dressed in uniform burst through the sanctuary gates, followed by the royal emperor himself. The emperor was carried into the garden area upon an ornate bench of gold structure and plush red velvet padding. Two uniformed men grabbed Qui by the arm and paraded her in front of the emperor, as if she were some art form being presented for review. The emperor cocked his head slightly and stared at her with a glint of satisfaction, as one of the men thrust her to her knees at his feet. The emperor slowly lifted his hand, gave a casual twirl of his fingers, and said; “destroy those infernal birds!’

Qui screamed for her father and begged the men to stop as they dragged her out the sanctuary gates, toward one of many large horse drawn carriages sitting outside. As she was cast into the carriage, she could hear the desperate cries of her father calling out for her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the men holding Yan tightly against a post in the garden, binding him with thick, long leather straps.

Yan’s heart broke as he watched the emperor being seated in the carriage next to his daughter. He struggled with all his might, desperately trying to break free.  The birds in the sanctuary squawked and squealed in a chaotic, fevered pitch as uniformed men sprayed a black oily substance in the air and around various areas of the sanctuary and garden - then began to set it ablaze.
As the carriage rolled away slowly, Qui stared out the small side window and sobbed – watching huge flames and dark, black smoke engulf the sanctuary that had been her home for seventeen years. She was fully aware her father had just been murdered by the very man who was about to become  ...her husband.

It was evening as the carriage arrived at the palace. Qui’s intense sorrow weakened every fiber of her being. She could barely lift her head as she was escorted by palace guards from the carriage, through the dark courtyard, up a flight of marble stairs and down a long, narrow hallway to a small, dank and musty room. She was tossed into the chamber like a rag doll and could hear the metal clank of the door being locked firmly behind her.

As she laid there on the cold, bare floor… her body completely numb, she thought about how lifeless and colorless this enormous dwelling was. She had heard stories about this ruthless leader… how he sent armies to raid villages and small kingdoms - killing all who intervened simply to steal their valuables and add to his estate. Yet, with all the exotic artwork, statues, jeweled carvings and rich furnishings he had collected from around the world… there seemed to be absolutely no color, softness or joy anywhere about the palace. Qui prayed that this was all just a terrible dream and that ‘somehow’, this hellish nightmare could end - and she could once again hug her father… and never let go.

Qui awoke some time later to the sound of a key sliding in the lock on her door. She looked up to see the silhouette of a woman standing in the doorway, daylight pouring into the room around her. She would later realize this was one of the emperors’ maidservants who had come to prepare her for the royal wedding. Qui was to become the emperor’s new bride and it was this maidservant’s job to bathe her, dress her in royal attire, brush her long, auburn hair… and make her ‘presentable’ for the imperial ruler.

Fortunately, the emperor’s well known affection for daily wine and intoxication proved to be a helpful asset for Qui… to the extent that he was completely inebriated by midday, and thus, required very little personal time of Qui – which included their wedding night. The emperor had become so liquored during the course of the big day that he passed out stone cold drunk immediately after the ceremony and had to be carried to his chambers… alone … for which Qui was greatly relieved.

Over time, Qui befriended the maidservant and came to realize that, she too, had been kidnapped by the emperor. Qui and the maidservant became very close and spent many hours together, comforting each other in the dark, gloomy confines of the palace walls.

One morning, as the maid servant was preparing to brush Qui’s long, auburn colored hair, she drew open a large, velvet lined drawer in the bureau and reached for a tarnished hairbrush. There, next to the brush, Qui noticed a unique hair barrette, gold in color and adorned with beautiful deep blue gems. As she looked closer, she realized the hair clip was fashioned after the ‘Asian Fairy Bluebird’ her fathers most favorite winged creature!


Qui clutched the barrette tightly in her hands as if it could fly away at a moment’s notice, while the maidservant told the tale of its origin. According to legend, the bluebird hair band had originally been owned by a beautiful princess with magical powers. The maidservant then added; although this particular keepsake was merely one of many treasures the emperor had stolen over the years - from the day he returned to the palace with the jeweled barrette a solemn darkness fell upon him, and his entire kingdom.

At the very moment Qui secured the barrette into her long, red hair, everything in the room seemed ‘brighter’ and more colorful… as if a light had been lit from within. Colors seemed richer now and an air of happiness filled the room. Through the window they could see the sun coming out from behind the clouds and the landscape surrounding the palace looked, suddenly …more radiant! As the maidservant pushed open the chamber window they were shocked to hear the sweet, long unfamiliar sound of birds chirping merrily outside.

It had been more than a year since her kidnapping and the murder of her father. And for the first time in these many long, dreary months, Qui was beginning to feel a tinge of warmth in what was left of her broken heart. Everyone in the palace began to sense this new atmosphere of happiness and well being. Everyone, that is - except the emperor.

Clearly, the emperor was not at all fond of those around him feeling ‘pleasure’. He did not like the fact that he was now hearing music - and merriment was spreading throughout the palace. Nor did he care for the flowers in the garden or the sound of laughter in the courtyard, and, above all … he despised the singing birds!

As this gaiety filled the palace grounds and those living within, the emperor became increasingly agitated. He couldn’t help noticing how, every day, more and more birds could be seen flying about. Earlier and earlier each morning his alcohol induced slumber was being shattered by the singing of myriad birds, in all types and sizes. One particular morning, as the emperor thrust his hands over his ears and ran to his chamber window shouting obscenities, he got a clear glimpse of the primary caroler – a very rare blue bird, not typically seen in that area of the country. The emperor could take it no longer!

Pretending to be oblivious to the cheerfulness surrounding him, the emperor announced that a royal feast would be held in the master ballroom that very evening - and all were welcome to attend. The maidservant helped Qui as she dressed in a beautifully fitted silk gown in preparation for the evenings’ activities. Qui excitedly pinned the bluebird barrette in her hair and the two of them strode to the main dining area together.

After everyone had been seated at the long table, the kitchen staff began to place the large covered trays bearing the main entrée for the feast at the center and each end of the table - with the largest dish placed directly in front of the emperor. The emperor then tapped the rim of his wine glass three times with his soup spoon and announced; “Let this grand meal represent the appreciation I feel for my beautiful wife, ‘Qui’… and the joy she has brought to these palace grounds!”

Then, as the server slowly raised the silver cover from the tray, the emperor added; “…and I hope you all enjoy tonight’s main entrée… roasted Bluebird!”  

Everyone at the table gasped as they looked upon the rare Asian Fairy Bluebird that had been killed and roasted to become the apparent main dish for the evening. Qui wept quietly into her napkin as the emperor took an enormous swig of red wine before stabbing his long fork into the small, lifeless bird. With an ugly, disgusting grin he shoved the large bite into his mouth, chewing loudly and wiping his face with the back of his fat little hand. As the others glared at the emperor with disdain, the smile suddenly drained from his face and his hand darted out to grab his wine glass once again. He cocked his head back in awkward, jerking motions and splashed what was left of his wine into his wide open gullet. He pounded at his chest as his eyes darted about the room in a frantic, futile search to gain someone’s attention, searching for someone to race to his aid.

By this time, everyone at the table had become aware… the emperor was choking to death. No one moved a muscle. As the emperor continued to gag and jerk about in his chair, his final incredulous thoughts reflected in wide eyed pleading expressions of fear… the top general merely lifted an unused napkin from the table and nonchalantly draped it over the emperor’s face. Soon, the entire room was silent.

The top general then raised his glass of wine, tapped the rim gently three times with a spoon, and announced; “Due to the current, unexpected events of the evening… tonight’s dinner plans have been cancelled.”

He then added, “However, we ask that you please join us tomorrow evening in the master ballroom – where we shall dine, dance and celebrate the crowning of our new Empress, the Imperial Ruler of all China; Qui Song… the Bird Keepers Daughter!”


Trena Farnes © 2010

3 comments:

  1. Bravo!!!! A worthy winner for sure!! :o) Beautiful story!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a wonderful story!!!

    ReplyDelete