The Storyteller was a short plump man with a red face. Maybe it looked red because of the fire. He had no beard, like Box and Spar had none. Ogg touched his face. His beard was poor. A baby’s beard Daddy said. Since yesterday, when his Daddy told him to go away, Ogg had seen a lot more men without beards than with them. He wondered how he might remove his, so he might be more like Box and Spar. He didn’t like having a baby’s beard.
“There once was a good king…” the Storyteller had started. Ogg put beards out of his mind. Behind the Storyteller, in the corner, sat a man with a drum. Along with the Storyteller there was now a quiet thumping.
“…who had only one son. He had nine daughters, all of whom were beautiful and smart, but he had only one son.”
‘Daughters,’ thought Ogg, ‘like the lady his oldest brother Durn went away with.’
“The son was not handsome and he was not smart, but the king was old and would have no more children. This son, the prince, would be the next king. And he would be the next king very soon, because the good king was very old and he was going to die.
“The people of the land loved the good king and they were sad that he was old and was going to die.”
Ogg knew of kings and princes. He had heard stories about them before. He thought there might be real people like that somewhere. People who lived in buildings called castles and who rode in wagons with tops on them or rode on horses that were painted many colors. But he did not remember a story about a prince like this one. A prince who was not handsome and not smart.
“On the day set aside to celebrate the harvest, the king decided to call the people to his castle. He would speak to them one last time. He would tell them of his death and they would remember him. He sent Storytellers out to the towns and villages and crossroads to tell the people to come to the castle when the harvest was in. It might be a long journey, but every town was to send someone to hear the king tell of his death and to do the remembering.
“He would tell them that his son would be the new king and ask the people to be patient. The prince was young and would need time to learn how to lead them. But the king knew the prince was not going to be a good king and he was sad for the people.
“The Storytellers went out and told stories of the good king, reminding the people of how much they loved him and asking the people to send who they could to hear the king tell of his death.
“At the end of the harvest the people came to the castle. Not just one from each town. Many more came and the castle could not hold them all. They filled the castle square and the streets and the castle gates were opened and they stood outside the castle walls. The good king came to the balcony and stood with his daughters beside him. But his son was not there. The people wondered at this. This was the day of the good king’s death and his son, his only son, who was going to be the new king, was not there.”
Ogg leaned back in his chair. Where was the son? The son should be there with his daddy. Had he been sent away? The Storyteller began walking around the room and the drum continued thumping. The story was making Ogg have a lump in his throat and he didn’t know why. The Storyteller waved his stick slowly back and forth as he continued.
“Then the good king spoke. He was old and his voice was weak so he spoke to his Guide who was always with him. The good king spoke and his Guide repeated his words loudly so all the people could hear. Even those outside the castle walls.
“The good king said, ‘My son is gone.’ The people knew they were not allowed to speak, but a low whispering noise washed through the crowd from the balcony to the castle walls. ‘He said he does not want to be king because he is not smart enough.’ Again the whisper of the crowd. ‘My daughters will be king.’ The whisper grew to a voice. The people said to each other ‘How could these daughters all be the king?’
“’They will each have a part of the kingdom and on the day of the death of each one of them the others will take the part left by their sister to hold until only one is left. By the choice of The Giver of Death the decision will be made and the people will then have one king again’ When the people heard this they all said ‘Yes’.”
Ogg was surprised when he heard many men in the room quietly say “yes.” He thought there was to be no talking. Perhaps he should say, “yes” too. But the moment had passed.
“And thus the Kingdom of the Nine Queens was born as the good king died and every one sung his death. The queens were beautiful and smart and ruled wisely until they came to the day of their deaths, each one in turn agreeing to follow the decision of the good king. As the last queen told of her death her son then became the new king and sent his own Storytellers to every town and village and crossroad to tell the people that there was now only one king for all of them. And the people were pleased.”
Ogg rubbed his eyes. Had he fallen asleep? The Storyteller must have been walking around the room a lot longer than it seemed. The fire was down to coals. He had told of each of the nine queens and how they ruled the people and what happened when they died. His voice rose and fell with the telling. He held the stick and raised it in the air from time to time, the stone on the end of the stick catching the light of the fire. Ogg watched now as the Storyteller walked carefully between the tables. The men had followed his path at first, but now they were all just looking into the fire as the Storyteller talked. Ogg’s attention had drifted to the fire too, but he had pinched himself and shook his head, to try to keep from falling asleep. Ogg glanced at Spar from time to time but he too stared into the fire. It was strange. Ogg remembered the story, but not all of the storytelling.
Even though there were many parts of the story Ogg did not understand, he thought it might be a story about a real place. And he still wondered what had happened to the good king’s son. The Storyteller stopped. He hit the butt end of his stick down on a tabletop and Ogg jumped, startled by the sudden noise. The drum stopped. The others blinked, looked around and nodded to each other. They seemed to have enjoyed the story. The Storyteller held his stick high again, this time the stone on the end was covered by his hand.
“Shall there be one more story?” he asked. The room spoke with many voices “Yes.” “Tell another.” “Please.” And the drum started again.