COLLECTED STORIES AND FRAGMENTARY CONVERSATIONS
Inside The Book of Sorren are to be found several stories, along with poems, epigrams, musings, and some completely inexplicable fragments that defy explanation. Some of these stories appear to be lost fragments, or complete stories from the writings of King Sigmus. It is unclear if Sorren collected these writings, or whether he perhaps compiled them from memory, in his own hand, from the extemporaneous ramblings of the King himself. The fact remains that they are written in the same artistic style and measured meter as the many stories of King Sigmus from the book King Bartholomew. I present them here just as Sorren kept them and have made only superficial editing to the text.
Curator’s Note: The story of The Red King poses unusual challenges for the curator as it appears to be significant beyond a mere storytelling. This piece will be shared shortly, after further research has been conducted on it and other related texts. It begins:
“No Iona,” said King Sigmus as he sat back in his chair and prepared a pipe. “I would not speak to you about The Red King. “Are the legends true then?” Iona responded. The King looked at his mistress and smiled slightly before answering. “I am afraid that the story is too horrible for your ears,” he said. “Oh, please Sigmus,” Iona begged. “Tell me the story of The Red King. I promise to stay close to you,” she said coyly. “You will surely protect me.” The King pondered her words, for Iona could be very persuasive. “All right Iona,” he said. “I will tell you, but do not be afraid in the middle of the night when your mind begins to play tricks on you.” And then the King composed himself and began his story.
lesson of St. Nestor
“The Lord has cast the wizards and the demons down.”
These were the words spoken to me with zest by King Sigmus as I re shod his horse and he sat smoking a long thin pipe on the morning after the feast of St. Nestor. I told him that St. Nestor fought a demon and that perhaps the Lord chose to leave some of them alive for us to do battle. The King was instigated by my remark and berated me.
“Confound it Sorren. The Lord does not create demons,” he said with certainty. “The demons have always been here.”
“But if the Lord did not create them . . . how can they be?”
“I do not know,” replied the King. “St. Nestor fought a man, Sorren. The demon was inside the man.”
“Did the man create the demon?” I asked innocently. “If the Lord does not create demons, then surely it must have been the man that created the demon.”
“You best pray that man is never allowed to create demons,” the King answered pointedly. “It is enough to do battle with them.”
The sheep and my sleep
One day at breakfast as the King hungrily ate his meal of eggs and toast with marmalade and a cutlet, he asked me whether I counted sheep in my sleep. He looked up to me to make sure that I was listening. I looked at him, unsure what he was asking because I knew of his strange ways.
“Why would I count sheep?” I asked innocently.
The King next explained to me that the wool of the sheep was soft and warm and represented safety and serenity, those very things which cause a man to slumber. He said further that the counting of sheep was relaxing.
I responded that I could understand the comparisons of wool to safety and serenity. But why would I wish to count these things in my sleep?
To bring peace after a long day, Sorren. To unburden yourself of nagging, persistent questions that can never be answered but only continue to bring further anxiety.
“And what would these sheep be doing?” I asked casually.
“I don’t know!” the King roared. “They are sheep, Sorren. Perhaps they are jumping over a low stonewall, one by one, for that is how I learned.” And then he devoured half of the cutlet in one bite and waited for me to respond.
A moment later I answered. “I think that I could never count sheep, my Lord. Because when I saw these sheep leaping dreamily over the stonewall, I would think that they were trying to escape me and I would begin to worry. I would watch their curious faces and hear their curious bleating and I would become even more concerned. Every sheep that leaped over the stonewall I would count as the loss of woolen tunics and vests and leggings. Every sheep that escaped me would carry with them racks of lamb, and delicious cutlets and soup meat and roasts and milk and cheese . . . think of the cheese my Lord. Imagine how much cheese would be leaping over that stonewall. And think of the vellum and all the unfinished books that could never be written without such precious skin . . .and the cheese. No, I would be ready to dash out of my bed in the darkness and leap over the stonewall after them. I would . . .and when I caught them I would cut their throats one by one. So, how could I sleep after such an adventure?”
Then I looked up to see if the King was becoming annoyed by my ranting, but to my astonishment, he was asleep. I had put him to sleep. Feeling slightly guilty I began to back away, but suddenly the expression on his face changed, and with a slowly curling smile, he opened his eyes and said.
“No, I think I shall never count another sheep, Sorren. It will be enough for me to count the times you continue to confound me.” Then he rose from the table with a smile and clapped me on the back as he left the room.
Hagen and the Mighty Oak
Today the King brought in a special man to do a special job for him. He brought in a woodchopper, not a woodsman, but a woodchopper, because Hagen only wants to be called a woodchopper. But Hagen is more than just a man that chops trees . . . the King would only bring in a special woodchopper. And so the King called him Hagen the Woodchopper. Hagen turned out to be a large, hulking man, somewhat stupid looking, fat, oafish and slow of wit, but he had an agreeable smile. He was a man of few words.
I was instructed to lead the woodchopper to the tree that the King wanted taken down. I was not told why the tree was to be taken down, only that it was. Hagen lumbered like a beast as we went out to the tree. He looked around and seemed to take notice of everything around him as does a creature with highly formed abilities. I pointed to the tree. It was an old and withered oak, planted by some long-forgotten King to mark the place for some unknown reason.
"Destroy this tree," I told him without ceremony.
The woodchopper looked at me, and then at the tree before saying: "This is a sacred tree."
I thanked him for his wisdom, and with a smile, I said: "Destroy it."
The woodchopper remained silent, and I waited for him to begin his arduous task of hewing, but he did not hew.
"What are you waiting for?" I asked.
"This tree deserves our respect," he answered. "I must prepare the tree for destruction, for it is far older and wiser than we."
"You speak with the trees?" I was surprised to find such a sentiment from a woodchopper of all things. What a strange thing for a woodchopper to be reluctant to fell a tree, I mused.
"Of course I speak to the trees Hagen replied dryly. "Why do you think the King sent for me?"
Of course he was serious, and I knew it. Men such as this were known about the land, and the people tended to leave them in peace, for they were wild and unpredictable, pagan it was even said and far beyond the redemption of Christ.
"What do the trees say to you?" I asked. I was beginning to fear this man for his untamed wildness, but I did not allow him to know.
"The trees tell me many things," Hagen answered. "Would you like me to talk with this tree before I destroy it? I will tell it that you are not responsible for its destruction."
"That is not necessary," I replied. "But Hagen," I continued, "what is so sacred about this tree? To me it is just an oak."
Hagen scratched his beard in thought. Then he wrinkled his nose and pulled on his ear. "That is what the trees say to me. They are just men, the trees say. Why should we breathe for them? Why should we grow for them and turn sunlight into fruit? They show no respect, and yet they expect our breath, only to cut us down the moment we are inconvenient."
"They say that?" I replied with anger.
"The trees are not filled with hatred and malice as are people. The trees do not plot against one another as do the people. The trees have rejected these things, and they are as they were, for they have not been tempted, and they have not fallen."
Slowly, even as a tree turns different colors when the cold winds blow from the North, I began to see this offish man in a new light, and I felt guilt at the petty way I had so thoroughly misjudged him. And now I saw Hagen as a man of true wisdom and not just a man of words.
"Do you know this tree, Hagen?" I asked him with a newfound respect. "Do you know why the King asked you to destroy it?"
Then Hagen said something that I shall never forget. And as I write these words I see the woodchopper as he was that day.
"I will talk to it, and I will learn the reason," he said.
Then he stood before the tree and took notice of it as if to regard its true nature. He put his hands on the trunk and seemed to absorb its essence into his own body even as heat is taken in through sunlight. Next, he withdrew a knife from his belt, but he did not attack the tree, instead, he sliced the tip of his finger and held the slowly seeping blood to the tree, and in this way, I believe the tree took regard of Hagen. After a few minutes, Hagen opened his eyes and stepped away from the tree. He walked over to where I was waiting and then he sat down on the ground before me.
"I will do as the King has asked," he said.
A gentle breeze blew between us, and I waited for him to continue. He scratched his beard, and then he put his finger in his mouth to clean off the blood. When he looked at me I knew that he was an odd man, a special man, just as the King had said.
"This mighty oak stands alone from men and from other trees, for it has been punished. But today its punishment has ended, the sacrifice is ended, and I shall give it peace."
I looked at him with awe, for I could not imagine what gift or what sorcery could have given him this ability. He continued.
"There is the spirit of a man captured in this tree, and it was to the spirit of this man that the tree endured such punishment, and so it is that the world of men may torture the myriad creatures held in its charge. A great and evil sorcery is at work here, but I will put an end to it at once."
Then he lifted his huge axe and prepared his first stroke. But suddenly I stopped him.
"Wait, Hagen," I said. "Tell me about this spirit. Tell me about the spirit of this man interred."
"I feel great sorrow," Hagen said. "I feel a great sorrow endured until the tree has begun to wither, even as the great punishment has withered the soul of the one interred. A great and noble tree knows the soul of man through the blood. There was blood, much blood spilled by the one here interred, but it was not noble, and it was spilled with grief and great violence. That is all I will tell you."
Then he lifted the mighty axe and delivered such a powerful blow to the tree, that surely, the mighty punishment, and the mighty sacrifice was now ended.