By Hector of the Black Height
Not so long ago, when the land was as old as old, and the wisdom of the North whispered in the wind, a seer told tales of a treasure beyond price, hidden in the most beautiful land in all the world. This tale travelled like lightning through the courts and halls of the great kings and barons of all the known world, and they gathered their huscarls and knights and all the champions and heroes, and they set off on a quest.
Their destination was pre-ordained, and all, by land or sea, set their eyes on the blue lakes and green hills of Ealdormere, the most beautiful of lands. Soon they all gathered in the hall of the Prince of Ealdormere, by the time the leaves bud on the great maple by the Inland Sea. There they told tales of their great deeds and travels to reach the Northlands, and the Prince and his house welcomed all and heard their tales.
Finally, when the benches were full, and all the roll of heroes had arrived, they set out to seek the treasure, and the Prince of Ealdormere saw them off with good cheer. Then, when all had departed, for he would never take unfair advantage over another, the Prince called for his gallant champion, and his faithful squire, and told them to gather his steel, and his silk, and his leather. And they girt his feet in leather, and his body in silk, and from their hands the Prince took his mighty sword, and they set out to seek the treasure for the Prince's hall, and for the glory of the North.
First they travelled North, to the lands of the Skrael. They reached there when the leaves of the great maple by the Inland Sea were full, and sang in the wind. The kings and barons of the South were there, searching in vain, and the Prince did not join them. Rather, he sat in the shade of a maple tree, and let the wind cool him. And while he sat there, a hare hopped out of the bushes. The squire made to snare the hare, for he loved his master and would have him well fed, but the Prince stayed his hand. Upon this, the hare hopped up, did deepest obeisance, and said:
The treasure you seek is locked within a chest, the mightiest in all the
And the Prince heard this, and pondered it.
Then they travelled south again, to the lands of the seven stars. They reached there when the leaves of the great maple by the Inland Sea were painted the colours of the night fires. The kings and barons of the South were there, searching in vain, and the Prince did not join them. Rather, he sat in the shade of a maple tree, and watched the leaves. His champion heard a rustle in the bushes, and saw a mighty bear advancing towards his Prince. He drew his sword and made to slay the bear, for the champion loved his Prince and feared for him. The Prince, however, stayed his hand. Upon this, the bear lumbered forward, did deepest obeisance, and said;
The treasure you seek is as red as a thousand rubies.
And the Prince heard this, and pondered it.
From there they travelled along the shores of the Inland Sea, to the lands of the rising waters. They reached there when the leaves of the great maple by the Inland Sea were sailing through the air like a thousand, thousand arrows, and the ground was carpeted with them like the brightest tapestry. The kings and the barons of the South were there, searching in vain, and the Prince did not join them. Rather, he made to sit under a tree. His squire cleared a place for his Prince to rest, for he loved his master and would not see his garments sullied by wet leaves. Under the fallen leaves, he found a goblet, which the Prince commanded him to keep, and the Prince pondered it.
From there they returned to the hall of the Prince of Ealdormere. They reached there when the snows of winter had fallen, and covered the ground to the lowest branches of the great maple by the Inland Sea. The kings and barons of the South were there, preparing to return south and quest in other lands, for the treasure had eluded them. And they drank a toast before they left, every one of them. The Prince's squire drank from the goblet he found, and when he drained it he saw in its dregs a message;
Sail not the Inland Sea.
The squire showed this to his Prince, who pondered it.
All the kings and barons, knights and heroes of the South went down to their ships, and invited the Prince to come away with them, in order that they might return the hospitality shown them. The Prince remembered the message in the goblet, and refused. Rather, he stood on the shore and watched as the fleet of ships sailed off, and watched as a mighty kraken reached forth and sank them all, and pulled to its icy bosom the might and glory of the known world, every one. The Prince was riveted to this terrible scene, and only when the waters had stilled did he look away, to see a wolf beside him. The prince's hand flew to his sword hilt, but he then stayed his hand. Upon this, the wolf did deepest obeisance, and said to him;
Listen to the whisper of the wind.
And the Prince pondered this as he walked back to his hall, past the great maple by the Inland Sea. And then he heard the whisper of the wind, in a still, small voice, saying,
Catch me! Catch me!.. Catch me! Catch me!
And the Prince listened, and heard the little voice calling him, and he followed the voice to the top of the bare branches of the great maple by the Inland Sea. Far above him, he saw a lone maple key, and the moment he saw it a gust of wind pulled it free and carried it down.
Twisting and turning the maple key danced on the wind, and it fell at the Prince's feet, upon a wondrous thing, a lone trillium flower, blooming through the carpet of snow. Then the Prince heard the cry of a wolf in the distance, and his gallant champion and his faithful squire raced to his side, for they beware the wolf, and feared for their Prince's safety. And there the Prince made all things known to them.
Here, he said, is the end of our quest. And he took the maple key, and entered his hall. There he strode to his throne and said, I have sought the treasure of the North, held in the mightiest chest in all the land. Within that chest is my heart, and the key to that treasure sits upon the trillium seat. And with that, he gave the key to his heart to his Princess, and kissed her lips, red as a thousand rubies.
This story first was published in The Book of the Reign of David And Tangwystl. It is the first of the "Prince of Ealdormere" stories and in many ways the story in which the imagery is most pure.
Copyright A. McLean 1991, 1998. All rights reserved.
Back to Hector's Stories Page