Monday, 21 March 2016

Happiness (A retelling of Maurice Maeterlinck's “The Blue Bird”) - Chapter 6 and 7

Chapter 6 – The Guardian of Secrets

It was night when Tristan and Michelle began their journey, but because Lucien was light himself he gave their path a soft glow leading them towards where they needed to go.
“Because it is night time, we shall visit the Night Palace where the Guardian of Secrets, the Queen of Night lives.” Lucien explained as they travelled further into the night.
“How far is this Night Palace?” Tylo asked the moment returned from his brief “hunt”.
“It is just at the edge of these woods. It will be very dark, but I will show you the path you need to take to get there safely.”
“Has anyone seen Tylette?” Michelle suddenly asked.

Meanwhile, Tylette the cat took a shortcut through the woods and through a secret tunnel that led her to the Night Palace. The moment she crawled out of the tunnel she shook herself of the loose dirt and made her way to the palace gates.
The Night Palace was large and sprawling, with its high thick walls and tall onion capped turrets looked like a crown of shadows against the nightscape. Deceivingly invisible because of its obsidian mason work the castle was polished to reflect the night sky, but also to absorb the moonlight so that it would be difficult for intruders to find. However, for Tylette it was one of her favourite haunts where she would wonder off alone at night to present herself to her real mistress, the Queen of the Night, Guardian of Secrets.
The cat entered through the front palace gates then through a large corridor with many doors, she finally arrived at the queen’s throne room located in the heart of the palace. She bowed before a tall black figure seated on an obsidian throne hidden amongst the shadows.
“Tylette, my Daughter of the Night, what brings you here?” the queen purred.
“I have come to warn you, my queen. My human masters, Tristan and Michelle are on their way to the Night Palace on a quest to find the blue bird of happiness.”
The queen listened disturbed by the news.
“They have Light with them,” the cat added, “and the useless dog.”
“Knowing Light, he will not enter this palace and breach the agreement we have shared – for his very presence shall expose all the secrets I have secured. However, it does disturb me that humans have come seeking for the blue bird here.”
“There is more,” Tylette explained, “Tristan wears the Diamond of Truth.”
The queen began to shake at the news. “We cannot allow him to use the diamond. Even if Light does not enter the palace, the diamond itself carries Light’s essence. If Tristan uses the diamond in the palace not only will the guarded secrets be exposed, but the blue bird that is amongst the secrets will die upon the exposure of its light.”
“What shall we do, my queen?”
For a moment, the queen was silent. “We shall let them come, under the condition that they will not use the diamond in the palace. Hopefully it will keep the secrets safe.” As she said this, she heard voices echoing through the corridors.
“They’re here.” Tylette announced.
“Indeed,” the queen stood up from her seat to meet them.
“What a dark and lonely place!” Michelle said her voice low almost to a whisper. “I wish Lucien had come with us.”
“He said he will not come with us, but his presence is with us – whatever that means.” Tristan muttered the last part then added brightly, “Besides, we have our guard dog Tylo with us.”
“That’s right, mistress! You could count on Ol’ Tylo here! I will make sure no harm comes to you.” Tylo puffed out his chest.
Michelle giggled. “Thank you, Tylo! I am glad you have stayed with us.”
The queen and Tylette exchanged a look. Tylette slipped into the shadows and suddenly appeared beside Michelle tapping her shoulder. The young girl gave a shriek of terror.
“Michelle!” Tristan turned to see Tylette standing innocently by the girl’s side.
“Pardon me, mistress. Did not mean to frighten you so,” Tylette said kindly.
“Where have you been, cat?” Tylo growled approaching the traitorous creature.
“Oh, here and there. You know me I just tend to wonder off on my own.” The cat examined her claws.
“We were wondering where you were.” Michelle grabbed the cat and gave her a hug.
“I’m safe. No need to squeeze me so!” the cat squeaked.
“You heard her. Let that flea bag go!” Tylo said.
The cat mewled draping across Michelle’s arm, “Oh, I am wounded! How could that dog be so cruel, mistress!”
“Save your breath, diva!”
“And what do we have here?” A deep sultry voice of a woman echoed through the dark halls.
Everyone looked up, but because it was dark they could not see who it was.
“Good evening, your majesty,” Tristan greeted, he removed his hat and gave a gracious bow. “My name is Tristan. This is my sister Michelle, our dog Tylo and our cat Tylette. We are here because Lucien the Light had told us about the existence of the blue bird in this palace.”
“The blue bird? I have never seen the blue bird in my palace.”
“Perhaps if you let some light into your halls we could see,” Michelle suggested.
“Are you, a mere mortal making suggestions to me, Queen of the Night, Guardian of Secrets?”
“Forgive me, your majesty. We just want to find this bird and be on our way.”
The queen said something in a low voice. The walls of the palace fell way like sheets as revealing a star filled sky and a crescent moon. Soft light from the heavenly bodies spilled into the halls. The visitors gasped in awe at gorgeous view.
“Do you see the blue bird?” the queen asked.
They all turned towards the owner of the voice and saw a tall graceful figure dressed in a close fitting black silk kimono. The kimono had long wide rectangular sleeves that covered her wrists and flowed to her hips, on them sewn in fine details of the constellations with silver and snowy white silk threads. From the waist down the kimono was arranged in a way that hugged her slender and feminine form. A wide silk obi belt of white and silver bound her waist with a large bow at the front styled into the shape of a large white moth. The queen’s hair was jet black piled high above her head with diamond studded silver pins holding her elaborate hairstyle in place. In her hand was a long slender kiseru pipe of ebony and silver from which an orange glow would appear in its little bowl whenever she had a puff from it. The queen’s form and dress were certainly stunning, but for Tristan it was her face that made him want to stare.
She was beautiful. Her face was powdered white with a touch of blue and purple at the outer corners of her eyes. Her lips were artfully painted with shell pink that reminded Tristan of cherry blossom petals. Her eyes were two almond-shaped polished star sapphires.
Seeing the young man staring at her, the queen blew a gust of white smoke in the air and asked, “Do you like what you see, young man?”
Realizing he was being addressed, Tristan jolted back into reality. “Forgive me, your highness, but I was just taken by your beauty.”
The queen raised an eyebrow; a smirk curled at her lips. “I see that you like to flatter, young man.”
“If we may, your majesty,” Michelle stood in front of her brother, “We would like to look around and be on our way.”
“So, you do not believe my words,” said the queen.
“Lucien had told us that there is a blue bird here. He told us that upon showing you the diamond you will have to honour our request.” Michelle turned to her brother and said, “Show her the diamond, Tristan.”
Tristan held up his hat revealing the large round diamond on it.
The queen looked at the jewel as she took another puff of her slender pipe.
“Very well,” she sighed blowing a stream of white smoke through her mouth, “Under one condition: I will lend you the key that opens all the storage chambers in this palace except one.”
“But Lucien said that upon showing you this jewel you will grant us permission to search all the rooms for the blue bird.” Michelle pointed out.
The queen frowned. “Very well,” then muttering something about “how annoyingly persistent Light is” she held out a silver key that appeared to glow in the moonlight. “This is key will open every door in this palace.”
The queen held it back just as Michelle reached for the key. “I will be the one who will open the doors and show you my storage rooms. Agreed?”


Chapter 7 – At the Night Palace

When Tristan and Michelle agreed to have the Queen of Night as their guide they began their tour through the Night Palace.
“This palace is not only my home, but it is a storage house for all the secrets of the world.” The queen explained, “Everything from evil, disease, disaster, grief, and fear to many other secrets that people would hide or were hidden from the world.”
They came to the first door in the hall.
“This one contains Ghosts,” the queen opened the door. Pale semi-translucent forms of people flew out in shrieks and wails. Some were rounded as if they were draped with sheets; others were much more human like with shifting features of some unpleasant end just before taking their present forms.
Michelle screamed and ran as the ghosts flew after her.
“You would only encourage them if you do that, my dear,” the queen called after her, apparently entertained by the scene.
Tylo barked wildly after the ghosts chasing them in an attempt to drive them back to their room. Tristan followed, but the ghosts only would pass through or fly over them laughing mockingly at Tristan and Tylo’s futile efforts.
“How do we get them back in there?” Tristan asked nearly shouting over the loud shrieks (from the ghosts), screams (from Michelle) and barks (from Tylo) that bounced off the walls in the halls.
The queen gave a smile and clapped her hands twice. The ghosts stopped and turned towards the guardian. “Back to your room, now!” she commanded, pointing to the open door.
At once the ghosts plunged themselves into the room shutting the door after them with an ear-splitting slam. The queen locked the door with a satisfied click.
“Shall we move on?” she asked cheerfully to her guests.
The next door they came to was Diseases. The diseases were grey humanoid figures that sat and lay around in that room. Most of them looked beaten up and worn.
“What happened to them?” Michelle asked as they peeked into the room.
“The ones you see lying around are the ones the doctors of the world had defeated with their medicines and medical skills,” their host explained.
Just as she explained that, there were a few big lumbering ones and some that were like little demons scurrying around taunting at their defeated “colleagues”.
“Are those diseases too?” Tristan asked.
“Some of them are big deadly ones that slowly squeeze life out of their victims. Those little impish ones are just nasty colds and flues. They enjoy annoying their victims with coughs, sneezes, fevers, headaches. One small dose of cold medication and they’ll run back in here crying.”
As they went further in to the halls they saw some strange ones (silences, anxieties, shadows) and some deadly ones (evils, disasters, nightmares, fears), of these there was one that the queen hesitated.
“What’s wrong?” Tristan asked.
“I will open this one only a crack,” she explained, “this room belongs to Wars. Be very quiet.” With that warning, she slowly and carefully unlocked the door and opened it just wide enough for them to see.
Tristan peeked first. From inside were whines of sirens, people screaming, children crying, the roaring of engines with aircraft passing overhead, heavy pod-shaped bombs fell sending explosions after explosions. He stepped back shaken. Michelle took her turn and saw something beyond the explosions, the screams of people, fires burning – off in the distance of the immense room were flickers of shadows and shapes made from flames and flashes. As she continued to stare trying to make out the shapes, suddenly the forms stopped and turned. They were humanoid like some of the sprites and forms they have seen before only these were different. They looked like a massive form of one, but it broke off into many and distinctive ones. The shape moved and heaved – and something barrelled towards her.
Michelle slammed the door and pressed her back against it. “It’s seen us!” she her voice shaking in fear.
The massive wars pounded the door behind them. At each hit the walls of the hall shook with a loud BANG! Tristan, Tylo, Tylette, and the queen herself pressed themselves against the door. The queen tried to insert the key into the keyhole, but at each deafening impact it made her miss each time.
Finally the door flung open sending them all flying across the hall. Tristan shook his head and saw a giant monster that appeared to stand on two legs, but also walked on four when it lowered its hands on the ground. It was covered in eyes of various shapes and sizes as well as in various forms – dead ones, bleeding ones, unseeing ones, wild ones – all in different colours and from different creatures that would witness the horrors of wars. War reared its huge ugly head and gave an earth-shattering roar that also sounded like a screech of pain and agony. It turned and saw Michelle lying unconscious on the ground. It took a step towards her. On the back of war, there were spike-like things that began to move on their own – one of them stretched and reached down towards Michelle its point hardening ready to pierce her.
Tristan got up, his body still shaken and in pain from impact, praying he would interfere in time.
“Hey! Ugly!” he shouted up at the monster.
War turned and faced Tristan who had his hand on the diamond.
“See this?” Tristan said squinting trying to keep his eyes focussed on war. “That’s right, you know what it is – and I am not afraid to make this shine.”
A slit appeared at war’s head forming a mouth that curled back into a snarl then gave an angry roar. Its pointed tentacle sped towards Michelle.
“Leave her!” Tristan shouted.
The diamond spun sending a blinding white light and violently big shockwave halting war – its tentacle point just an inch from Michelle’s torso. Then the powerful war gave a painful scream as its form shifted and began breaking down. As Tristan and others watched both in horror and wonder, they saw the forms inside war materialize revealing various scenes: men in power plotting how to make money someone suggested unleashing “the creature”; some clans fighting over who is better than others; and some people wanting to help their country fighting. There were many other scenes some sad some terrible, but they all were the same – they all contained destruction of life.
Exposed of its true form, war fell back with a saddened wail. Seeing that it had no power over light it slunk back to its room slowly and crawled to the far corner. The queen saw this and immediately got up, key in hand, locked the door shut so that war would stay there.
“Michelle!” Tristan ran to his sister and lifted her head, “Michelle!”
Michelle opened her eyes. Seeing Tristan she began to sob, “Tristan!”
“You’re safe now. It’s all right,” he held her close and comforted her.
“This is why I do not wish for you open the doors of my hall. Who knows what dangers lurk behind those doors,” the queen said. For a moment she watched the pair comfort each other after their encounter with war.
The queen sighed. “Perhaps I should show you something else.” She extended her hand towards Michelle. “Can you stand?”
Michelle took her hand and stood up. The queen brought them through another corridor that led the opposite direction from where they were.
“Where are we going?” Michelle asked.
“You shall see.”
They arrived at a door where the queen opened it wide. Inside was a room brightly lit with stars and a moon. Tristan and Michelle gasped in wonder.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? This is where the stars and the moon are kept.” She opened another door. “This is one of my favourites.”
From the open door they heard a sweet song of a nightingale.
“I keep the nightingale songs in this one. It’s a lovely place to enjoy your evening tea.” The queen turned and faced them. “That is all the rooms I could show you. As you can see there is no blue bird.”
“But if you have such beautiful rooms like these there has to be a blue bird somewhere. Lucien himself said that there is one here.” Michelle persisted.
“Listen, my dear,” the queen looked right at Michelle, “I have been kind enough to show you all rooms I could, isn’t it enough to see that there is no blue bird.”
“She’s right, Michelle,” Tristan agreed, “she had been kind enough to show us all the rooms and we have seen some things that were rather frightening. Perhaps we should move on.”
“No,” Michelle protested, “Lucien said that there is a blue bird here somewhere so there must.”
“Michelle –” Tristan began to argue.
“We cannot go back until we find the blue bird!”
“Why are you so determined to find the blue bird?” the queen asked.
Michelle fell silent momentarily.
“The one who has the blue bird will have happiness, yet what you are suggesting is that the bird is not for you. If it is not for your happiness then whose is it for?”
“The king’s daughter is sick, your majesty,” Michelle explained quietly. “She will die on Christmas day unless we find her a blue bird.”
“Then she is not your problem,” the queen waved the air as if she chased away a pesky fly. “You should go home and forget the matter.”
“We cannot, your majesty,” Michelle said, “we agreed to take on the quest – we made a promise that we will find the bird.”
“Promises can be broken, dear girl.” The queen plucked her slender pipe out of thin air and took a puff before she added, “Tell the king you’re sorry and that you cannot finish the quest and go on your merry little way.”
Michelle looked down, her eyes searching.
The queen scoffed. “Look at you, a young girl who should be thinking about boys, fall in love with one and get married. Not gallivanting about finding some little bird. Look at your brother. I’m sure he is ready to see you home safe and sound.”
The younger woman looked as if she wanted to say something, but could not.
“We are done here,” the queen announced, slipping her key into her belt.

Suddenly, Tristan bolted and grabbed the queen’s belt.

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