A Second Look
Reader's Challenge Live Write
Elements Submitted by Theresa Snyder:
A hunchbacked prince with a gift for gab,
the imaginary land of sand and stone,
a torturous climb,
a sentient mute snake
Submitted by Theresa Snyder
((I will admit, this has been one of the harder ones for me so far))
Jomas had gone for a long walk. He was the prince of a large country called Nestar. He had decided to take a break from the ball. It was his twentieth birthday celebration. He had hoped for any other type of celebration other than a ball but his mother had insisted. While his quick wit and gift of tongue insured that he did not lack for conversation, his hunched back meant that few damsels would dance with him. Balls always reminded him that despite his status and intelligence, he would most likely never marry for love.
His father had told him that he would arrange a marriage for him. Jomas knew that he would most likely end up with some homely princess whose father had a great deal to offer the kingdom. His only hope in that was that if she were homely enough, perhaps she would look passed his own physical appearance.
"What am I to do?" he asked himself as he plopped down on the edge of a fountain. "I want to marry someone who wants to be my wife, not someone who just wants my crown." He put his face into his hands, his sorrow was a great weight.
As he sat there, Jomas heard a strange hissing. He looked up to see a fairly good sized snake with its head raised high. It was watching him as it swayed back and forth. Its green scales were edged in black and its underbelly was golden.
At first, Jomas was alarmed, but the snake did not move but just swayed there looking at him. Having no other friend he began to tell the snake his tale of woe.
"You see this hump snake? It is the cause of all my worries." He sighed at the ridiculousness of telling the snake his worries but at least the snake could not carry gossip about. "My back began to bow before I was even nine years of age, at least I had some time as a normal child." The snake seemed to beckon him to continue. Jaxon smiled at that thought but continued his tale.
"By the time I was eighteen, I was fully deformed. My father had hired wizards and alchemists from across the world of Vesta, but none had been able to make a difference in my appearance. When one alchemist had accidentally turned me blue for a month, my father gave up."
He glanced at the snake to see that it had come closer. He watched as it slowly slithered up onto the edge of the fountain. It curled up next to him and raised its head, watching him. It was odd behavior for a snake.
"Shall I continue?" He asked the snake, a grin coming to his face at this strange fellow. Jomas eyes widened when the snake nodded its head.
Wait! Can you understand me?" He watched the snake closely and jumped up when it again nodded its head.
He had to test this, surely a snake could not understand the tongue of mortal man. What question could he ask that might give a negative response? Otherwise, the strange head nodding could just be this snake's behavior. After a long moment of pondering, he finally asked. "Do you like the long winter nights?"
The snake slowly shook its head back and forth. Jaxon was amazed and excited all at the same time. It was such a rare find, his teachers would want to see this. His father had hired the finest minds to teach his son so that Jaxon had the skills and oration to talk his way around silly village myths, fear, and gossip.
"Do you know a way to solve my problem?" He expected the snake to shake its head back and forth again, but it nodded instead. Perhaps the shaking had been an anomaly.
"Can you tell me?" he pressed.
The snake shook its head slowly back and forth. He had expected that, after all, snakes cannot talk. Well, now that he thought it over, it should not understand him either, He tapped his chin thinking, the sounds of music and laughter a gentle reminder of his affliction.
"Can you show me?" It boggled all intelligent logic, yet the part of him that longed to fit in was so much louder in his ears. Really, did he honestly think a snake could solve his problems? He reminded himself that it seemed to understand him, maybe it was a magical snake. He watched it closely and smiled as it nodded.
"Is the answer close?" he asked, shuffling from foot to foot with excitement.
The snake shook its head back and forth. It lowered its head as if to sleep. It was getting cooler, perhaps if he warmed the snake up, it would be willing to show him.
"If I carry you and keep you warm, could you show me the way?"
The snake lifted its head as if considering then finally nodded its reply.
While slightly leery of the strange snake, he put his hand out. The snake slowly coiled its way up his arm to rest along the back of his neck. The snake slid its head forward and nodded off to the West. Jomas considered carefully.
"I will change quickly into traveling clothes and put a few things together, then we shall be off." The snake seemed to understand him and settled back along his neck seemingly asleep.
Jomas hurried into the palace and quickly changed his clothes. He was careful not to disturb the snake. The royal prince snuck down to the kitchens and when the staff were busy sending food out to the ballroom, he snuck some food into his pack. He had to carefully put it on as to not harm or dislodge the snake. At last ready, he shuffled out of the castle and headed west. He had chosen not to take a horse for fear the stable master would alert his father.
Occasionally, he would stop and ask the snake which way to go. The snake would raise its head, look about, then with a hiss point him on his way. For two days, they traveled through the forests this way. Jomas shared food that the snake would eat, even going as far as to catch it a mouse a one night. When he slept, the snake was pressed tightly to him, using his warmth. When he was bored, he would tell the snake of the wonders of the world that he knew such a legless creature would never see.
On the evening of the third day, they came to a great cliff. It was on the western boundary of Nestar. Rumor had it that far above there was a land without vegetation. A land of sand, stone and little water where magic thrived and pulsed. No one he knew had ever gone up there. What would be the point? Magic was dangerous and there was little to sustain a man if rumors were to be believed.
He gently woke the snake. "I have come to a dead end. Which way must I go?"
The snake slowly stretched and tasted the air with its tongue. After a long moment of such behavior, it pointed up. Jomas looked up and back to the snake. "You want me to go up?"
The snake nodded its head.
Jomas stared up. It was possible to climb it. It seemed to have a number of outcroppings and such for resting. There were footholds. But, there was nothing for a mortal man in the land of stone and sand. "Are you certain?" he asked cautiously.
The snake nodded again.
"Well, all right. Let us rest here tonight and I will carry you up in the morning." He was not sure he wanted to climb up there without guards.
He lit a fire and sat staring into as he ate the last of his rations. Jomas knew his father had to be looking for him by now. He should have left a note. He looked up the cliff more than once. It was so high that the clouds seemed to swallow the top. It could be seen at a distance on a very clear day. But even then, there was a shimmer that made it seem unapproachable and harsh.
The next morning he carefully put the snake in his bag. He secured it carefully and began the long climb to the top. While strong for his age and size, he still had to stop and rest twice on his way up. Finally, he was able to clamor over the side. It had taken him almost three quarters of the day. He turned and looked out at the kingdom. It was a magnificent view from up here.
He turned and looked at the land now spread before him. The rumors were partially true at least. As far as he could see there was rock and sand. There were smatterings of dry grass here and there. Off in the distance, he could see what appeared to be trees. He carefully pulled the snake from his bag.
"I have made it to the top. Which way?" He asked wearily.
The snake bobbed its head with excitement as it looked about. It pointed off towards the distant trees.
Jomas sighed wearily. "Well, there are trees, I hope there is food and water. My supplies have run out," he grumbled as he shouldered his pack.
It took most of the rest of the day to reach the small oasis. As he had hoped, there was a beautiful waterfall and pool. It was surrounded by apple trees, cattails, and little wild peas. It was a wondrous place. Birds sang beautiful lullabies. There were bees and other small creatures that seemed to make their home in this small natural spring. He surrounded it looking for a grotto, or some other magic that would cure his condition. Jomas only found that the run-off of the pool was swallowed back into the ground.
He lowered the excited snake to the ground to watch it slither away to the cattails and disappear. Maybe it was the water or food? He spent the rest of the warm evening drinking the clear water. It was sweet and cold. He ate peas and apples till he was full. He even picked a few for his walk home. Nothing happened.
Maybe it was one of those magics that worked overnight. He found a soft place under the trees. Exhausted by the long walk and climb, he feel into a deep sleep.
The next morning he hurried to the pool with a great deal of excitement. He stared into his reflection and slowly he sank back. He felt this back and shoulder to find the horrible hump still there. It had not worked. Had he wanted a cure so badly that he let the actions of a snake guide him? Maybe it had just all been coincidence, the snake's nods and shaking. He sat and mourned for a long time before finally shouldering his pack and heading back the way he had come.
When he was finally down at the bottom of the cliff, he heard the sounds of horses. His father's guards soon appeared. Jomas offered no explanation to his disappearance other than to assure them he had not fallen to the harm of a brigand. He was sullen as he clumsily mounted a horse and let them escort him to the palace.
Though there were a hundred questions, he did not once mention the snake. He was not going to have them send him off to some monastery after claiming to have conversed with a snake. He explained away his disappearance as displeasure with the ball. His mother promised he would not be required to attend another one until his next birthday.
A year later he had yet to find a suitable bride and tonight was the ball to celebrate his twenty-first birthday. His father had promised that if no suitable lady would approach him during the ball, then he would arrange his son a proper marriage. Jomas had accepted that this would be his fate. Over the last year, he had thrown himself into his studies swearing off all foolishness in the future.
Just as he had expected, the night dragged on and on. While he had long conversations with his male subjects and often brought gales of laughter, few ladies approached him. He had been about to retire for the evening as the required amount of time he had to be present had passed when a great stir struck up at the door.
He wandered over to see what the excitement was. Jomas found the doorman in a great argument with a beautiful young woman. Her long hair was loose about her shoulders, long curls framing her sharp features. She wore a beautiful full gown of golden yellow. She looked close to tears and his doorman was puffed up.
"What is amiss here?" he asked, eyeing the oddly familiar young lady.
"This ... Woman.. Has no invitation and her name is not on the list. She will not be turned away Your Highness." The doorman stated haughtily.
"Pleasse Jomass, I have come so long a wayss.. I can explain." Her lisp was oddly charming and he moved forward. Her eyes were a strange deep green, drawing his own eyes.
"Have we met that you are so familiar?" He asked, his voice was low as to not bring the girl further distress.
"Yes, pleassse. If we could talk in the garden at the fountain, I can explain." She looked at him hopefully.
That she knew of the fountain puzzled him, and his curiosity now needed assuaged. "I will take care of this matter, Harry. Thank you for your observation and dedication. If she needs put out on her ear, I promise to return her to you." This seemed to satisfy the doorman.
Jomas offered the young woman his arm. He was surprised when she took it. Most females that deigned to speak with him would not touch him. They treated him as if he were contagious. They walked through the ballroom. Gawkers parted to let them pass. A song struck up and the girl hesitated.
"Your majesssty, I know you do not like to dance, but I love this music. Would you consssider leading me onto the dance floor?" She asked, her eyes batting as she looked over at him hopefully.
Jomas was greatly surprised. A hush settled over the gathered nobles as he led her onto the floor. The dance was one that allowed them to remain close. He had to know. "Where have we met?" He was certain that they had.
"We met at your fountain a year ago, Your Highnessss." Her soft answer hissed from her lips.
Jomas shook his head. Had he found a mad woman at his door? "I would surely remember such a beautiful woman." Despite his answer, deep within him he felt they had indeed met.
"You took me on a journey acrosss the land. You fed me from your hand and you carried me on your hump." She offered, her eyes searching his hopefully.
He knew of what she spoke, yet he had promised himself no further fancies. "You wish me to believe you are the snake?" He eyed her. "IF you are the snake, you lied to me. You said you knew a cure to my problem."
"You said you wanted sssomeone who wissshed to be your wife that night. One who did not care if you ssshe had your crown." She stopped dancing and wrang her hands. "If thisss is not what you wissshed that night, why did you sssay that?
"You wish to be my wife?" He stared at her. Dancers moved about them uncertaintly. "I wanted a cure!" he demanded.
"I can think of no one kinder, for you fed me from your own hand. No one braver, for you climbed the cliff to take me to the pool. No one that I would rather father my children than such a noble of intelligence and hope." She put her hand to his face, bringing a gasp from those about her. "I could love such a man."
Jomas stared at her for the longest time. This woman was beautiful. She was saying she wanted him. She had led him across the country so that she might have a woman's form. However, she was a creature of magic. He could not forget that most of all, she was a snake. Did he really wish to have a snake in his bed as his wife?
He bowed deep. "Thank you for the dance, madam." He turned on his heel and left her in the middle of the dance floor.
It is rumored that Jomas was a wise king. His wisdom brought prosperity to the Kingdom. His people were happy. He married a woman from a neighboring kingdom, and when both of their fathers died, the kingdom was united. Yet he had no heir. It was strange, but on their twenty-first birthday, every heir his wife had given him died of a snake bite.