There once lived a boy who loved playing with pebbles. He'd collect them in the morning, line them up proudly in the street, and play games with them until sunset.
One day, the King of the land noticed him playing with his pebbles, and being a wise leader, asked his advisor to walk by the boy and drop a gold coin.
The advisor did as he was asked, and the King watched intently from a distance as the boy played with his pebbles, and then noticed the glinting gold in the dust nearby.
He picked it up and looked around expectantly, his shining green eyes scanning for people nearby.
He spotted the advisor walking away and ran towards him, jumping up to tap him on the shoulder, and gave him the coin back.
The King was impressed and asked his servants to inquire about the boy. They discovered he was an orphan, living in terrible squalor, so the King asked if he'd like to live in the Palace.
The boy eagerly accepted, thinking of all the room he'd have there to play with his pebbles. He hurried back and grabbed his lucky pebble, which was oval-shaped with a crooked line dancing down the middle of it.
The King noticed this and smiled, asking the boy what was special about the pebble, and the boy excitedly told the King all about the games he would play in the streets, and how he always won when playing with his lucky pebble.
The King listened patiently and nodded, saying he too played pebble games as a boy, but his hands were far too old and frail now to be useful. With a beaming smile, the boy held up his lucky pebble and said they could share it because it would never let its owner down.
The King smiled warmly and tousled his hair, quietly promising himself to always protect the boy and his fearless innocence.
And so the years passed, and the boy became a man. He became like a son to the King, who entrusted him with his Kingdom's most delicate affairs.
One day, the King fell sick, and the boy traveled far and wide frantically searching for a cure. Alas, he was unsuccessful, and one cold winter's night, the King died in his sleep.
The boy was beside himself with grief, so much so that he ran away from the Palace, unable to look at anything that reminded him of the King.
Months passed and the boy started to have dark thoughts about ending his pain. He was walking in a daze towards a cliff edge when he noticed an egg on the ground. He carefully picked it up and placed it in a tree nearby.
As he turned to leave, he heard a thunderous explosion, and a brilliant flash came from the tree. A huge bird made of pure light unfurled its wings, and the boy fell to his knees, holding his arm to his face.
The light from the bird poured endlessly into the sky, and speaking in a rumbly voice, it introduced itself as the Tempus and thanked the boy for his selfless act.
It then offered him one wish in return.
The boy, still in anguish over the death of his father-figure, said he just wanted things to stop, that life was too painful to bear.
The Tempus screeched and wriggled a silver ring off its smallest talon, which fell to the ground and shrank as it did so.
The boy picked it up gingerly, turning it around in his hands. The Tempus told him this ring, when worn and twisted twice clockwise, would trigger a curse that stopped time. Twisting it again would lift the curse.
Without hesitation, the boy pushed the ring over his index finger and twisted.
Just before he did though, the Tempus screeched once more, and said that while time was stopped, only the animals, sea, sun, moon, and stars would function normally. He would also never need to eat or drink while time was stopped.
The boy nodded eagerly, and thanked the Tempus. The majestic bird urged him to be careful, and then vanished.
With a shuddering breath, the boy twisted twice, and there was an almighty bang. He ran back to a nearby village and, to his amazement, realised everyone was frozen.
Men stood frozen mid-step, children were suspended in mid-air while jumping off trees, and a woman stood motionless at a nearby stream collecting water, although the water itself was overflowing out of her bucket.
The boy twisted the ring twice again, and everything returned to normal. The child landed on the floor with a giggle, and the woman shook her head and tutted to herself as she scolded herself for daydreaming.
For the next few weeks, the boy turned time on and off several times, just to ensure everything worked as the Tempus claimed.
Then one day, he twisted the ring twice and walked off into the sunset, exhausted by his grief, tears streaming down his face.
He walked for several years across every land imaginable, not worrying about anyone else or any dangers. He slept under the stars and spent time by the sea, watching the birds.
After a few years had passed, he realised he quite liked having time under his thumb, and toyed with the idea of not ever turning it back again.
He wasn't aging, and no one who was frozen would have lost any time of their own, so it seemed like a fair deal. He became enamoured with the idea of total immortality, sometimes screaming from the mountaintops how he was the true King of Time.
The boy woke up one day on a beach, time still frozen in a beautiful mosaic. His trousers were wet from the tide, but he knew the ocean's ebbing and flow well enough by now to know it wasn't dangerous at this time of the month.
He yawned and then suddenly gasped. His ring was missing. He scrambled around for it everywhere but could not find it. He retraced his steps, dug in the sand for hours, but was unsuccessful.
He then sat down, and the truth dawned on him. Before falling asleep the previous night, he had been playing with the ring, turning it around in his hands. He had then placed it in his palm before drifting off to sleep.
His hands shot down to his trousers, which were soaking wet. His eyes widened, and he screamed as he turned towards the endless ocean. The tide had come in and snatched the ring from his hand.
Even with all the time in the world, he would never find the ring again, not if it was at the bottom of the ocean or carried to new shores somewhere in the world.
And so the boy travelled for a hundred years, searching desperately for his ring, calling out to the Tempus now and again to see if it would help, but to no avail.
One day, as the boy sat on a cliff edge looking at a particularly beautiful sunset, a crow came and perched near him. It eyed him for a moment before speaking, startling the boy.
The crow introduced himself as the Crendle and said that he had watched the boy for a long time but had grown tired of his endless searching for the ring.
The boy's heart skipped a beat. The Crendle paused and said he knew where the ring was, but first, he wanted something from the boy.
The Crendle told the boy to travel to the biggest kingdom in all the land, and break into the King's inner sanctum, the place reserved only for the most valuable treasures, and steal his most prized ruby, which was rumoured to be the size of a first-born son's ego.
The Crendle said it was rumoured that this room was bursting with treasure, so to help himself as well if anything took his fancy.
The boy laughed in both relief and exasperation, for he had grown up in this very kingdom, and he was the only man apart from the King who knew where the inner sanctum was.
He had never visited it while in the King's care, but had been told about it by the King himself before he died.
The boy travelled back to the Palace where he had grown up, walking silently through the halls until he arrived at the secret door which led to the inner sanctum.
He ignored everyone frozen in time, as he knew he'd stop to reminisce, and the Crendle seemed like an impatient creature.
Walking past the frozen guards and straight into the inner sanctum, the boy frowned. The room was as big as a citadel, but completely empty.
There was no treasure, gold coins, rubies or mountains of diamonds to speak of. The only thing in the middle of the room was a small wooden box.
He opened it and stood frozen for another year. There was no ruby, sapphires, or pearls in the box.
It was an oval-shaped pebble, with a crooked line dancing down the middle.
The boy sobbed and realised he had been running away from his own grief, smothering his own pain for so long, that the young boy who loved playing pebbles in the streets so long ago was barely recognisable anymore.
As the boy returned to the Crendle, he explained that there was no ruby, and showed him the pebble.
The Crendle squawked in annoyance and said he could keep his strange pebble, and that he'd help him anyway.
The boy listened intently as the Crendle told him that on that fateful night, it was he who had stolen the ring, not the ocean. The Crendle had wriggled it out of his hand with his little beak, vowing to put it somewhere so safe, no one would find it.
At this news, the boy nearly flew into a fit of rage, but he held his composure and kindly asked the Crendle where he had placed the magic ring.
The Crendle squinted at him and said it would be the only place the man looking for it wouldn't search. He flapped his wings and flew off, circling around the boy three times and telling him that he snored when he slept, so he placed the ring into his face nest for safekeeping.
The Crendle had dropped the ring into the boy's mouth - it had been in his stomach all along.
He cast his mind back to the Tempus, hundreds of years ago, and recalled that it said he would never eat or drink, meaning he could not force himself to vomit or relieve himself.
The ring was well and truly stuck, and time was frozen until something was done about it.
It was then that the boy knew what he had to do, and felt a strange sense of relief. He walked to the edge of the cliff and fell to his knees, unsheathing a dagger from his boot that he hadn't touched in the longest time.
He kept his gaze fixed on the sunset and plunged the dagger into his stomach, gasping at the wave of pain engulfing him. As he bled onto the cliff, he saw his pebble in front of him, drops of blood landing on it.
The boy realised that time was only beautiful because it passes and runs its course.
The very moment he was living, with blood pouring from his open wound with the seconds dwindling away, was more precious than the last 300 years he had spent endlessly roaming the world.
The boy slowly reached into his wound and fumbled around until he found the ring.
He placed it on his finger and with a shuddering breath twisted it once. He looked down at his pebble and wept openly for the first time in an age.
He wept for his dear King, he wept for his childhood spent in squalor, and he wept for the mountain of tender memories he had so easily forgotten in search of selfish solace.
He remembered the King tousling his hair, playing pebbles with him in the courtyard, running home to the Palace after lazy afternoons studying under apple trees, and how his life had only been beautiful because of the people in it.
Without them, it had been like trying to paint a sunset with a palette full of soot.
With one final shuddering breath, the boy twisted the ring for the last time and collapsed as he heard an almighty bang, realising the end of all things carried with it a quiet beauty that even infinity would never match.