Contest #197 shortlist ⭐️

The Tale of the Long-Lost Crown (and the Dimwit who Gave it Away)

Submitted into Contest #197 in response to: Write about a god desperately trying to get their chosen hero to follow the path they set out for them.... view prompt

13 comments

Fantasy Fiction Funny

The god stood not before a grand throne, not in a sprawling hall of jewel-dripping nobles, not surrounded by tapestries depicting the great adventures of their chosen one. No, instead of manifesting in the castle towering over the kingdom, they instead stood in a modestly appointed home beyond the outskirts of the nearest town.

They fumed at the sparsely decorated hall, the nice rug before a stone hearth, the simple dining table, fury scorching the fine wooden floor they stood upon.

“Oh, do come in,” their hero said, an amused glint in his eye.

“What. Happened.” They ground the words out, spat them venomous from between clenched teeth.

“Sorry?”

“This! What is the meaning of all this?” The god gestured wildly, hardly daring to look for too long at their hero lest they smite him from this blasted earth.

“You mean my home?” Their hero looked fondly upon its furnishings. “I’d consider it quite a step up from where I began, and I suppose in a roundabout way I have you to thank for that.”

The god’s ire slid away, leaving a simmering disbelief in its wake. They balked at their hero, mouth hung open and eyes unblinking. Their hero began to shift. “So, um, thank you.”

“King…” the god choked.

Their hero frowned, his brown curls falling across his handsome brow (and just how handsome he was! Tall, broad shouldered, tanned and toned! That jawline, that nose! The god recalled choosing this man in part because they’d wanted a handsome hero for this tale, and brunets were in!) “Pardon?”

You were meant to be king!” they boomed. Or, rather, had intended to boom, perhaps punctuated by a well-timed crack of lighting and roll of thunder, and yet what came out was more like a wavering screech, like that of a cat whose tail had been tugged by a rowdy child.

And then, their hero had the audacity to chuckle. “Oh, right. Yes, that crown you buried in my old fields?” He waved, as if shooing away a bothersome fly. “If I may be perfectly honest, it didn’t feel like the right fit for me.”

The god almost blacked out, their vision blurring away at the edges (at the very least it obscured the distinct lack of sword over the mantel, so they embraced that bliss, such as it was), and a strong grip was suddenly on their elbow and across their shoulders, and they felt themselves being gently pushed into a dining chair.

The seat’s easy comfort was not soothing, but rather quite infuriating.

Their hero began hustling and bustling about, and the god glimpsed him set a pot to boil over a fire. Their hero, not their hero’s staff nor their hero’s bride, but their hero himself. The god groaned and buried their face in their hands, pressing the heels hard into their eye sockets.

This tale has gone terribly wrong, they thought. Again. Most of their tales as of late had seemed to turn against them. The princess they’d transformed into a bird had chosen to stay one, rejecting her prince and flying off into the sunset, claiming her curse as a blessing instead. The woman they’d granted wicked powers had been invited to the christening and was even made godmother to the young royal, choosing to protect the girl with her abilities instead. Countless tales where mortal choices and baffling logic warped and ruined the god’s most carefully crafted fates.

But this had to be their most abysmal failing yet. This time, the god wanted a return to basics; a young, pure-hearted hero, a lowly farm boy turned king. So straightforward, so embarrassingly obvious. Toss in a dragon, a princess, the classics! Never mind creativity or overcomplications, this was an exercise in simplicity. And yet still they seemed somehow to screw it up.

The god watched, bleary eyed and with growing numbness, their hero return to the table with a tray upon which sat an elegant, steaming teapot and two matching teacups. It seemed out of place in this home, swirling with hand painted pink flowers, but they could hardly focus on such details, stuck absently tracking the movements of their hero as he first poured a cup for the god and then himself.

Their hero sat and grasped his cup, back straight and eyes focused but the crease at his brow and pull at the corner of his mouth betrayed his worried thoughts. The god said nothing, only continued to gaze at yet another thwarted tale.

They sat like that for what felt like days, an untalented god and uncooperative chosen one silent and still as the tea cooled. The god was the first to speak.

“What happened?” Now the words were nearly wept.

“Your eyes turned black, and you started to collapse—”

“No, not that. What happened to the crown? The princess? The dragon?” The story, they thought.

“Ah, yes. That.” The hero glanced away. “I can see that you’re… disappointed,” he said delicately.

The god snorted, as un-divine a sound as any. “That’s one way to put it.” They sighed and sipped at their tea. It was delicious, sweet and subtle, earthy and at the same time slightly floral. Damn him, they thought. And damn this damned tea, too. The god took another sip.

“Allow me to explain.” Their hero gazed into his own steaming cup for another long moment. “I, of course, heard of the tale of the long-lost crown, that any who found it could claim the throne as king, though I’d always considered that on odd system for ruling.”

“The rules in these sorts of tales often are.” But that was hardly the point. Any god worth their salt should be adept at prophecy, at weaving threads of fate into the history of a kingdom. Forgotten crowns and divine rulership, how much simpler could they have gone? Impracticality aside, it was just how these things were supposed to work.

“Sorry?”

“Nothing. Please, continue.”

Their hero coughed and blew at the steam. “I found it half-buried at the edge of my fields and recognized it at once. As I set about cleaning it, I became more and more certain in my heart of one thing.”

The god remained quiet, dreading the next words that would be spoken.

“I would never be king.”

“But you were meant to be!” the god insisted.

Their chosen one smiled, a piteous expression. “Some small part of me understood that, felt that pull to adventure, but I knew it wouldn’t be right.”

“Right!” the god sneered. “Right or wrong, what should that matter to a mortal born to nothing? To one promised great power and riches? That crown was a guarantee. You were fated to it!”

Something steely flitted across the hero’s eyes. “And why should fate decide such things? The current king is hardly corrupt, and what could I, a farmer, offer to a recently usurped kingdom that would not bring it ruin? I know nothing of politics or trade or war, and I’ve no interest in learning.”

The god slammed a fist against the table, the room filling with shadow as the sky itself seemed to dim. “That is not the point. It is fate, it is destiny, it is a calling. And you, hero,” the god raised a finger aimed directly at the man’s heart, “are meant to obey the call.

The hero levelled his gaze at the god, all pity and levity vanished, only a cool determination remaining in those sculpted features. As if carved by the gods themselves, they thought bitterly. 

All at once, they recalled their primary reason for choosing this man, what they could sense even from the heavens above.

Suddenly weary all over again, the god collapsed against the chair and crossed their arms over their narrow chest. They glanced about the room, noting for the first time the intricate botanical carvings along the banisters on the stairs, the pretty landscapes framed along the hall, and rather than sword over the mantel, it was littered with carved wooden animals, and a set of three fine bells of diminishing sizes. However painful it was to admit, the god couldn’t ignore the home's charm. But they frowned at the trinkets and pictures. Something was missing.

“The crown isn’t here,” the hero said, startling the god from their thoughts. “There is more to my story.”

The god’s frown deepened to a dark grimace. Oh, goodie. Yes, let us elaborate more upon my tremendous miscalculations. “Fine. Get on with it, then.”

The hero smiled, amusement suffusing through his handsome features once more. “I began dreaming, which I suppose I must attribute to you again.”

The god sketched a mocking bow. “A failsafe I’ve started weaving into my tales when you heroes take too long to get going.”

The hero continued, ignoring the god’s queer statement. “I dreamt of terrible dragons and princesses in peril and figured I needed to deal with this crown one way or another, though I planned on relinquishing it to the current king.”

Another harrowed groan escaped the god.

The hero ignored this, too. “Eventually, I did find the dragon and her hoard, and the princess trapped within.”

At least that part went right. “Tell me you slayed it?” The god detested the lick of hope in their question, even more so when the hero’s eyes shot wide and he pressed a hand to his heart, as if offended by the mere thought.

“Goodness, no!”

“But you said it was keeping the princess prisoner?”

“I said no such thing! The two were, are!, very good friends,” he said. “I suppose I should correct myself and say the dragon found me, not the other way around, just as I was about to set off on my horse. She was so very upset and pleaded I return to her hoard with her, and who could refuse such a sad creature? I arrived to find the princess locked in a great, enchanted bird cage.”

The god blinked. “So, a weepy dragon found you, brought you back to her secret hoard where a princess was locked up and yet at the same time not imprisoned, and you didn’t slay the beast?” The hero shook his head. “I believe I need further explanation,” they said dryly.

“That’s what I said.” The hero was grinning, losing himself to the memories. “The dragon told me she had recently acquired the cage from an old wizard and was showing it off to the princess during her visit, who later told me she was 'fascinated by such oddities,' but in their excitement the princess stepped inside, and the door closed and locked behind her. The enchantment made it so she could not unlock it herself and the dragon couldn’t tear it apart without risking harm to the princess. The cage required a—”

“A hero pure of heart to unlock it, yes. I am well aware of such stipulations,” the god muttered bitterly, recalling crafting the wretched golden cage and its riddle themself, and the itching beard they’d donned to deliver it. “And the dragon found you because dragons, as you well know, have that convenient ability to see into the hearts of men.” Their hero was nearly blushing by the end of the statement. The god took a great swig of their tea to slow a sudden queasiness from overtaking them.

An uncomfortable swallow and slow breath later, the god blurted, “But you were meant to slay the dragon!” That great, ditzy lizard!

The hero shrugged apologetically. “How could I? The poor thing was nearing hysterics and so remorseful to the princess who, thankfully, was not worse for wear, if slightly cramped and sick to death of staring at gold and stone. She was quick to forgive the dragon. A kind-hearted one, that princess.”

So terribly wrong. The god glowered at the hero, at his sickly-sweet misadventures. And yet, the way he discusses the princess…

They glanced about the home once more, certain features transforming into something distinctly feminine the more they thought on them; the bells on the mantel, the sunny landscapes, the delicate tea set. Hope flickered dimly within their chest, in the place they thought a heart might sit (though they obviously had no use for such fleshy mortal mechanisms).

“And the princess…?” they began.

“Yes, a lovely woman,” the hero said, pouring more tea into the god’s cup. “What of her?”

“Will she be home soon?” the god prompted, but the hero responded only with befuddled brows.

“Home?”

“Yes, this home, that the two of you cohabitate, because you were wed?”

Tea splattered on the table as the hero almost knocked cup and pot to the floor in a sudden jerking motion. Red flushed from throat to hairline as he set the pot carefully on the table and tossed a rag onto the spill.

The god nearly trembled with excitement. Finally, something gone right! He’s just shy, a gentleman, is all! He just…

That feeble flame fizzled to confusion as their hero began guffawing, hands braced against table’s edge.

“Are you quite finished?” the god croaked. “I don’t see what’s so damn amusing. You were meant to wed her! You were meant to slay the dragon, rescue the princess, and return her to the castle as your bride and new queen!”

Their hero’s laughter was overpowering, his body half-bent and eyes welled with tears that threatened to streak down his sharp cheekbones.

“Enough!” the god slammed another fist against the table, though the ever-growing humiliation must have dimmed their awe-inspiring powers almost entirely. No thunder, no lightning, only the light clatter of porcelain against wood.

“My apologies, that was very rude of me,” the hero sputtered between laughs, wiping his face. “But just the thought! We’d hardly the foundations or attraction for so swift an engagement, and besides, she told me of a sweetheart she was yearning to return to at the castle. Someone far fairer and far brighter than I, or so I was told. Repeatedly.” The hero recounted this with no trace of bitterness, no edge of a man slighted, but of someone reminiscing upon a joke between dear friends.

“But what of this?” The god gestured to the tea set.

“It was gift from the princess,” the man said. “This whole house, in fact, was a gift as thanks for freeing her and accompanying her back to the castle. I’d have been happy with something smaller, but she insisted.”

The god could only stare at the simple man, a decidedly unsung hero, across from them who would yield to the insistence of a princess, and not the demands of a god.

“So, you’re what, friends?”

“I’d like to think so.”

The god didn’t know what to do with their hands, whether to tear their hair out in clumps or choke the life from man sitting across from them or summon down a terrible storm to wipe this whole kingdom away. Though with my luck, I’d only rejuvenate the crops and charm wishing wells and other such pleasant, unintentional things. Instead, the god dropped them loosely in their lap, and looked pointedly out the window.

“You still haven’t told me what you’ve done with the crown.”

The man winced. “I fear I’ve upset you enough already…”

With one final, great sigh the god closed their eyes and whispered, “Just tell me.”

“Alright.” A pause. “Well, after the princess was free, the dragon was still so terribly upset…”

Don’t say it.

“And nothing the princess or I said could sooth her…”

Please, no.

“And as I had no further use for it and she seemed a great fan of magical trinkets…”

The god whimpered.

“I gave the crown to the dragon.”

The god loosed a breath for a long time, a full unbroken minute if they’d bothered to track it, before opening their eyes again. “Why does this keep happening to me?”

“Why does what keep happening?”

“Why do my tales keep going wrong? And in such, catastrophically un-fateful methods!”

The man sat quietly for a moment, pondering. “Perhaps that is your fate, to have your tales resolve in unexpected ways,” he said, not ungently.

The god grasped their tea, a strange uncertainness coating their tongue. Might it be true that I have as much control over my own fates, the ones I try to weave, as these mortals that I weave them for? Are we all bound to something greater? Is that greater entity simply randomness?

As the god sat stone-still and processed their existential crisis brought upon by a kind, mortal man, said man finished clearing away the table and set another pot to boil over the fire.

When he sat again across from the god, they finally spoke. “You mortals are getting trickier by the day.”

“Perhaps you could try your fated tales with a simpler creature next time. Maybe a cat.”

The god scoffed. “You, sir, are not half so clever as the daftest cat I’ve ever met. Loathsome little tricksters…” they muttered, trailing off in thought, and a terrible thought did suddenly occur to them.

“You didn’t tell the dragon, did you? Of the promise the crown granted?”

“Of course not! Imagine, a dragon king!” The man chuckled, possibly envisioning the absurdity and chaos such a ruler might bring.

The god pondered it themself in the following silence. A dragon king of mortals, now that’s interesting… 

They sat in comfortable quiet for a few moments before the man, haltingly, spoke again. “The princess and her beloved will be here soon. They like to visit on the weekends.” The man paused before adding, “Would you like to meet her?”

The god hummed into their teacup, warming the liquid to a steam. “Yes, I think I would.”

The man smiled and moved to prepare the next pot of tea.

“And for what it’s worth, I still believe you would’ve made a good king.”

“I disagree,” the man said lightly.

I know.”

May 07, 2023 23:14

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13 comments

Laurel Hanson
11:35 May 12, 2023

I love this. The fairy tale formats can be so tricky to work with, but you've moved through this smoothly, with a fresh tone spiced with levity. I am a huge fan of subverting the fairy tale tropes since I think they tend to do a lot of harm by solidifying or perpetuating some unhealthy beliefs in our culture. You've nailed this one. I am deeply impressed. Love all the call backs to other tales and the wry commentary: “A failsafe I’ve started weaving into my tales when you heroes take too long to get going.” Hilarious. I am reminded of Athe...

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C. J. Peters
01:07 May 13, 2023

Thank you so much for your kind comment! I love fairytales, but I do agree that the tropes can often be tired if not, like you said, sometimes actively harmful, but because they're so well known it's always fun to play them off in queer or unexpected ways. Thank you again!

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23:04 May 18, 2023

I was curious about how people would interpret this prompt, and after reading a few stories yours is clearly the best one amongst them all! I love how you introduce the god at the very start, implying that they truly are capable of extreme majesty but choose to humble themselves for this journey. Well done! The personality of each of your characters is so distinct and intriguing, I envy your characterization skills! I was in love with the leading dynamic from the very beginning. I adore this idea of heros choosing their own unconventiona...

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C. J. Peters
00:47 May 19, 2023

Thank you so very much for the kind words! Appreciate that you took the time to read my story and I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I am so looking forward to reading more of your work as well!

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:32 May 22, 2023

Congrats.

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Shannon Gale
12:06 May 20, 2023

I love how you turned the tables on so many worn out fantasy/fate tropes! This tale was hilarious and heartwarming and remarkably human. Well done.

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C. J. Peters
13:36 May 20, 2023

Thank you so much!

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Mary Bendickson
01:51 May 20, 2023

Congrats on this well deserved shortlist. You are a talented writer. I have been told by someone else I made this next comment to that I have a stagnant mind and 'must' change. As a reader I find it annoying and confusing when a writer uses 'they' for an individual. It takes far to long to re-adjust to exactly whom that refers to and takes me out of the story enough I want to quit reading. Other rules exists to be concerned about the reader's perception but we are supposed to accept this oddity in order to be 'with it'. Just stating my humbl...

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C. J. Peters
14:11 May 20, 2023

I read a short book a little while ago where there were chapters told from the POV of one person, but the author chose to use "we" or a collective pronoun to describe the actions and thoughts of this single character, and I'll admit, I did find that confusing at first. But, once I understood that that's what was happening, and how significant that choice was to the story, I made an effort to just sort of "go with it" but also reread sections I'd originally found confusing and I did find it easier to follow the more I read this story, and it ...

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Marty B
23:26 May 19, 2023

Great story, and I like the humility of the hero. I do feel bad for the princess stuck in that little cage! Congrats!

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C. J. Peters
23:29 May 19, 2023

I did imagine the cage to be quite large, but certainly not large enough for a full grown woman to stay in comfortably for too long haha. Thank you!

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R W Mack
16:43 May 14, 2023

I saw this story sitting at the top of the judges' queue for a while and figured, sure, I'm already well over my weekly judging quota, but why not? Everyone seemed to be passing it up and, quite frankly, the title didn't inspire confidence. Titles are tricky things. Long ones rarely attract much from what I've experienced, but the story was far better than the title. It was one of the few stories I've read this cycle that was worth putting a comment down about. If I had to pick at it, which is what I'm supposed to do as a judge, I'd say ...

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C. J. Peters
19:13 May 17, 2023

Thank you for the feedback! I agree - not a great title! Titles are usually the very last thing I complete for a story and sometimes a thing I will procrastinate until the last possible second, which is kinda what happened here. I'll definitely dedicate a little more brain power next time since it is so important to get people interested in the story and the first thing they judge. Thanks for reading it despite the poor title and thanks again for the comment!

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