Long ago, in the days when beasts could still speak and walk among us as equals, the land at the westernmost edge of the world was ruled by the Fox King.
Now, the annals of history tell us little more than that the Fox King ruled for a short period of time. What has been stricken from the record, except in recitals such as this, are the harsh realities of life under the Fox King’s rule and the events that led up to his demise. Those events, although gruesome, were necessary to usher in the return of happiness and prosperity to the land.
Be warned: This story isn’t for the faint of heart or constitution. It must nonetheless be recorded so future generations can learn from, and avoid repeating, the Fox King’s mistakes. You must understand that the Fox King was not a good leader. He was, in fact, a very bad leader. Arrogant and short-tempered, he felt all his royal subjects should adore him as much as he adored himself (which was, to say, a great deal, indeed.)
When he took the throne, there were those among the commoners who supported him. “All hail the Fox King,” they shouted. “Surely he will use his power to make our land the greatest nation that has ever been!” His followers cheered for him, thinking he was a wise and honorable fox.
In reality, the Fox King was impetuous and made decisions without considering their consequences. His advisors recognized this. Unfortunately, even they didn’t have the kingdom’s best interests at heart and sought to rule through him, using an agenda of power and fear.
“We need to wall off our kingdom, your highness,” his closest advisors told him. “We can only be a great and sovereign nation if we protect our land from dangerous foreigners.”
This sounded good to the Fox King, who raised the royal scepter in his paw and decreed in a loud, shrill tone: “I’VE HAD A WONDERFUL IDEA! A WALL SHALL BE CONSTRUCTED AROUND OUR KINGDOM!”
At once, workers scurried to do his bidding. They built a wall so high and impenetrable that none could pass it.
To be sure, there were those within the kingdom who opposed the Fox King from the start. As they saw the isolation caused by the new wall, their numbers only grew. More and more of the land’s residents began to recognize that the Fox King was unfit to lead their land. They worried about their children, and their children’s children, and about the future of the land they loved. There were many who felt sure that the Fox King would lead their nation into calamitous ruin.
Their fears were reinforced when it became known that the kingdom’s coffers were bare; every last penny had been spent on bricks and mortar for the wall. And, people and creatures were dying every day because the wall had effectively halted trade with the surrounding lands; food and medicines could no longer pass across the kingdom’s borders.
The Fox King’s advisors began to worry that the commoners might try to unseat their puppet leader. They begged him to take swift and certain action.
“Your highness,” they wheedled, “most of your royal subjects love and adore you.” (This was, strictly speaking, not true. But, the advisors were cunning and knew the Fox King needed adoration.)
Continuing, they cajoled: “You are so wise! Surely you have a plan to silence those who would go against the throne!”
The Fox King thought a plan was a fine idea. But, how, exactly, could he silence those who opposed him?
Among the Fox King’s advisors was an old wizard. Hearing the ruler’s dilemma, the wizard thought quickly and announced:
“Your eminence, we can use magic to silence any who oppose you – powerful magic! Give your subjects a choice: ‘Praise and uphold the Fox King’s rule or choose silence.’ Surely the people will make the right choice.”
The Fox King thought for a moment, his bushy tail swishing back and forth on the floor of the throne room. Then, he grinned a toothy grin. “WHAT A FINE IDEA I’VE HAD. I SHALL GIVE THE PEOPLE A CHOICE. THEY WILL SURELY CHOOSE TO LOVE ME.”
The very next day, the Fox King ordered all those in the kingdom to the royal palace to attend his speech. And, they came, every last person and creature, for it was made known that to refuse to attend would mean certain death.
As they waited, the king’s subjects grumbled. “What’s that sly fox going to tell us today?” and “We shouldn’t have to listen to his nonsense.” Having the freedom to speak their opinions had been the law of their land for centuries, and they thought nothing of this right.
When the door to the palace opened, the Fox King slunk onto the dais. His ornate gold crown sparkled in the sunlight as it rested on his orange fur.
“LOYAL SUBJECTS! TOGETHER, WE ARE MAKING OUR LAND GREAT!”
In the crowd, there were cheers, but also murmurs of dissent.
“I KNOW THAT YOU LOVE ME. I AM, AFTER ALL A GREAT RULER. I AM THE BEST RULER OUR LAND HAS EVER KNOWN!”
At that, his supporters cheered wildly, but others laughed and booed.
“TO PROVE YOUR DEVOTION TO THE KINGDOM, YOU MUST PLEDGE YOUR LOYALTY TO ME. IF YOU WILL NOT PUBLICLY PLEDGE FEALTY, YOU SHALL NEVER SPEAK AGAIN!”
The commoners said to each other, “How can he make us stop speaking? It’s our right and our privilege.”
Those few who were still loyal to the Fox King rushed forward, jostling to be first in line to show their adoration. Soon enough, however, there was neither man nor beast left in line. This angered the Fox King.
“THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE – PROVE YOU ADORE ME AS YOUR LEADER OR LIVE A LIFE OF SILENCE!”
The common folk laughed and jeered at what they thought was a ridiculous threat. They didn’t see the old wizard as he peeked around the corner, rubbing his gnarled hands together with anticipation and undisguised glee.
“FROM NOW ON, THE ONLY SOUNDS ALLOWED WILL BE PRAISE AND SUPPORT OF MY SKILLFUL RULE OF OUR LAND!”
At that, the wizard uttered an incantation. It lasted but a moment. When he finished, the people and animals who opposed the Fox King’s rule looked at one another, dumbstruck. For, although their mouths were moving, they weren’t able to make a sound. The humans couldn’t speak, nor could the beasts howl or yelp. Even the birds found themselves unable to sing.
Those who had pledged their support of the Fox King now laughed and mocked the silent masses.
“IT’S A GREAT DAY!” Their leader beamed, his beady eyes shining. “NOW, WE’LL ONLY HEAR WHAT’S IMPORTANT.”
Thinking himself the instrument of justice, the Fox King stroked his tail as he entered the castle, whistling tunelessly.
In the weeks and months after what became known as the Great Silencing, the mood throughout the kingdom was somber.
Some of the weakest of the common folk couldn’t handle their sudden inability to speak, so they lied. “We adore our one true leader, the Fox King,” they stated publicly. And with that lie, they regained the ability to speak.
“What harm can it do to say we like him? The others are foolish for refusing to pledge their loyalty,” they reasoned.
Those in the kingdom who saw the Fox King as the dangerous leader he was knew they had to be steadfast and unwavering in their beliefs. So, they endured the silence and found another way to communicate.
They began writing their opposition on parchment, and circulating it through the kingdom so that all the land’s residents might read and understand their concerns.
When the Fox King’s advisors learned of the written opposition, they acted quickly to quash it.
“Your Great and Wonderful Highness, you are so wise! But, some in the kingdom are writing falsehoods about your power and rule. Surely this must be put to rest.”
The Fox King agreed that he was the wisest ruler the land had ever seen, and that only writings about his wisdom and good deeds should be allowed.
He called on the old wizard again. “I’VE HAD AN IDEA,” he screeched. “YOU MUST CAST A SPELL SO THE DISLOYAL COMMONERS CAN NO LONGER READ OR WRITE.”
“As you wish, my liege,” the old wizard whispered. With another incantation, he summoned powerful dark magic.
When he was done speaking, a new form of darkness blanketed the land. In the villages and fields, the commoners who were writing on parchment with great care suddenly found their hands were capable only of scribbling. Those who had been reading and reasoning realized they could no longer make sense of the letters and words on the page.
The Fox King, upon hearing these reports, smirked and patted himself on the back with his tiny, orange paws.
The kingdom went on like this for a time. To the commoners who opposed the Fox King, this period seemed to last an eternity. The darkness and sadness hung over the land like a cloud that never departed. Even on the sunniest of days, there was little joy.
Those commoners who had been strong and steadfast in their resistance all along began to waver. For you see, each day, more and more common people and creatures were dying. Food and medicines were rationed; scant portions were allocated first to those who praised the Fox King and his policies, leaving just scraps for the silenced masses.
The Fox King, however, believed that all was still well in the land he ruled. He reasoned “IF THEY’RE DYING, IT’S THEIR OWN DOWNFALL. IF ONLY THEY’D ACKNOWLEDGE MY GREATNESS, THEY COULD SAVE THEMSELVES.”
Although some of his advisors had finally begun to question his policies, even they found themselves unable to reason with him or control his actions any longer.
In the castle itself, the old wizard was finally dying, not from a lack of food or medicines, but because wizards of a certain age always died. The wizard’s daughter, Seri, had grown up in the castle and had learned the ways of magic from her father. He had taught her everything he knew, expecting her to carry on his legacy of loyalty to the crown.
Now, the Fox King, being a chauvinistic and small-minded creature, had made it clear he didn’t think a mere woman could possibly be as capable a wizard as a man.
Having heard all her life that she didn’t measure up, Seri had come to doubt her own skill as an apprentice wizard. “The Fox King says I’m not good, so I must not be good. I don’t think I know enough.” She told herself these things so often that she came to believe them as facts.
However, as time went on, Seri couldn’t ignore what was going on outside the palace. She saw the Fox King’s foolish decisions for what they were. Unlike her father, Seri believed all of the kingdom’s creatures and people had the right to speak, write and share their opinions. She also knew in her heart that to wall off the kingdom from the rest of the world was a grave error, one that would have repercussions for years to come.
Seri pondered long and hard, cataloguing the old spells and incantations in her mind as she searched for a solution to save the country.
Even as an idea took hold, she still doubted her ability. “It won’t work; there’s no hope. Our land is doomed,” she muttered, half convinced that she should simply abandon her efforts and lend her support to the Fox King.
However, one look at the silent, miserable commoners was enough to sway her decision. Seri knew what she needed to do. With an ancient spell and a power she didn’t know she possessed until that moment, she summoned every bird in the land.
As her father, the old wizard, lay dying, Seri requested an audience with the Fox King on the castle’s rooftop. She told him she wanted to adore him, knowing he would take the bait. She bid his advisors attend too, but she was crafty and told them the meeting was scheduled to start at a later time. Now, mind you, Seri was certain her plan would fail, but was just as certain she needed to try anyway.
When the Fox King slunk up the last of the rooftop steps, he heard a great fluttering. Looking up, he didn’t see Seri but saw instead that the rooftop was lined with all manner of birds.
“It’s our great leader,” they squawked. “Our wonderful leader.”
Because he believed every creature adored him, the Fox King didn’t notice the sarcasm in the birds’ tone.
“THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT. IT’S BECAUSE OF GREAT BIRDS LIKE YOU THAT WE HAVE SUCH A MARVELOUS LAND.”
The birds had moved ever so much closer to him as he spoke, surrounding him now. Thinking they wanted to get closer to him to express their adoration, the Fox King continued.
“WITH YOUR HELP, WE’LL KEEP OUR LAND SAFE AND STRONG. OTHER LANDS WISH THEY HAD BIRDS LIKE YOU.”
The birds continued to advance on the Fox King, who paid them no mind.
“YOU’RE MARVELOUS BIR…”
This last was punctuated with a screech of pain. As one, the birds descended on the Fox King, pecking every inch of his orange fur and beady eyes until he was but a lifeless carcass. His gold crown lay bent and broken on the ground.
The Fox King’s advisors, having arrived too late to save their leader, also fell victim to the bird’s sharp beaks, one by one. Their screams were quickly silenced by the flock.
The wizard Seri arrived at just the right moment to witness the destruction of the Fox King and his advisors. Smiling, she thanked the birds.
“I had thought it might be necessary for you to also destroy my father, the old wizard, however time has done that job for you already.”
Then, Seri, being a just and wise wizard, spoke the words to lift the curses of silence and illiteracy from the kingdom and its residents. Sure that it wouldn’t work, she was pleasantly surprised when she heard sounds of joy from all around the land.
Able to communicate once again and overjoyed at their freedom from the Fox King’s oppressive rule, the kingdom’s people and creatures quickly worked together to destroy the wall separating their country from neighboring lands.
As the bricks fell, reason returned to the land. With it came the prosperity and peace its inhabitants so desperately needed, and they lived happily ever after.
Let the tale of the Fox King be a cautionary lesson to leaders around the world, lest they find themselves one day on a rooftop with an audience of disillusioned, winged subjects.
Author’s note: I spent the last weekend in January frantically writing this fairy tale to meet the deadline for round one of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, along with 3,100 other hopeful writers.
I was charged with creating a Fairy Tale using no more than 2,500 words, and had to include an ultimatum in the story. I also had to include a character who was a pessimist.
My story will be judged along with 30 others in my heat, and I won’t find out until mid-late March whether or not this was deemed good enough to move on to round two – only the top five in each heat will move on – but it was fun and cathartic to write this regardless of what happens in the judging phase.
Please remember this is fiction and takes place in a kingdom long, long ago and far, far away. It’s a fairy tale, people. 🙂 I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!