Monday 14 October 2013

Tung Ting Tak

Three months after the baby was hatched, his proud parents decided to hold his Naming Ceremony.

This was a big thing, because it had been centuries since the last time a Goblin baby had been hatched; so long, indeed, that just about everyone had forgotten how to hold a naming ceremony, and had to go to the Ancient of Priests to ask.

The Ancient of Priests was so old that his beard had gone a mottled greenish-brown like tree bark, and his skin was like rock crusted with lichen, the way an extremely old Goblin’s will, you know. In accordance with custom, he came himself to the parents’ dungeon, supported by two assistant priests, neither of whom was much younger than he.

“He must be given the opportunity to choose his own name,” the Ancient of Priests declared, after examining the baby and pronouncing him healthy and acceptable. Everyone pretended great relief that the baby was healthy and acceptable, but of course that was the only possible verdict. After so long without a baby, even so hardened a conservative as the Ancient of Priests could hardly reject him.

“How will he do that?” Father Goblin wondered.

“He will choose from what is given him,” the Ancient of Priests said, taking a bag from another assistant priest. From it he brought out an assortment of objects, made of everything from stone to wood, from iron to gold, and in a variety of forms and shapes. There were hammers and adzes, plates and goblets, bells and balls and statues of Monsters from the Lower Dark. All these, the Ancient of Priests spread out in a circle on the floor, and gestured to Father and Mother Goblin to put down the baby in the centre.

“Now he shall choose!” he declared.

For a moment the baby looked around, and then, with a cry of delight as only a Goblin baby can make, he crawled to a silver hammer and picked it up. He turned to an iron plate, and began beating on it with the hammer.

“Tung Ting Tak,” the hammer went on the plate. “Tung Ting Tak.” And the baby gurgled and laughed with approval.

“What does it mean?” the parents wondered. “Will he be called Silver Hammer? Iron Plate?”

“Not at all,” the Ancient of Priests said. “He’s telling you his name. He has chosen it himself. Tung Ting Tak.”

“Why,” everyone murmured, but quietly so the Ancient of Priests could not hear. “That’s ridiculous. Tung Ting Tak, indeed. Who ever heard of a name like that?”

But the child had been named, and nobody could go against the Ancient of Priests’ decree. So Tung Ting Tak he remained, and a lovely little Goblin boy he grew into. Little by little everyone forgot how odd his name was, so that it seemed as ordinary an appellation as Thunderwarrior or Silverrain.

When Tung Ting Tak was ten years old, the time came for him to receive his Blessing, and this presented his parents with a fresh problem. The Blessing could only be delivered by a Fairy, because only a Fairy could bestow boons on the child. But there was no Fairy in Goblinland, and there was no longer any coming and going between the two folk. It had been so long since they had interacted with each other that the Goblins no longer even remembered where the Fairies might be found.

Tung Ting Tak overheard his parents worriedly discussing this. “The boy can’t go through life Unblessed,” Mother Goblin sobbed, clinging to her husband’s fur. “Whatever shall we do?”

“I’ve been asking everyone I know if they’ve seen any Fairies,” Father Goblin replied. “But they all say they haven’t seen one since their own Blessing, and that was centuries ago.”

“There are no Fairies left,” Mother Goblin said, sniffling. “In all the Great Underground, there is not a single one. Perhaps they have all left for the Outside, and even to the cities of Men.”

Tung Ting Tak shivered at the mention of Men. He had often heard how terrible those creatures were, and how he should avoid all contact with them forever. But he also heard the terrible sadness in his parents’ voices, and decided that something had to be done; because he loved his parents, did Tung Ting Tak.

“I,” he announced, “will find a Fairy to Bless me, even if it means I have to go to the Outside.”

“No, darling,” his mother explained, “this is something your father and I have to do. Don’t worry, we’ll find a way.”

But Tung Ting Tak was intelligent and observant, and he could see that his mother’s bulging eyes glittered with unshed tears, and that his father’s tusks were grinding against each other with misery. So, although he went away without saying anything further, he began to lay his plans.

And so a week later, when day lay heavy on this side of the world and the Goblins slept, Tung Ting Tak rose from his bed of rags and dried leaves – a real luxury, which his parents had gone to great lengths to provide him – and sneaked out of the dungeon. Fortune favoured him, and only a few hours later, he was outside the galleries of his tribe’s territory, without being seen and stopped by anyone. And a few hours after that, for the first time ever in his life, he crawled through a crack between two boulders and stood up in the early evening darkness, sniffing the cool mountain air.

He hadn’t thought out what to do once he was Outside, so he waited for a Fairy to appear. For a long time, he wandered around the hillside, long enough for the mountain cold to begin biting through his fur, but no Fairies appeared.

“This is a problem,” he thought to himself. “How can I find a fairy out here? I don’t even know where I am.”

This was perfectly true, because he’d completely lost his way and couldn’t even identify which boulders, among the thousands all around, held between them the entrance to the Goblin Underworld. Also, he was not just cold but hungry, because he’d forgotten to bring along anything to eat.

Tung Ting Tak was just about to start wondering whether it would be a good idea to cry and if it would get him anywhere when he saw a light. It was a very faint light, greenish and flickering, and so faint that to anyone but a Goblin it might not have been visible at all. But Tung Ting Tak saw at once that it was not a natural light, and that meant something was there. So, putting aside his plan to cry for the moment, he began hurrying downhill towards it.

It was much, much further away than he’d thought, so that the night was far advanced before he finally got so close to it that it reflected on his hands and claws, on his fur and the trees and grass around him. And yet he couldn’t see the source of the glow, and blundered about in the bushes until he almost stumbled right over it.

“Well,” said a voice which sounded as though it was made of broken glass – only Tung Ting Tak had never heard of broken glass and had no idea what it sounded like. “Well, hello there. Can you help me out of here?”

Blinking with confusion, Tung Ting Tak looked down. Not far away, between two bushes, there was a creature so strange he stared at it in amazement. It had a short, round head, with two huge eyes, and lustrous white fur which lay from its head down over its shoulders. It had long, slender legs and arms, and two broad flat wings on its back, which were snagged in the space between two branches.

“You can just step backwards,” Tung Ting Tak informed this creature, “and you’ll be free in a moment.”

“A Fairy, step backwards?” the thing snarled. Its teeth flashed in the greenish glow. “Never!”

“You’re a Fairy?” Tung Ting Tak asked. “A real live Fairy?”

“Of course I am,” the creature said. “I’m the Fairy Luna. And who might you be, that you don’t even know that a Fairy never steps backward?”

“I’m just a Goblin,” Tung Ting Tak replied, quite humbly. “I...”

“Tell me later,” the Fairy Luna snapped. “Get me out of here first, you oaf.”

Not knowing what an oaf might be, Tung-Ting Tak wasn’t put off. Grasping one of the branches trapping the Fairy’s large wings (they were very pretty, really, green trimmed with magenta on the leading edge) he pulled it back until the wing slipped through. He then did the same for the other.

“Well, that’s all fine then,” said the Fairy, walking off. “So long and thanks.”

“Wait,” Tung Ting Tak called. “I need your help.”

The Fairy Luna turned so quickly that her wings clapped like castanets, and sent green sparks into the air. “Don’t even think of it!” she snarled.

“Think of what?” Tung Ting Tak asked, confused. “I haven’t said a thing.”

“No, but you were going to, weren’t you? You were going to ask for three wishes. Well, that’s all over and done with, Goblinchild. I don’t give three wishes any longer. I don’t even give one.”

“Why not?” Tung Ting Tak couldn’t help asking.

“You want to know why not? Well, then, listen.” The Fairy Luna grabbed Tung Ting Tak by the arm and pulled him towards a fallen log. “Sit down here and listen.”

So Tung Ting Tak sat, watching the Fairy parade back and forth furiously as she told her tale.



Once upon a time Goblinchild – long before your great grandparents were hatched, I’ll warrant – there was a Fairy named Tippytoes. She lived all alone in a lovely old toadstool by the banks of a mountain stream, where ferns drooped fetchingly over the sparkling water, and the sun and moon played with their reflections in the waves and on the forest floor.

Tippytoes was by all accounts a young and pretty Fairy – for in those days Fairies were beautiful – happy and laughing, full of the joy of life. She was always trying to do her best for everyone, even when they didn’t really deserve it.  

Back in those days, Fairies granted three wishes to anyone who would help them. I don’t know how the custom started, but all Fairies were brought up to regard it as their duty.

Now, one day it so happened that Tippytoes was out gathering herbs for a potion she wanted to brew, which would make night air so full of fragrance that the moon might want to come down to earth to breathe it. As she wandered, singing to herself, suddenly she felt something grab her by the wings, and a moment later she was hoisted into the air.

It was a huge and ugly creature which held her, a creature so ugly that she nearly fainted from the sight of it. And when it spoke, its loud and raucous voice was almost more than she could bear. But one couldn’t really blame her, because, you see, it was the first human she’d ever seen.

You’ve never met a human, have you, Goblinchild? Well, they’re terrible, horrible creatures, and none of us should have anything more to do with them than we must. Remember this always, the only good human is a human unaware that you even exist.

So this human picked up Tippytoes and dangled her by the wings. “Well,” it thundered. “A Fairy, I see. And what will it give me for setting it free?” It shook her a little. “Three wishes, perhaps?”

Of course, the problem was that Tippytoes, being a Fairy, had no choice in the matter. “Yes,” she gasped. “Three wishes.”

“Good, good.” The human held her up so she had no choice but to look into its horrible face. “The first wish is, I want a castle of my own, bigger than the king’s palace.”

Of course, Tippytoes had only the vaguest notion of what a castle even was, and had absolutely no idea about the king’s palace. But she had to do her best, so she nodded. “I promise.” A Fairy’s promise, as you may know, is absolutely and completely binding. “And what is your second wish?”

“I want to have the great hall of the castle filled completely with gold,” the human roared, the stink of its breath making Tippytoes flinch. “Completely, up to the ceiling.”

“You shall have it,” Tippytoes promised, because it was her duty. “And what is your third wish?”

“Hahahaha,” the human laughed. “For my third wish, I want to have my three wishes back over again.” 

“But that’s not the way it works,” Tippytoes gasped, astounded at the creature’s perfidy. “You’re only allowed three wishes, not six.”

“Six?” the human bellowed. “Who said anything about six? After the second three, I’ll wish for three more, and then three more yet. And I’ll wish for more after that. Six? What kind of idiot do you take me for?”

Since this wasn’t a wish, Tippytoes didn’t attempt to answer the question. “You’re only allowed to have three wishes,” she tried to explain. “That’s all. Anything more is cheating.”

“Cheating?” The human shook Tippytoes so hard she was afraid her wings would come off. “How dare you accuse me of cheating? Give me my wishes right now, or I’ll dash your brains out.”

“I can’t,” Tippytoes said. “I really, truly can’t. It’s not allowed. And if you dash my brains out,” she added pragmatically, “you won’t get any wishes at all.”

“You’d better do as I say,” the human shouted. “I demand you give me my wishes, exactly as I specified them. If you don’t, we’ll go to court.”

“In that case,” the Fairy said, “we’ll have to go to court, I suppose.”

And so the human took her to the court. This court occupied a grim old house in the centre of the human town, and was full of lawyers who looked like crows and judges who looked like vultures. Tippytoes’ human grabbed one of these lawyers by the sleeve.

“I demand justice,” it said. “I caught this Fairy and it promised me three wishes to let it go, but it isn’t fulfilling them as promised.” And it proceeded to narrate its version of the tale.

“What will you pay me?” the lawyer demanded. “I want half the roomful of gold.” It paused dramatically. “And the judge will want the other half to rule in your favour.”

Tippytoes’ human went white. “I want two roomfuls of gold,” it whispered to her.

“Can’t,” she said. “You said you want the wishes exactly as you expressed them, remember? You can’t change them now.”

“And,” the lawyer added, “the king’s men will want their taxes. And they won’t be ecstatic that you’ve got a castle larger than the palace, will they? So you’d better be prepared to lose that as well.”

“Look,” the human said to Tippytoes, throwing a desperate look over his shoulder at the lawyer. “Perhaps we could compromise?”

“Certainly,” Tippytoes said. “I’m willing to discuss things. But there’s the matter of your third wish...”

“Hold on!” the lawyer interrupted. “I heard that. You can’t go changing your stance like this. Once you’ve come to law, you’ve got to follow through. If you don’t...” It looked around and beckoned to a couple of guards, which were watching curiously. “If you don’t, you’re in contempt of court, and everything you own is forfeit. So what’s it to be?”

“Get me out of here!” Tippytoes’ human said, eyes rolling fearfully. “Forget the wishes, just get me out of here.”

“Is that your one and only wish?” Tippytoes asked.

“Yes, yes.” The guards were almost on the human. “Hurry!”

So Tippytoes exerted her magic, and in an instant the court had faded away and they were standing back where the human had captured her, and it was looking blearily around in amazement and relief. “I’m safe!” it said, mopping its brow with its free hand.

“Yes,” Tippytoes agreed. “And now it’s time for you to let me go.”

“Let you go?” the human said, astounded. “Why should I let you go? You haven’t given me anything yet.”

“I gave you your wish,” Tippytoes pointed out. “You wanted to be out of the court, and you are. You’d specified that it was your only wish.”

“Oh yes?” the human snarled. “Well, my winged little friend, I’ve still got hold of you, and what I say...”

But it never got to finish what it was going to say. All this while, Tippytoes had been bound by her duty to the human. But when it had relinquished its wishes and she’d done as it had asked, she was free of her obligation.

So she threw her will at the human. Not much – she didn’t want to hurt it, it was a living thing after all – but enough to send it howling away in terror, while she escaped quickly back to her toadstool. It had been a near thing, far too close to risk ever happening again.


And that’s how,” the Fairy Luna said, “Fairies stopped granting wishes. Not three, not two, not any at all.” She glared at Tung Ting Tak. “So don’t you dare ask me for one. I don’t owe you anything.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Tung Ting Tak began. “But I, I’m tired and cold and hungry and lost, and I...” and to his horror he began to sob. “I don’t know what to do,” he wailed. “I came to find a Fairy and I found one and now I don’t know what to do.”

“Wait,” Luna said. “You came specifically to find a Fairy? Why?”

“Because I need one for my Blessing,” Tung Ting Tak sobbed. “My parents are miserable because there are no Fairies down below, and I came to find one because I hated seeing how sad they looked. And now I’m lost and I don’t even know how to get back and nobody will help.” He began crying again.

The Fairy Luna hesitated. “Damn it,” she swore finally. “Stop crying a minute and let me think.”

“Are you going to...Bless me?” Tung Ting Tak asked.

“Me? Not on your life. Even if I’d wanted to, I don’t have the faintest idea how to go about it. I’m not a Fairy Godmother.” She scratched a wing absently, thinking. “I’ve got it. Come along.” She grabbed Tung Ting Tak by the fur, yanked him off the fallen tree, and began towing him through the forest.

“Where are we going?” Tung Ting Tak asked, as well as he could in between gasps for breath.

“You’ll see.” The Fairy Luna didn’t seem to have any problem with breathlessness. “It’s a long way, though, so don’t dawdle.” She threw a glance at him over her shoulder. “Don’t you dare think I’m doing this as a wish for you, because I’m not.”

“Why are you doing it, then?” Tung Ting Tak couldn’t help asking.

“Well, for one thing, I detest blubbering.” Luna grimaced with disgust. “For another, you did help me out of a jam. If you hadn’t come along, I might have been stuck in those branches for days.”

“You said you Fairies don’t ever step back,” Tung Ting Tak said. “Why not?”

“That’s another story from a long time ago,” Luna said. “I might just have the time to tell you on the way.”



Once upon a time, you understand, Fairies used to step back if they needed to – just like anyone else. Those days they used to go around much more openly, too – not like how they keep to themselves now.

At that time there was a certain Ogre who lived in a fortress high up on a mountain. This Ogre was cruel and greedy, and the more he had the more he wanted, so that the country all around lived in terror of his raids.

He was huge and ugly, this Ogre, with a horn growing from the centre of his forehead, fangs which hung down to his chin, and skin set with spines hard as iron and sharp as cruel words. He had a name suited to his appearance and habits, too: Devourer.

Now, in one of the villages which lay not far from the foot of the mountain, there lived a little Fairy called Delight. She was in no way special among Fairies, except for the fact that she had a jewel, which was ancient and powerful, full of mystery and magic. And one day, the Ogre Devourer heard of the jewel and decided he must have it for his own.

Since to him, to want something was to decide to obtain it, he lost no time in seizing his immense cudgel and marching down to the village. The ground began to tremble before his oncoming footsteps, so that the Fairies ran away in terror, and he arrived to find the place empty of life.

By a stroke of bad fortune, Delight was away from home at that time, or she would have snatched up her jewel before fleeing. Instead, she arrived later to find her home smashed to the foundations, and the stone missing. She knew, even before any of the other Fairies told her anything, who was responsible.

“I’ll go and get the jewel from the foul Ogre,” she said, full of her sorrow and grief. “I won’t rest till I get it back.”

The other Fairies tried to dissuade her. “Don’t even think of it,” they said. “He’s so huge and terrible that he could crush you with a fingertip. We’ll help you rebuild your house. Let the jewel go.”

But, for the first time in her life, Delight was adamant. “I’m going up to the Ogre’s fort,” she said, “And I won’t return till I get the jewel back from him.” And, without turning to look at her ruined house, she walked out of the village and up the hill towards the Ogre’s lair.

The village Fairies looked at each other. “We can’t let her go like that to her certain doom,” one said. We have to help her as much as we can.”

“But how can we help her?” the others wondered.

“Long ago,” said the first Fairy, “before the Ogre arrived and built his fort on the hill, there were Fairies who would go up there every day and knew the mountain well. Old Butterfly is one of them who still lives in the woods, not far from this village, and she is the best one to advise Delight.”

The Fairy Butterfly was not just the oldest Fairy in all the land thereabouts, she was also one of the wisest and most versed in all the magical lore. So when a few of the villagers came to tell her what had happened, she not just agreed instantly, she whisked herself out of her hut and an instant later had appeared in front of Delight as she toiled up the steep mountain path.

“What can I do for you, Old Mother Butterfly?” Delight asked, for she was a well-brought-up Fairy and knew to be always polite. “Surely you cannot be on this terrible mountain for pleasure.”

“No, I’m here to talk to you, daughter,” Butterfly said. “If you are determined to go to the Ogre’s lair to recover your jewel, I will not dissuade you. But before you go further, I must warn you of the obstacles you will face and which you must overcome before you can arrive at your destination.”

“What are those obstacles?” Delight wondered.

“First, you must know that the Ogre has ringed his fort with traps for intruders. As you climb this hill, you will see things which may frighten you. But be sure not to take a step backwards – not a single step! If you do, you will instantly be turned to a dried leaf blowing in the wind. And when you get to the fort, do not try and crawl over the walls or sneak in through a loophole in the ramparts, though you may find such ways open. Instead, go straight up to the great front door, which is studded with iron spikes and guarded by a ferocious beast with enormous teeth and eyes like fire. No matter how this creature roars and menaces you, do not step back by so much as the length of an acorn! If you do, you will be turned into a dandelion seed drifting along. Ignore the beast, grasp the door by its handle, and you will find yourself inside.

“And once you are inside, go straight up the great staircase you will find opposite you. Climb without a pause to the very top, and there you will find a door made of bronze, which leads to the room at the top of the fort’s highest tower. It is there that the Ogre keeps all his most valuable loot. Your jewel will be there. Take it and come down quickly, and leave the way you came. But never, for any reason, step back, or disaster will overcome you.” And so saying, the old Fairy departed back to her little home in the woods.

Thinking about what she had just been told, Delight continued climbing up the mountain. She was still thinking about it when, with a terrific shriek, a monster like a winged serpent leaped into her path, breathing fire into her face.

Though she was so startled that she cried out, Delight remembered just in time not to take even a step back, and she continued walking forward. As she did, the monster vanished as though it had never been.

A little further up the path, a wall suddenly rose before her, high and smooth as polished glass, and curving so the sides turned behind her. But she carried on, and just as her foot was about to touch it, the wall vanished. And so, at last, she arrived at the top of the hill, where the Ogre’s fort rose with its immense stone ramparts outlined against the sky.

As Butterfly had said, in a niche set into the centre of the wall was a huge door of iron, which looked so formidable that for a moment she considered ignoring the old Fairy’s advice and trying to look for another way in. But she reminded herself that it was only because she had followed the advice so far that she’d got here at all, and walked up to the door.

Just before she reached it, though, there was a tremendous baying noise and a horrible beast burst out of the niche, rushing upon her. It was like a great hound in appearance, but had eyes that burst out flame and teeth which dripped poison, and its fur was made of spikes like a porcupine’s quills. Roaring, this dreadful creature hurled itself towards Delight, and she felt its hot, stinking breath on her face. Perhaps she might have turned and fled then, but she had a vision of old Butterfly’s face telling her again that if she stepped back she would be turned into a dandelion seed, so she stood her ground. Within touching distance of her the great animal stopped, apparently baffled by her failure to flee, so that she walked past it in complete safety. And when she pushed at the door, it swung open as though it were as light as a feather.

Before her rose the staircase, and as she went up it, she passed doors to left and right from behind which came noises, groans and moans and others she could not identify. But she passed them by and climbed to the door at the top, which was of bronze but opened to the touch of her hand. She was in the small room at the very top of the tower, and all around her were treasures the value of which she could not even guess at, gold and silver, precious stones and works of art, all thrown and piled in confusion. But on a little table of richly carved wood she saw a small bowl of crystal, and in it, transparent as the air, was her jewel.

Suppressing a cry of triumph, she snatched it up and left the room, quickly descending the staircase towards the door. She had almost reached the foot of it when the floor beneath her began to tremble and shake, and she realised that the Ogre Devourer had returned from wherever he had gone. The next instant she saw him.

The foul creature had come from somewhere at the back of the fort, and now came stomping up the staircase right towards Delight. There was nowhere to go, no place to run. She stood frozen, watching the Ogre stride up towards her, his evil eyes glowing beneath his loathsome horn, his armoured skin twitching as he came. At any moment, she thought, he would grab hold of her and tear her to pieces – but he passed her as though she weren’t there, and went up the stairs. And then she remembered that she had not stepped back even a pace, and it was that which had saved her.

Now running quickly, clutching the jewel to her chest she rushed out through the door and past the guardian monster, who snapped at her ineffectually. Soon she had passed the wall and the winged monster, and had almost begun to believe herself safe. But then behind her came a great roaring and the ground began once again to shake, so that she knew the Ogre had discovered the theft and was rushing out after her, intent on vengeance.

There was no time to lose, so she ran as fast as she could, and even took briefly to the air, but Fairy wings, you know, aren’t meant for flying and can’t bear us long distances. However, she did manage to reach the forest at the bottom of the mountain far enough ahead of the Ogre that he hadn’t seen her.

And there, all of a sudden, she met Butterfly again. The old Fairy caught hold of her arm and pulled her to one side. “Have you got it?”

Hardly able to breathe, Delight nodded.

“Good. Let’s go, then.” And in the blink of an eye, they were far away on the other side of the wood, in Butterfly’s own little home.

“The Ogre will not find his way here,” the old Fairy said. “But he will never stop looking for the jewel. For ever and ever, till the end of time, he will seek it. So be on your guard always, and whatever you do, never step back, for only if you do will Devourer’s magic work.”

And from that day to this, no Fairy has ever stepped backward, for any reason whatever.


We’re nearly there.” Luna stopped and pointed. “Do you see that light?”

Peering into the darkness, Tung Ting Tak could make out a flicker, like a distant flame. “Yes,” he said. “What place is that?”

“You’ll see.” By now they were close enough to see that the flicker came from the window of a little house. “Call her Old Mother,” Luna hissed. “It’s a term of respect.”

“Whom?” Tung Ting Tak asked, but Luna had already gone up to the door and was knocking on it.

“Come in,” a voice said, and an old, old Fairy opened the door. Tung Ting Tak could tell she was old because her skin was thin, translucent and wrinkled under her bright black eyes, and because the fur on her head was so white it shone like silver.

“Well, Luna,” she said, as she led them into a cosy little room which reminded Tung Ting Tak strongly of his parents’ dungeon. “What a pleasure to see you after so long. And who have you got there?” She peered at Tung Ting Tak. “A young Goblin! What brings you so far from your people’s home, child?”

Once again, Tung Ting Tak told his story. The old Fairy listened, her head tilted on a side.

“First,” she said when he had finished, “you’re going to have a meal and get warm and rested. Then we’re going to get you back to your parents. You don’t know how lucky you’ve been, to come across Luna here. The forest’s crawling with dangers for unwary young Goblins like you.”


“You don’t need to know about them now. Hopefully you’ll never have to know.” The old Fairy spooned a thick stew out into a bowl for Tung Ting Tak and some more for Luna. It was spicy and filled him instantly with warmth. “Now rest while I do a couple of things. Sleep.”

“I’m not sleepy...” Tung Ting Tak began, but he was. Suddenly he was very sleepy. Yawning, he put his head on the table and shut his eyes...


Wake up, Tung Ting Tak.” His mother’s voice sounded in his ear. “It’s time to wake up now.”

Blinking, Tung Ting Tak sat up and looked around. He was in his own bed in his niche in his parents’ dungeon. “Mother?”

“What? Get up or you’ll be late for breakfast.”

“When did I...” Tung Ting Tak hesitated. “It must’ve been a dream, I suppose.”

“What must have been a dream?” Mother Goblin asked absently, but without waiting to hear the answer. “You ought to comb your fur today,” she said over her shoulder. “It’s all tangled and dirty. How many times have I told you...”

With a sigh, Tung Ting Tak shut his ears to the nagging and got out of bed. The dream still seemed so real that he felt disoriented. What a pity that if he told anyone about it they’d never believe a word. Sighing, he had breakfast, combed his fur, and at his mother’s further insistence cleaned his niche. It didn’t satisfy her though.

“Trim your claws,” she said. “They look awful.”

“What’s the big deal?” Tung Ting Tak grumbled as he scraped at his claws. He couldn’t complain to his father, who’d left for work long since, but his father wouldn’t have backed him up anyway. “Is royalty coming or something?”

“No,” Mother Goblin said from the living niche of the dungeon. “But someone else is. Ah, here they are. Come here, son.”

Tung Ting Tak put down the scraper, came into the living niche and stopped dead. His mouth fell open.

“Hello, Tung Ting Tak.” Luna’s wings sparkled with golden-green light. She grinned. “You seem surprised to see us.”

“You...” Tung Ting Tak finally managed to work his mouth. “But you’re a dream.”

“Dream, indeed,” Luna snorted. Turning, she ushered forward the old Fairy. “Did you hear that, Old Mother? The child thought we’re a dream.”

“It isn’t his fault,” the old Fairy said. She smiled at Tung Ting Tak. “You’ve been through a lot, dear, but none of it was a dream.”

“And she’s here to do your Blessing,” Mother Goblin said. “She told us what you’d done when she brought you back yesterday.” She hesitated. “She asked us not to punish you, because she said you’re the hope of the future.”

“That’s right,” the old Fairy said. “It’s only those who dare to take the initiative, who try new things and expand their horizons, who can achieve anything. If your son had remained in the dungeons, and had never gone outside, he would have been just another Goblin. But he’s proved himself much more than that.”

“But don’t let that go to your head.” Luna grinned again at Tung Ting Tak. “Can you guess who Old Mother is?”

And, suddenly, Tung Ting Tak knew. “Butterfly?”

“Great.” Luna ruffled his fur. “Old Mother Butterfly it is. I thought you weren’t a stupid as you looked.”

“Shall we proceed?” Old Butterfly shuffled forward, held her hand over Tung Ting Tak’s head, and muttered a few words in an unknown language. The air hummed and crackled, and Tung Ting Tak’s fur stood on end.

“That’s done, then.” Luna took Butterfly by the arm. “We’ll be off.”

Tung Ting Tak blinked at them. “You’re going? But –“

“But I’ll be back,” Luna said. “Old Mother thinks, and I agree, that our two races have drifted too far apart altogether. It’s time we began building relationships again.”

“And it’s not just us Fairies coming into the dungeons,” Butterfly said. “Goblins need to start venturing outside again. And we know who’s going to be the first to do that, don’t we?”

“I?” Tung Ting Tak asked. “Is it I?”

“Who else could it be?” Luna asked. “I’ll take care of you, don’t worry. There’s so much for you to learn.”

“For both our races,” Butterfly said. “We have so much to learn from each other.”

In every end, there is a new beginning.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

On the Absolute Necessity of the Action Taken to Neutralise Siddhartha Gautama, alias the Buddha

Your Divine Majesty,

I write this missive to inform you of the facts behind my actions in the case of the itinerant preacher known as the Buddha, which have created such a sensation in the kingdom and by now will undoubtedly have reached your august ear. I do not mean this as an apology, or even a plea for clemency...but as an explanation of my actions, which I am convinced averted catastrophe for the kingdom and for society as we know it.

You must understand, Your Majesty, that this itinerant preacher, this Buddha, was not an ordinary mendicant, the likes of whom we see so often in your august realms. This man was of a different cloth altogether, though, and was already gathering a strong following. He had to be stopped.

I have no doubt, Your Majesty, that your ministers – many of whom, as you are no doubt aware, bear strong animosity towards me – will already be whispering that there have been, and are, similar wandering preachers who built up strong followings, and who never posed the slightest threat to the realm. But if you will only have the kindness to read on, Your Majesty, I will explain why it was different this time.

First of all, Your Majesty, you know that one of the foundations on which our society is based is the absolute awe in which the common people are taught to hold the Monarch and the dynasty. If that respect is gone, they will start looking at the king as an ordinary mortal, with human emotions and failings; and then, what is to stop them from slipping from awe to indifference, and from indifference to contempt, and from contempt to loathing and rebellion? Nothing.

Well, then, Your Majesty, this Buddha was not, like all the rest of his ilk, a man of humble birth. No, indeed, he was a royal prince, one Siddhartha Gautama, from a vassal kingdom to the north. He renounced his kingdom for the common good, Your Majesty, because he felt sorry for sick people and those who died. Can you imagine what this would mean if it became known to everyone? They would ask why their own king – you, Your Majesty – had no such sorrow for their misfortunes. And what would happen then? Rebellion, devastation, and the downfall of the realm.

Does it stop there? No! This Buddha had, repeatedly and without provocation, done harm to the kingdom and, thus, to Your Majesty and the dynasty. Where should I begin?

Shall we begin at the time he was attacked by a particularly notorious bandit, who had repeatedly preyed upon travellers along the highways? We had hunted this bandit for a while, without any success, I must admit; but he was well-known in the kingdom’s northern reaches, and it could be assumed that no one would be so foolhardy as to travel alone in places he frequented. But this Buddha did.

So what happened when the fearsome highwayman met this wandering mendicant? Did he cut his head off for him, and finish off the problem once and for all? No, what he did was get converted, and lay down his sword. Instead of killing people and taking their gold, he’s become a disciple of this Buddha and is following along in his wake!

Your ministers, Your Majesty, will be asking how this could possibly be a bad thing. But think, Your Majesty.  If robbers and highwaymen can be converted to peace by the words of this mendicant, then what is the use of maintaining out huge internal police force and spy service, at such enormous cost to the public exchequer? Don’t you think people will be asking this question? And without the police and spy service, how can we presume to keep control of the kingdom?

But what were the teachings of this man, which converted even this dreadful robber? There lies the greatest threat to the kingdom, Your Majesty, and to society as a whole.

What this man wants people to do, Your Majesty, is to renounce worldly goods and to reduce their wants to the minimum. Suppose this catches hold of the popular imagination; and, with this Buddha’s preaching skills, that is almost inevitable. Yes, I can almost see the Finance Minister, that venerable old gentleman who served your august father before you, turn white as marble at the thought. People will no longer purchase more than the most basic necessities, plain food and simple homespun cloth. The trade markets will collapse; this means taxes will dry up since the traders will have no income to pay taxes from.

It gets worse. With nobody wanting them any longer, gold and silver will become as devalued as copper or bronze. Overnight, the imperial treasury will become worthless. The kingdom will face bankruptcy and ruin.

May I assume that your Minister for Religious Affairs is already suggesting proclaiming the wrath of the gods will come down on anyone who listens to this mendicant? He will want to say that anyone who does follow this man’s teachings will be rewarded by hell for eternity. But, Majesty, this will not work either.

It will not work because this Buddha does not even admit of the existence of the gods, let along heaven or hell. In his teachings, when you die, you are reborn in another life where you get the opportunity to correct the mistakes of this one and reach a higher plane of rebirth. And when you reach the highest plane, what is your reward? Not joy or sorrow, but something he calls Nirvana, meaning, as he intends it, nothing.

 How can religion be used as a tool against such a man, Your Majesty? It’s impossible. And this is bad news, too, for our great temples, which serve as the repository of so much wealth. When the people stop paying their money to the priests in exchange for prayers to the gods, what will the temples do then, Your Majesty? What will happen to them then?

These are the reasons which made me decide that this Buddha must be stopped at any cost. I thought for a few days how to do it before I decided.

My first impulse, of course, was to have him killed. This might have been easily achieved, but would not have solved the problem, which is that his teachings would have continued to be spread around by his followers. And had I ordered a massacre of as many of them as I could lay my hands on, some would have undoubtedly got away, and the whole movement would go underground, with potentially disastrous consequences in the long run.

So this is what I did, Your Majesty, which is causing such a sensation in the kingdom: I proclaimed this Buddha a god.

Oh, it wasn’t easy, and I had to proceed bit by bit. First, I had my spies spread around rumours that this Buddha had been performing miracles, that lions came to him and lay down like lambs, that he could cure the sick with a touch and stop natural disasters with a wave of his hand. I did all this very discreetly, of course, but soon it became known through the country that this man was a miracle-worker, for all that he might look like a wandering monk in mud-stained robes and matted hair.

Once that was achieved, I had but to wait. Soon, masses of people were thronging to him, not to hear him speak, but demanding miracles. Of course he could not perform them, and did not try; but this didn’t stop people from coming because the rumours spread faster than tales of his failure. And then, when he was wandering through the north followed by a great crowd of credulous people waiting for miracles, I put into action the rest of my plan.

I had temples built, in which this Buddha would be worshipped as a god. Instantly, his teachings lost all their menace. No longer would he be able to divert people from their ordinary lives with his talk of unworldliness and cycles of birth. No longer would he be able to menace our society and Your Majesty’s kingdom. Instead, what will happen – what is in fact happening even as you are reading this – is this:

The new priests of Buddha have already flocked to these temples, and begun taking in donations from the people to send prayers to the new god. Even as we speak, the new religion is building a class structure, with the priests on top and accumulating wealth. Why would they ever want to propagate a worldview where people should not care about material things? It’s now in their interest to make people  acquire as much as they can, in order to pass on to the priests in turn.

Soon the Buddha will be gone, for he is an old man now. And then he will be firmly enshrined as a god, and the kingdom will be free from the threat of his teachings, forever.

This, Your Majesty, is the reason why I have acted as I did. I await your decision, to reward or punish me, as you choose.

With humble protestations of my eternal loyalty, I am,

                                                                           Ma Kiaveli
                                                                           Governor, Northern Province.

  Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

Thought For The Day

“In my humble opinion” is one of the most passive-aggressive things anyone can say. There’s this old saying that if one says one has humility, immediately one doesn’t. Obviously, one can simply write “in my opinion.” By injecting the word “humble” into it, one is basically saying, “See, my opinion is humble, so obviously yours isn’t. Also by claiming my opinion is humble, I’ve just hijacked the moral ground from you, so you’re stranded. If you attack my opinion, you’re attacking someone who’s self-consciously humble, beneath your exalted self. If you don’t contradict me, you let my contentions gain legitimacy by default.”

As for me, my opinion is my opinion. There’s nothing humble about it, and I don’t see any reason why there should be.