Sequel to The Nightingale, a story by Hans Christian Anderson
When the servants found the emperor, hearty and well, they bowed low and deep and showed no surprise for they were experts in hiding what they thought or felt .
"Good morning, " they responded, and arranged the king's raiments before they led him out into court. And his loyal subjects, those who had come out to mourn him, hailed him as the risen sun.
Back in his cold dark kingdom, death was no longer content. He remembered the songs of the nightingale and wanted more. He looked through his crystal glass to see those men, animals and birds that he would soon have to claim. There were thousands of them, but the nightingale was not one of them.
“Curses!” death’s voice was low, sibilant, without a trace of emotion, “even if the fates say no, that bird will be mine.”
He struck his gong- once- but it rang so deep, the dead awoke in shadowy wisps and floated to him.
“There is a bird,” he said, “the nightingale, it is called, that sings to china’s emperor once in a while.” He paused and turned his head this way and that way, and looked at each of them through his hollow eyes, “Who amongst you, knows where this bird lives?”
“Not I master, not I,” the ghostly voices sang, one after the other.
But there was one woman, who had only been claimed by death the night before and her remains had not yet been brought to the graveyard although her grave was freshly dug. She was the mother of the poor little girl in the emperor’s kitchen. The little girl who had showed the emperor’s people where the nightingale was. She had told the story to her mother the next day when she visited, as she had opened the windows to let in the smell of fish and salt from the beach.
Now, this woman fell flat on her face before death, and trembling said, “I know where you can find the nightingale, but please tell me, what can I have in return?”
“You dare to demand anything of me?” death’s laughter was fearful and the woman shook and said nothing. The other spirits drew towards her, hands stretched as if to rip her ghostly self to pieces, but death raised a bony hand through long dark sleeves and stayed them.
“What, will you have?”
“Great one,” the woman whispered, “my life back, is what I want, for my little girl is all alone in the world.”
Death took his crystal glass, looked through and chuckled, “so be it! So be it!”
Back in her little cottage, the woman had been washed and dressed and laid in state for the final farewells before she was buried.
She moved her fingers first, a twitch here and a twitch there. Then her eyes fluttered open.
“Witchcraft!” someone shouted, and the wails turned into screams. It was an old woman sitting nearby who brought back calm, for she said she had seen it before, that deep sleep that people sometimes took for death. Then all was fine, and the funeral turned into a party, for lots of food and drinks had been brought by the neighbours to be shared after the burial.
But, all wasn’t fine. For the lord-in-waiting had lied to the girl and had her relegated to the bellows. Every day, she blew and blew the fires under the cooking pots, morning, afternoon, evening until smoke filled her eyes and lungs and they began to protest. For you see, court life was filled with lots of eating, so they had to be always cooking in the kitchen. She was able to hide her coughs from her mother because she rarely got the chance to visit her anymore. When she started coughing blood, she knew that she had little time left. In the kitchen too she hid her sickness well, because she was mostly on her own at the far side of the kitchen, where the fires and boiling pots were. It wouldn’t have done at all for anyone to see the blood or hear her cough.
When her mother died, she did not cry and everyone said she was a bad girl for not crying. But when her mother woke up again, and the girl saw that she had only been asleep she started to cry because she knew that soon, she was going to be all alone with no mother to kiss her and sing to her.
Death came for the little girl three days later. She was found lying on the cold stone floor of the kitchen, the only place in the entire palace, that was not made of porcelain. But death’s kingdom was not so dark and dreary and lonesome as she had feared it would be. The nightingale, singing out his grief had charmed into the dark dreary place, sunshine and flowers so that all was happy and gay. Every day the girl listened to the nightingale and remembered her mother’s hugs and kisses like she had before, and she was filled with much happiness.
As for her mother, she lived a long and lonely life. And the emperor, well, it is told that he took a beautiful wife and lived and ruled for a very long time. At first he wondered why the nightingale didn’t come as he promised, but soon he forgot all about him for there was much to delight him in his kingdom.
Writer's Cramp Prompt for 8/7/2019:
Your prompt today is to make a part 2 to the story- what happens after the emperor says "Good morning!"