For Children

Leo Yu

Le Petit Moineau

3rd & 4th Grade Prose Winner

“You had best leave now,” whispered the King. “It is too late to keep trying, you have done your service. There is no hope.” The healer, saddened, walked away.

The castle was black. Black sheets draped the windows, servants wore black over their grey uniforms. The gardeners killed all the plants, leaving a tangle of weeds.

Where there is black, death has overwhelmed souls. As it did, death was everything. Death was the soldiers standing guard, death was the trees. Death was the air blowing across the land, and death was the people, his bony face disguised as peasants’.

The news of the challenge brought life to it all.

“Yes, bring them all,” the King gasped. “I do not have much time, I hear death at my door.” Three princes slowly filed in.

“Jearwy,” the King rasped, “the strongest.” “Raspin,” he coughed, “the fairest.” “And Heran,” he smiled weakly, “Heran.”

“You have been summoned here,” he gestured to the three, “to find the most beautiful bird in the forest. You must complete this challenge by the quarter moon.”

“Oh yes father, we shall,” Jearwy the eldest and Raspin the second chorused. “We—” They were interrupted by a series of snores from the king.

“The lazy old lump,” sneered the eldest, “too kind to ever do any good.”

“The stupid, withered, twisted stump of a man,” the second prince remarked, “no good will ever come of him.”

They both turned to Heran. “And if you even try to find the bird,” the eldest prince spat, “you’ll be hanging in the gallows.” Then they walked away.

The forest was usually a peaceful place. Sun shining through branches dappled the ground with light. A flower swaying in the wind might be a fairy dancing, a tree an earthy green giant. Everything seemed perfectly balanced, perfectly still.

But today was different. Instead of peace, there was the sound of hunters trekking through the rocks, walking through the stream (cursing when they fell), pushing logs out of their way, and stepping on delicate poppies and snowbells. On this day, the song of birds never came, and by midnight the forest was alight by fire and the singing of drunk men.

When Heran arrived, the birds had nearly all been captured or killed. He sat in the shade of a large oak and took out a small reed flute. His tune lazily drifted off into the sky, swirling and changing. He played on until midmorning, when a small, grey sparrow sat on branch, repeating the song over and over.

Heran looked at the sparrow; the sparrow looked at Heran. And together they walked towards the castle.

One by one, the servants filed in carrying golden cages with silent birds in them: peacocks, woodpeckers, flamingos, all silent. Following were the two princes, clad in shining armor (looking more foolish than impressive), and finally the youngest prince. Dressed in common clothes, Heran carried only the sparrow.

Trumpets sounded and the King shakily lifted his head.

“Good day, wonderful father and…” said the eldest prince—who was quickly interrupted by Raspin.

“Humble, great father….” the second prince’s everlasting speech was finally interrupted by the curses of the eldest and the periodic coughing of the King who seemed, now, more dead than alive.

The cages were brought to the King in an elaborate process, all the while the two older brothers cursing under their breaths. The King slowly lifted his head but fell into a fit of coughing. After the coughing had stopped, the last cage was brought, the King was more than silent, he was asleep.

The eldest prince, frustrated, kicked the King and shouted, “Wake up!” The King immediately awoke and beckoned for the servants. It was now the youngest prince’s turn. He walked slowly to the front, and stopped.

“Father,” he said, “I am here.”

“Yes,” the old King smiled slightly, “Heran.” Their exchange was pleasant, the little sparrow nestled against the old King and then flew back and sang the most beautiful song anyone in that room had ever heard. Even the two older princes stopped fighting to hear the enchanting melody.

The melody lifted through the air and into the heavens. As the world grew silent and listened, clarity grew in the King’s diseased brain. This is the beauty, this is the beauty. When the song ended, the King placed his crown upon the youngest prince’s head.

And under Heran’s rule the kingdom prospered, never had the sun shined so bright, nor the air felt so clean.