The Magpie and the Coal Miner

Reads: 137  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A Grimms Brothers' inspired fairy tale about overcoming one's own pride and accepting the gifts that life brings.

Once upon a time, as these stories often begin, there was a faraway kingdom ruled by a bad king. By no means was this king cruel or greedy, as many rulers tend to be; no, this king's flaw was that he was weak. Under his rule, many lords and dukes had begun exploiting the poor with impunity, filling their palaces with luxurious works of art and rare delicacies from the orient – all in the name of the king of course – while the peasants starved. Such was the life of a poor, simple man named Hodr. Like many peasants, Hodr had once been a farmer, living on a small piece of land that provided enough crops to sustain himself, his wife, and his little daughter. But the lord who ruled those lands was particularly vicious and cruel, and soon his gluttony and a severe drought all but drove his subjects into poverty and destitution. Thus, the peasants were forced to work in the mines; yet, the poor peasants dug not for precious stones and gold, but coal, for it was said that the lord feared the cold and darkness more than death itself, and kept a large fireplace lit night and day in every room of his palace.

Hodr had been working in the mines for nigh six months, and the bitter winter months were fast approaching. It was a cold and dark night, a mere fortnight before the winter solstice, when Hodr first felt the unnerving touch of fate. After working the fourteen hours that corresponded to him, he approached the guards at the exit of the mine to collect his pay – two silver coins, one more than his comrades, as he was always proud to announce – and proceeded onto the road back to the village. Night had already fallen and Hodr made his way with what little light the stars provided. The moon was still low in the sky, its light falling onto the path through the trees, casting shadows of their skeletal arms creeping onto the road.

Hodr’s attention was suddenly disrupted by a faint wailing coming from just beyond the tree-line. He was curious to see the source of those sad sounds, but fear and fatigue convinced him to remain on the path. Hodr had scarcely taken three steps when once again he heard the moaning and wailing and chirping, as if from a bird, and this time the despair in the wailing overwhelmed him with pity, and he rushed to find the poor creature. He finally came to a clearing and his eyes fell upon a small magpie nestled against a tree.

?? Why do you cry out little magpie? ??

?? This tree is my home, and as I got ready to fly out this morning, some snow fell on my wings, knocking me from the tree and freezing my poor wings so that I am unable to fly. ??

Hodr was moved by compassion and approached the little magpie. Having picked her up, he held her close to his chest and wrapped his cloak about her body.

?? There you are, my friend. As soon as you are warm, I will return you to your nest. ??

Time went by and slowly the magpie’s wings began to thaw. Nearly an hour had expired when the magpie finally peeked out from Hodr’s hands.

?? Thank you, my friend! I am free to move my wings. ??

Hodr stood up tall and brought the little magpie up to its nest. The bird jumped from his hands into its bed of twigs and looked back at him.

?? You have shown me great kindness, friend. There is little I can offer you in return, except a word of wisdom and a promise:

A treasure lies in wait
For him who sees with more than eyes;
For gratitude is a trait
One ought not to forget if he be wise.
For in the black darker than starless night
Are born wealth and beauty bright.

Now, be on your way, my good friend! ??

?? Thank you, little magpie. Good night! ??

Hodr rushed back to his home filled with happiness and hope... he practically ran with joy. He burst into the house to find his wife and daughter sitting at the table, their faces illuminated by a single candle. They each faced a small wooden plate holding a meager loaf of bread, and a third plate waited for him in front of the only remaining chair. As soon as he had opened the door, both his wife and daughter turned to look at him, and Hodr saw the worry in his wife’s eyes.

?? Why the worry in your eyes, my dear wife? Don’t you see, God will soon grant us a great blessing. ??

And he told them about the poor little magpie and the prophecy she had given him.

?? Tomorrow will be the last time I shall work in the mines, for I shall find the treasure the magpie has promised us, and we shall no longer lack anything. ??

Hodr had said this because he realized the dark place the prophecy referred to was the depths of the mine, where no sunlight reached and where one’s touch and ears served him better than his eyes. Where else would one find treasure but deep in the ground?

The next morning, his expectant joy seemed to illuminate the room more than the sun which had commenced its gentle rise over the treetops. Hodr gave his wife a quick but passionate kiss on the cheek and left for the mines. Many of his neighbors were also on their way to the mines, their faces betraying their apprehension and exhaustion and misery... what else could they feel? His was the only face full of happiness and light and hope.

?? These miserable wretches, ?? he thought. ?? They will continue to endure such hardships, while I shall live like a lord, nay, a king, once I find my treasure. Why doesn't God help them in the same way? Clearly, God has chosen me for a reason... because I am a better person, no doubt. ??

These were the thoughts Hodr entertained as he made his way closer and closer to his goal. He finally arrived to the entrance to the mine, a menacing hole like the dark bowels of a beast waiting to swallow its prey, yet today it seemed inviting and welcoming to him, for deep in its entrails laid what his heart desired. He received his pickaxe from the guards stationed there and followed his comrades into the mine, yet he did not follow them into the vein they had been mining recently but went deeper and deeper into one of the old tunnels which had run dry of coal long ago. There he would find his treasure, as certain as there is night and day.

Having only a small lantern to keep the darkness at bay, he began his work. He brought down his pickaxe upon the deepest part of the wall hesitantly at first, almost holding his breath, but soon he worked vigorously, not holding back his strikes upon the rock. With every strike he felt closer to the treasure, and after a few hours, he became certain that with
the next strike he would find the precious stone or gem that would the source of his happiness.

Many hours he remained there, his motivation being fed more and more by desperation rather than the joy that had driven him that very morning. He finally realized that he would not find the treasure that day.

?? Very likely this is the sort of thing that takes its time, ?? he told himself. ?? I shall certainly find my treasure tomorrow, or the following day at the latest... yes, the third day... the Lord certainly seems to like that number. ??

He decided to leave and continue the next day, but he could not go past the guards emptyhanded, so he gathered the scarce chunks of coal that had broken off the wall and returned to the surface. He returned the pickaxe and received his pay for the coal he had collected – only three copper coins – and almost laughed at the irony. He continued onto the path in a somber state of misery. When he arrived at his house, he failed to acknowledge his wife and his daughter and dropped into his chair as if the sadness in his heart weighed too much for him. His wife understood his thoughts perfectly and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

?? I shall find it tomorrow, and if not, then certainly the next day, you’ll see, ?? he said.

Just then, a short but sharp knock came from the door. The two of them looked at each other, questioning the other with their eyes if they were expecting someone. Without a word, Hodr stood and approached the door warily. He opened the door just enough to see the person standing on the other side: an old woman, her hair white as snow, her short, thin body wrapped in a thick coat.

?? What brings you here, stranger? It isn’t safe to walk about at night this time of year. ??

?? I am here to repay a debt, ?? she began. Hearing this, Hodr’s eyes widened with anticipation. ?? You did a great service to one of God’s little ones, and you were promised something in return, which I am here to deliver. ??

Having said this, she reached deep into a pocket and pulled an object, seemingly a rock of sorts, and placed it on his hands. He looked into his hands full of expectation, and the sight filled him with anger and hatred towards the old woman. He looked up at the woman and let his anger out with venomous words.

?? This is the payment for my deed, a piece of coal, worthless and useless. I suppose the fates are having a wonderful laugh at my expense; indeed, coal is as dark as ink, and when burnt it no doubt becomes brighter than the sun. ??

But the old lady had disappeared as soon as he had looked up, and nobody but the night was there to receive his words. He slammed the door shut, and upon realizing the worthless rock remained in his hand, he threw it as hard as he could against the wall of the house, where it bounced and eventually landed in a dark corner, where it was immediately forgotten. He then turned to his wife, who also seemed disappointed, yet no anger showed on her face.

?? Let it go. Be content that you were able to save a life, let that be your recompense ?? she said, but he disregarded her words.

?? This is likely no more than a ruse by the fates, a challenge. The treasure still lies in the mines where I first knew it to be. They regret having promised me such a treasure, they would hate to part with it. ??

Hodr went to bed determined to find the treasure the following day, yet the next day passed in much the same way, except instead of hope Hodr carried only desperation and greed into the mines; and like the day before, all his efforts and obsession brought no fruits. He managed to scrape up a few chunks of coal for the guards as he left, yet he felt just as determined to return the next day and find that accursed treasure.

He did indeed return the next day, and once again he found no trace of the treasure, yet his obsession only grew. He returned to the mine day after day, and as he left the mines each night, the guards would mock him.

?? Looks as if your luck has finally run out, Hodr. The best miner in these lands, you used to boldly claim. It seems that your arrogance has lost you the favor of the angels at last. ??

Even his neighbors had begun avoiding him, afraid as they were that his misfortune would spread to them. He walked to the mines alone, and alone he returned home, every day looking more tired, more obsessed, more miserable. Thus, the day of the winter solstice arrived; the sun failed to warm the face of the earth that day, and the cold seemed to make even the flames in people's hearths drowsy, enticing them to sleep. Yet no fire warmed Hodr's house, for it had been several days since Hodr had received any pay at all, and they had sold what few possessions they had to feed their daughter. Upon seeing his daughter's unhappy face, sitting there in a corner curled inside a blanket, shivering uncontrollably, Hodr's heart finally softened.

?? I must give up my obsession. There is no longer sense in seeking a treasure that has brought nothing but tears and hunger. I shall return to the mines and resume my post mining coal, that I may at least keep my daughter warm and her belly full. ??

Just as he was stepping outside, however, a herald ran through the village, bringing the last news Hodr had hoped to hear.
?? The mines shall remain closed today! An avalanche has covered the entrance! The mines shall remain closed ‘til tomorrow! ??

Hodr fell to the ground and began to beat his chest.

?? What ill rotten luck. Shall I not even be able to save my daughter? ?? he asked. ?? My daughter will not survive this wretched cold. I have no money left for coal, nor any friends left who might lend me some... ??

Then, as if a bird had whispered it into his ear, he remembered the piece of coal that rested in a corner of his house. It was not a particularly large piece of coal, but it would suffice to keep his daughter warm for a few hours at least. He hurried into the house and fell to his knees for the second time in the last few minutes, yet this time it was out of hope that his knees kissed the ground. There it was, lying in the shadows, almost as if the darkness around it were emerging from the coal itself. He picked the coal up, a rock no larger than his fist, and placed it in the fireplace along with some straw for kindling. The fire caught on slowly, hesitantly, yet slowly grew bolder, creeping along from straw to straw, and soon towards the piece of coal, hungry to devour it. The flames soon engulfed the coal, its tongues lashing out, penetrating deeper and deeper into its skin.

A sudden flash of light momentarily blinded Hodr, who was in the process of moving his daughter closer to the flames. He looked at the fireplace to discover the source of that sudden burst of light. The flames had begun to retreat from the coal, and indeed, they had begun to die, yet the room was still full of brightness and warmth. Indeed, the room only seemed to get brighter and every second. Hodr no longer saw the piece of coal, for it was surrounded by light... or was it that light was emanating from the coal itself.

Hodr got closer to the fireplace, and, against his better judgment, he thrust his hand into the fireplace and grabbed the piece of coal. The rock was certainly warm, yet it did not bite his hands in the way fire would have. Upon closer inspection, he was no longer holding coal at all; the rock in his hand did not resemble a stone of any kind. It was a gem, more beautiful and perfect than any gem he had ever seen or heard about. Despite having been encased in the coal – or at least this is what Hodr assumed – it was magnificently cut, and brighter than any gem should be. In fact, this gem did not reflect light but was instead the source of it, despite being completely transparent. Even more amazing was the heat irradiating from the gem.

Hodr let the precious stone fall to the ground in surprise. He was overwhelmed with joy and humility, realizing that he had been blind, forgetting to heed the magpie’s warning. He ran to his wife and began dancing with her, jumping and twirling like a child. He then ran out onto the road intending to announce his good fortune and give praise to God and saw the little magpie perched on a branch a few feet away from him.

?? Thank you, little magpie. I should have listened, I am sorry. ??

The magpie did not say anything, but she seemed to bow at him before taking off and flying away, but from that day Hodr was always happy. Soon, the countryside had heard about Hodr’s treasure, and everyone agreed that it was the most beautiful object they had seen. Soon, news of the gem came to the ears of the local lord, who came himself to Hodr’s little house to witness the miracle. So pleased was he with the stone, which alone could dispel the darkness and the cold he feared, that he offered Hodr his lordship over those lands in exchange for the gem. Hodr accepted the offer and took his family to reside in the palace. Hodr became a benevolent lord, giving the land back to the farmers, bringing commerce to the villages to enrich his subjects. Yet, he enjoyed nothing better than walking in the woods, where magpies often flew to him, and they would talk to Hodr and tell him stories.

Submitted: May 28, 2020

© Copyright 2021 The Half-Blood Poet. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

More Fantasy Short Stories

Other Content by The Half-Blood Poet