PRW Runner-Up Tour: The Nightingale by Alexandra Perchanidou
Beautiful songs which can capture the heart. Sounds so soothing that can make even the hearts made of ice melt.
She was a nightingale, a pure spirit of the forest which loved to sing. She and her kind were one of the most ancient shifters, capable to transform and aid the forest and sometimes the humans who would visit it.
Every night, she and her companions would transform into humans and create lullabies, singing for the moon, the nature and love for the forest, the only home they knew. They would let the waterfalls wash their feet, the flowers bloom even at night and the stars glimmer, accompanying them at their joining of voices under the moonlight.
But then the prince of the kingdom, where the forest belonged, decided to destroy it and built a new factory, making weapons for the war he was planning to go. The prince was a young boy of seventeen, eager to fulfill his ambitions, with no love for nature or singing.
The forest fell the day the Nightingale flew above the tiptop of the trees. She saw how cruel the prince was and sorrow filled her tiny, pumping heart; for she had seen that the prince didn’t know how beautiful life could be.
Bearing the sadness of seeing her people and her forest disappearing under the hot tongues of the man’s inventions, Nightingale decided to reach the prince and teach him the value of life.
She flew towards his palace and started to live close to him, watching over the youth. Closely she observed him from the window of his room, which was facing a large garden.
The nightingale had found shelter there, hiding both day and night, hoping that no one could find her. In the nights, on her human form, she would gaze the moon and cry silently for the loss of her home; she had stopped singing afraid of the prince’s fury.
One night the prince decided to scroll the garden thinking of a way to win over the enemy kingdom, far in the south. The garden was quiet, with the blinking stars lightening the sky like fireflies in the summer.
With the white lilies and night flowers in bloom, this small part of his palace looked like a bed made of beauty and petals. He would find peace in here. Surrounded by officials and being the only heir to a throne, the Prince could feel the stress building up to him. So he walked by the soft grass, feeling the fragrance of the night flowers filling his nostrils.
Suddenly he heard a voice, a sound so beautiful which made him shiver from bliss. He had never heard anything like that in his life. Moving closer to the source he saw the beautiful girl, singing loudly. Her hands were stretched towards the sky, her brown long hair with some of her tufts dyed blue was a mass of light and color falling to her back.
Her skin, white like the moonlight, was reflecting upon her gown, a mix made of brown and green leaves, decorated with fragments of green and blue topazes.
Nightingale had decided to sing at least once; she could feel the moon crying together with her, feeling the pain of the dying earth.
“Who are you?” the prince asked and the Nightingale stopped abruptly her singing.
She gazed at him for a moment, staring at his piercing blue eyes, so intense, so different than her own brown.
“I apologize for disturbing you your Highness.” She spoke gently and bowed at him.
“Were you singing before?” the Prince asked, still surprised by her polite behavior.
“I always sing at the night; I sing for the moon, the flowers. I hoped to sing for you if it meant to make you happier.”
“Why wouldn’t I be happier? I have everything I wanted. Power, gold and a kingdom on my feet.” The prince pouted with pride at her.
She lowered her gaze and moved her head in disagreement.
“But there is something you are missing, young prince.”
“And what is that?”
Her lips formed a smile and the prince was left breathless staring at her.
“You will find out some day.”
“What is your name?”
Many days passed; the prince would come only at night, after the nightingale’s request, and listen to her singing. And as the flowers bloomed and withered with time, the prince was falling more and more in love with the beautiful spirit.
But he became greedy; he wanted Nightingale to be with him day and night. But she would deny his questions and demanding propositions. She didn’t want him to learn the truth, that she wasn’t human, afraid that he might detest her.
One morning she heard that the prince was going to destroy yet another forest, searching for precious stones. Nightingale couldn’t be sadder, for her music and pleads hadn’t reach the heart of young prince.
So she flew away, far away from his kingdom and him, hoping that he would forget her and that she could soothe the pain in her longing, for him heart. A part of her was angry because of his greed, but another was still holding hope. Nightingale hoped that her Prince would be able to learn from his mistakes.
And with that thought she gave more strength to her tiny wings.
When the prince found out that she was gone, he ordered the best of his merchants to make a mechanic bird, one made of gold and rubies, with a voice unmatchable to any of its kind. No singer or instrument player could beat the sound this mechanic bird was making and the prince never left it away from his sight. He wanted Nightingale back, and the bird was a reminder of her ethereal figure and her divine singing.
Years passed and the prince became a king. He was feared and respected by everyone in his kingdom. He had destroyed many forests and created even more space for his peasants and his cities. He had almost forgotten about the beauty who sung in the nights, having only the mechanic bird filling the emptiness in his heart.
The illness found him unexpectedly, making his strong body crumble on his bed.
“Stress and tiredness” the doctors had said and requested him to rest and recover.
“No one can order the King!” he had roared at them and closed both his doors to them and his heart.
The King continued attending his duties but the burden in his heart had become heavier and heavier. In the nights, he would crawl to his den and wound the key in the mechanic bird, longing to hear its song.
That night the bird didn’t sing. From all these years of constant use, it was finally broken. The King laid to his soft bed and wiped the cold sweat from his forehead, pulling his brown locks back.
“No. Not now.” He spoke with fear and got up, heading to the wide balcony doors. He opened them and let the soft night breeze enter his room. Pain suddenly crushed on his chest and the King moved back to the soft futon, afraid of the silence, which had fallen on his room.
As he placed his tired, burning from fever head on the pillow, the black dressed figure caught his eye; he lingered on the edge of his bed, with a hood above his head and dread filled the King’s heart.
His haunting visions, the dreams of this form had made the King shiver from fear. This was Death; the one everyone knew and feared. Of all times the King now was feeling more vulnerable than ever.
“You…came for me?”
“Of course I did idiot. And it was about time!” Death spoke with annoyance, making the King frown.
The King blinked with startle and pulled his sheets closer to his trembling body, afraid of both Death and the cold shivers on his back.
“What do you mean?”
“You were supposed to die that night on the garden but the Nightingale saved you.”
Nightingale. Her name made his heart ache from the pain of her absence. Oh, how he longed to see her again even for a moment.
“She will not return; I pushed her away with my words and actions. I even tried to replace her music with that of a fake bird’s. I don’t deserve her singing anymore.”
“Of course you don’t. You were the one who destroyed her home after all. It was the first forest you cut down, in order to fulfill your egoistic desires, and now your time has come.” The figure giggled with amusement as he tortured with his words the sick King.
The King didn’t answer, stunned from both Death’s words and the realization of his actions. His mind traveled in that first meeting with her. How beautiful her smile was, even when she knew that he had taken her home away from her. How foolish he was and how hollow his achievements looked now.
He fell to his bed, exhaustion making him slowly close his eyelids. “I have found the one thing I was missing Nightingale.” The King murmured as Death’s shadow was covering him more and more, ready to devour him “I miss you and your voice.” The man spoke with hoarse voice from pain and solitude.
The wind suddenly blew from the open balcony, making the silky white curtains swipe strongly as the coldness rushed into the room. The wind carried a whisper, which became stronger and stronger, until a lullaby was heard. A divine music, ethereal just like the King had remembered it.
He fell from his bed and with trembling feet he got out in the balcony, searching for the voice. The tree with the pink petals, the one which had grown with the years closer to his balcony, started to move its branches, as if it was dancing following the sound of the song. And there, under the bright light of the hanging moon, the King spotted the tiny little bird.
It was brown with shades of blue and two tiny black buttons of eyes. The Nightingale turned and locked gazes with him; the small beak opened again and the melody came out with more strength, more love and affection the sick King hadn’t felt in years.
Flapping the small wings, the bird was covered into the moonlight and soon the body of a woman appeared before him, bathing into the light, just like he remembered her to be.
“Let him go Death. He has much more to learn.” Nightingale spoke firmly at the black hooded man and he rose to his feet.
“You beat me again cutie.”
She shrugged with his comment and smiled.
“That’s a part of who I am after all.”
“And you petty King” Death pointed at the man who stood beside her “never lose sight of those who are close to you. You will be lost without them; hold your eyes open to the truth of things around you.”
And with these final words he disappeared.
The King turned to the Nightingale, drowning in her features. He had grown, reaching his 25 years of age, but she remained unchanging, young and beautiful, just like he remembered her to be.
“You came back.” And soon his arms were covering her whole as the King tried to recognize if she was real or an illusion.
“I am sorry my King. I couldn’t let you see me as I truly was.”
“No I am the one to blame. I destroyed your home, but still you came and sung for me, even after all these years.”
He cupped her white moon glowing face and kissed her softly on the lips.
“I love you Nightingale.”
She smiled at him and left out a melodic tune, responding to his feelings.
The King from that day on changed completely. He announced that everyone on the Kingdom was to rebuild together the lost forests and help the nature heal from the scars they, as humans had created on her. Nightingale helped him with all her might, watching him on the day with the form of a bird and singing him at night, dancing with her gown spinning around her under the moonlight.
Never in his life hadn’t he been happier, having Nightingale by his side. Word of his achievements reached the faraway lands and more birds started to return from the South. As the trees started to grow again, more flowers started to bloom and the people welcomed the blessing, nature brought to them, with growing crops and peace on the borders.
The King saw his people happy, gazed across at the slowly growing trees at the far horizon and lifted his fingers, calling the small bird from the branch she was always sitting. Nightingale flew to his side and rested on his strong palm, letting his warmth fill her.
“What do you think? Isn’t it beautiful Nightingale? And more will come. And more your forest will grow.”
The small bird flapped its wings and flew to his shoulder, resting its beak close to his cheek; a small kiss given by the most kindhearted spirit anyone had known.
“I know. I love you too.”
The day the King peacefully left his last breath was also the day Nightingale returned to the forest. The people remembered him as the most kind and wise King of their times but no one ever noticed the small nightingale, which was always accompaning him.
Tales of the soft sound and music, which could be heard in the Palace’s corridors, the day of the King’s funeral, were told by those who worked for the kind King. The successor was also taught by the actions of his predecessor; he was the one trained by the late King after all, even if they were not related by blood.
The forest grieved also for the King and that night no songs were heard from the woods.
And now in the present, the forest lies as one of the largest and richest of all. Many go there for courage challenges or playing mischief on Halloween. But there are few who stop laughing, screaming or eating sweets, and stand to hear at the forest singing.
Even fewer are those who can sometimes catch a glimpse of two beautiful nightingales, a pair which always fly together and sing at the night, seeking the beauty of the moon, inseparable forever.