I would just like to let everyone know before you start this story that it is not complete on this site any longer. The reason for this is my attempts at finding a literary agent in order to sell this book to a publisher. I have left up the first few chapters in hopes of continuing to stir up interest in the book, in the event that I am able to be published. These are sample chapters, nothing more. If you're interested in the progress of this book, please check my profile, where I will update any status changes.
Please, feel free to read the chapters that are here. Thank you.
Once, there were three sons.
Their father gave to each a number of beautiful things, of which they were to choose one for keeping.
To his eldest son, he gave four beautiful things; to the second son, he gave three; and to the youngest, he gave two.
The eldest son threw all of his beautiful things into the wind and then began to chase them, but once he had found them all, there were none left for keeping.
The second son took his beautiful things and showed them his soul, but they did not understand.
The youngest son was so displeased with his beautiful things that he threw them into the sea.
The brothers were left with nothing. There was no more beauty anywhere.
Their father was very disappointed.
The Needle's Eye
Is it still out there?
The old man wondered this as he sat, staring off into the distance. Beyond a stretch of water that receded from the coast and slid easily into the greater mass of sea, an island had once been visible from the village. The mere width of the isle had been as large as the mainland township itself, and it was not only set apart, but elevated to a higher level in order to loom over everything of lesser standing. Despite the proud, superiority of the land, it was not the surface of the rock itself that had inspired the old man in the days of his youth to lift his eyes and regard the island. What truly attracted a young boy's fancy was the castle that sat on the island's highest point, surrounded by a forest of jutting evergreens.
The structure had always seemed so distant and dark, sitting ominously on the horizon. The castle was adorned with high turrets and towers, the shadows of which fell across the surface of the evening sea, pointing at the village like sharpened spears. It had once been his dream to explore that castle, but the time for that had passed. A blessing or a curse, the fog had come, and the island called Needle's Eye had vanished from sight. For those few who were able to remember it, the island and the castle that sat upon it were hardly more than a distant memory –
And a recurring nightmare, the old man frown deepened.
He sat quietly now – restfully – looking out over the sea as far as his failing eyes would lead him until the fog shielded the horizon like an intimidating sentinel. Did the castle still stand beyond that haze, walls crumbling and tapestries musty with mold? Or had the sea finally claimed the island it sat on, like it should have done ages ago? More important than that: was he the only one still wondering these things? Not one of them in the village – even those who might have pondered as he did – would ever know the truth, he supposed. All anyone could do was as he did now: to look over the water and speculate. Most though, he guessed, would rather forget.
But will it do any good to block it from our minds? He considered. Is pretending that wretched monstrosity isn't there as good as knowing it's not?
How many days had passed since the tragedy? How many memories could he count past that painful one? Yet every day that he looked out over the sea, he wondered the very same things that had just passed through his mind.
What happened to you, my sister? Why didn't you come home?
The thought that all these questions would never be answered was not simply a fear in the old man's decaying mind, but a harsh reality. He'd come to terms with that point long ago. It was odd to think, now, that the place had once seemed so fantastic.
"Tell us a story, grandfather. You promised us one before chores!"
"Yes! Do make it about pirates!"
"But with a handsome prince!"
The eager voices broke into the old man's thoughts, pulling him back to the present in the way that a bit commanded a stubborn horse. He sighed heavily through his nose, past hairs that were long and neglected. Just for a moment, he had nearly forgotten that he was old – had nearly forgotten that past horrors were long dead. He'd almost forgotten his darlings.
The old man turned back from the sea and looked appraisingly over the three young girls who sat on the ground before him, each watching him with anxious eyes and attentive ears. They were the children of his only son, and he adored them above all else. The three girls were the only twinkles that remained in his yellowing eyes, and they looked to him with just as much love. A little smile passed over the grandfather's lips as the wind coursed through his thin hair. In this silence after they had made their request, he began to prepare his pipe distractedly, musing over the three of them.
Tell us a story, grandfather. The one to remind him of his promise was the youngest girl, Emily. Her eyes were large and dark, seeming to take up the whole of her small face. The child appeared like some carefully-made doll with porcelain skin, fragile and lovely. She was hardly outspoken, but when there were stories to be told, her shyness suddenly seemed to vanish, leading the way for interest and curiosity to take control.
Yes! Do make it about pirates! The second child to speak, requiring an adventure-filled tale of pirates was, in fact, the second-born. She was called Delia, and the grandfather often considered her to be more like a grandson than a granddaughter. She was more interested in climbing trees and rocks than wearing pretty dresses and practicing to be a young woman, but that was just as well with the old man.
But with a handsome prince! The hopeless romantic at eleven who had begged for a handsome prince was the eldest girl, Elizabeth. She was gentle and beautiful, and was what the elder women called 'a proper girl'. She would grow to have manners and grace. Though still a child herself, Elizabeth looked after her sisters in a motherly fashion, and since they no longer had a mother, it was very well that she should.
When the old man had finished with his pipe and lifted his faded blue eyes, the girls were still looking at him expectantly, alert beautiful things at eleven, nine, and eight years. Ah, to be so young again! To be so innocent! The smile fell from his face as if it was a portrait that had been hung poorly. Along with it, the frame of his fair mood shattered against the ground. What was he doing, wasting so much time? Since Elizabeth's birth, he had made plans within his own mind to pass on the story that no one else would tell. He had not thought he'd reveal it to this generation so soon, but one never knew how much time was left to do such things. Could he risk death, or worse: forgetting? At his age, waiting was a careless gamble.
"I'm sorry, my dears; no pirates or princes today. We're going to have a very different sort of story."
The grandfather puffed small, wavering clouds of smoke into the air. His lined mouth appeared grave, though he was unconscious of the expression. While Elizabeth and Emily seemed to comprehend his somber face and kept their silence accordingly, it was lost on Delia.
"How could there possibly be something more interesting than pirates?" asked the second-born incredulously. "Well, I suppose dragons will do."
"Delia," Elizabeth scolded lightly. "Don't be so bold."
A bit of the broken smile returned to the old man's face, opposing the downward curves of his wrinkles.
"This is a very important story," he went on, drawing their attention back to him and holding a firm expression, "but before I tell you, you have to understand that every word of it is true. It happened in this very village many years ago – back when I was quite a young lad indeed. I want you to listen carefully, and I don't want you to ever forget what I am about to tell you. Do you think you can do that?"
The children each nodded slowly, more awestruck that ever before. It was not the old man's intention to build suspense for the mere sake of their anticipation, but he paused a brief moment in preparation – and respect – for the tale.
"I don't suppose any one of you girls has heard of the Needle's Eye?"
Elizabeth titled her head, while Emily shook hers mildly, at a loss.
"I have," said Delia, sitting up straighter in her green summer dress. Her bare toes dug into the earth.
The old man threw her a skeptical eye while holding a tender smile on his aged lips.
"Now, now, Delia, my dear; you know that isn't true. If anyone had told you, it would have been me, and I know very well that I have not."
Delia giggled and threw a hand over her mischievous mouth.
"What is the needles eye?" inquired small Emily in a hushed voice.
From his perch on a rock, the old man turned his head to look out over the sea.
"Look there – to the fog."
He motioned with his pipe, and the girls looked where he had directed them, nodding their heads as if they'd never seen the fog before, when in truth it had been around the village for their entire lives. The thick sheet of mist hung less than a half-league out from the shore, and even on the clearest day, it hovered like an old ghost. Because of its presence, the open water could not be seen, and the girls knew of nothing beyond the jutting land where their village rested. It was forbidden by superstition to sail through the fog, and so the village was no longer a charted port. Those from the village who needed to sail traveled by foot or wagon to the next town along the coast – beyond the fog's reach – and set out from there. Even the young sisters, with the freedoms that their rowboat gave them, were sufficiently afraid of the fog's omen, though they knew not why.
The subject was taboo, and the old man knew this, but it was history. These children – and generations to come – deserved to know the truth. The story had to be told.
"The fog was not always surrounding us," he announced to the girls, pausing afterward to witness their reaction.
There were murmurs of confusion from all three of them. Certainly they had spent half their lives with whys and why nots about the fog, and yet no one would speak a word. To hear him say this was surprising.
"I thought the fog had always been there," Elizabeth said in such a reasonable way that she might have convinced anyone to agree. "I imagined Moses must have sailed his ark through it once."
"Noah," Emily amended faintly.
After a short moment for the correction to sink in, Elizabeth gasped, putting her hands to her face in embarrassment for her confusion over the biblical tales.
"Oh, how dreadful…"
The old man couldn't help but hold his smile, but there were more unpleasant thoughts running through the back of his mind. Where was Moses, or Noah, or any of them when Sarah had needed help?
"You girls might think the fog has always been there, but that isn't so. I remember a day when I could look out and view waves for as far as my young eye could see!" he exclaimed as the children drew in gasps of surprise. "But it is not like that now. The fog seems very commonplace to you three, but I think you should know the truth of it."
The children's dark eyes widened with the growing suspense. He knew what they were thinking. The girls believed that they were finally to have their continual questions about the fog answered. The old man hoped he could appease, and it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps they were just young enough to accept his story as truth. If he'd waited any longer, the tale might have slipped beyond their ability to believe. He could not even imagine trying to explain it to his own son, a grown man now. This might be his one chance. He spoke softly, but as seriously as he could.
"Somewhere past the fog, there is an island called the Needle's Eye. Many years ago, a lord lived in a castle on that island, where years of ancestors had lived before him. He did not dwell there alone, however, for he had three sons who were with him. Each son was from a different mother, and each of those mothers died birthing her son. The lord went to and fro from his keep, but his children rarely left the island – if at all – and since so few had ever seen those sons, there was always speculative talk.
"It was said that the lord's grown sons were the handsomest sort of men that God could ever have created – but of course that was only rumored. No one in the village knew it to be true by their own eyes, but servants on errands from the castle had said it was so. It was also said that because of their secluded life on the island, the young men were quite difficult and a bit eccentric."
The storyteller paused and looked over the faces of his audience. Elizabeth had seemed thrilled that the sons were very handsome, but now appeared rather crestfallen, as if knowing now that those three were to be the villains of this tale. Delia looked to be anxiously awaiting the horrific climax of the story, and Emily stared on, taking in every word.
"It was said that the lord's sons were mad, but that also, my little ones, was only a rumor." Slight relief showed on the girls' faces. He continued.
"One day, when I was very young – younger than any of you even! – the lord sent a missive to the village, asking for the presence of all the young maidens within marrying age so that his sons might take wives from among them. I was young, that is true, but I remember excitement as every girl begged to go and see the young men they had whispered so much about.
"Now, you girls know that this is not a very large village, even in those days when it was a bit better, and so there were not so many maidens to send. There were also fathers who forbid their daughters to go, for they disliked the idea to its core. But as one comes to learn, anxious young women cannot be restrained from their curious fantasies. On a night when the sea was lit by a full moon, nine young women began to row toward the Needle's Eye."
"They went even though they were told not to?" innocent young Emily asked in a subdued whisper.
"They should not have disobeyed," the old man said firmly.
"Is this supposed to be frightening?" Delia inquired skeptically, pulling her knees to her chest.
Frightening? He might have scolded her if she'd not been so rightfully naïve. Taking care, he bit back his frustration. His lids sank down to rest against each other briefly as his few remaining teeth clenched together in his mouth.
So tired of this weight. Ready to have it off my chest. Sister…
"None of those girls ever came back."
The words silenced the children and gripped their attentions once more. There was an unconscious tick at the corner of the man's mouth, but he could not allow himself to stop at the harshness of this old memory.
"As you might imagine for yourselves, once many fathers and protective young men realized that the girls had gone off on their own accord, they went to the island after them. They marched to the castle and beat upon the door, but no one responded. They waited for hours, until a group of servants appeared to them. The men were told that the girls were well taken care of, and that there were plenty of servants to look after them. There was quite a bit of fuss, but eventually, the men from the village were forced to leave without what they had come for.
"A couple of days passed after that, and then a confusing surprise came. There were small boats on the horizon, and a great number of the castle's servants arrived in the village. They had been sent away, they said, by their young masters. Only a select few caretakers had been allowed to remain at the castle. The lord was apparently absent, and the sons had taken over the castle for themselves. The former servants feared for the young ladies, saying this from their own mouths, but they could not say exactly what they feared. Once again, men from the village went to the castle. They were not received, no matter how long they waited.
"Soon afterward, the fog came. None of the nine girls ever returned, and no one has been to or from the island since. Not even the lord was ever heard from again."
"What happened to the girls?" asked Emily. Her brown eyes were wide and absorbed.
"To this day, no one knows, my dear," the old man said gravely, puffing his pipe. "Some say the sea swallowed them on their return. Others…well. Others say other things."
The old man rocked back on his perch, feeling an ounce of relief, watching the beautiful young children as they gathered their thoughts.
"Perhaps the young men chose the ones to be their wives, and then felt sorry for the rest, and sent the other servants away so that the girls could become workers in the castle instead," Elizabeth suggested.
"Or perhaps the sons did not like any of the girls and had them all put to death," Delia said with certainty.
The words made the grandfather's teeth grind together again. Ignorance was terribly cruel, but he must hold his tongue. He'd chosen this way for himself.
"The truth is unknown," he sighed, pushing the thoughts away, "and I suspect it will always be thus. There remains, however, a very serious lesson."
The children anticipated his words, but no doubt had very separate opinions in their minds concerning what he would reveal to them as the moral of this story. That was why the old man's words seemed to surprise them when he revealed the answer.
"Stay clear of the fog."
The old man knew that the girls had been given this warning from their youngest days of comprehension, and it was nothing new for them to hear it again now. The story did little to heighten their fear of the fog, but that had only been part of his intention. Not many in the village understood that the fog was truly there for protection against evils unfathomable. But he did. He knew the mist should never be passed.
"One other thing," the elder told the girls while they remained silent in their thoughts. "What I have just told you is forbidden subject matter. The truth will soon be forgotten as the years pass, but those who remember it, such as myself, would not like to hear it be spoken of openly in the village. Do a credit to me and keep the story to yourselves until you also are old."
The girls nodded. The old man knew they were good children, or he would not have told them this secret story. They would do as he asked, for they hadn't any peers they might like to share it with, but on the chance that they might speak it to someone, it would have simply been out of his control.
"Now then!" the old man said. "You've had your story. I believe it is time for chores."
The children groaned, but rose up nonetheless, each of them giving him kisses before they raced home to clean and cook before their father returned from his fishing, which was still a fruitful task within the fog's boundary. Once the girls were gone from his sight, the old man turned to look behind him, gazing at the fog – off to a place where the castle on Needle's Eye was once clearly visible from the village. A frown beset his face once again, but when he became aware of it, he shook it away. This was an old grudge, but he had spread the truth on now. It would not die with him and the other elders – as the rest might have preferred. Later on in years, when children looked at the fog and asked 'why?' someone would be able to answer them. Still, that thought did not sweeten lingering bitterness.
"Sarah," the old man whispered into the wind.
Sarah did not answer back.
For years, the girls kept the secret that they had been handed. Beyond their grandfather's point to make them fear the fog, each sister had her own opinion of what the story truly meant.
Elizabeth thought it must have meant that a plain, village girl should not be anxious in thinking that she might be the desire of a rich, young nobleman.
Delia thought that it must mean that a girl should know how to take care of herself without relying on a man to rescue her.
Emily believed that the lesson was to be cautious, and to not be foolish like those girls in the story. One should be obedient, and not let her curiosity get the best of her.
Each of those beliefs was a lesson learned that day, and they were all held as correct. Despite differences in opinion, the sisters held the story in their hearts as if it was true, and did as the old man had asked them by keeping it secret. Though they would not disobey, they were considerably enchanted by the mystery that lurked past the haze. They never mentioned it to anyone – never even bringing it up again to the old man. They only spoke of it in whisperings to each other and when they were alone on their boat, imagining that, in the distance past the fog, they could see the castle on the Needle's Eye.