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  • Writer's pictureEnchanted Conversation

The Prophecy by K. L. Shailer

A persistent tapping at his door wakened the ferryman from an exhausted sleep. He thought he glimpsed flames outside his window and feared a bomb had landed near his hut. But when he opened the door, two agitated young men stood before him.

“We must get to the other side of the river as quickly as possible,” they insisted.

He nodded and pointed to his boat. “Give me a moment,” he said and watched as they suddenly appeared to shine with a light of their own. Will-o’-the-wisps? he wondered. He donned his white helmet and a few minutes later they were rowing across the wide river. Stormy winds churned the waters, but his passengers kept jumping from one side of the boat to the other.

“Please sit still or we’ll capsize,” he cried. When they reached the other shore and the young men started to disembark, he asked for his fare. The two shook from head to toe, dropping gold coins into the bottom of the boat. “Stop!” he yelled. “I accept only the fruits of the earth.”

The two laughed and continued shaking. “Please,” he implored. “Take it all back. If gold falls into the river, it will rise up and swallow us.”

“We cannot take back what we have given, but we’ll bring your vegetables later today.”

They jumped ashore and ran off, leaving the old man to dispose of the gold pieces. He rowed downstream until he came to some rocks where he tossed the gold into a deep crevice. The loud clattering of metal against rock disturbed a long green serpent who lived in the rocky terrain. She ate a few coins and realized her long belly had begun to glow. This stirred a memory of a prophetic tale. Hungrily she consumed every piece of gold. Maybe the prophecy is coming true! But as she slithered across the rocks, her inner light began to dim. Traveling upstream, she saw lights dancing in a meadow above the riverbank.

“Hello,” she called. “I’m looking for the source of some gold coins I found.”

“That would be us,” cried the young men with cheery voices and began to shake from head to toe. The serpent could not believe her good fortune as gold coins rolled toward her.

“Why are you here?” she asked them.

“We came to dance for the Beautiful Lily and the Vibrant Rose. Can you tell us how to find them?”

“The garden of the Lily and the Rose is on the other side of the river,” she told them.

“Oh, dear,” they moaned, “and we just crossed in such stormy weather. But we can ride back with the ferryman when he comes again.

“Well, no, you can’t. The ferryman can bring passengers only to this side of the river. To get back, you must either cross with me when I form a bridge at noon, or you can find the shadow of the giant and cross with him at dawn or dusk.”

“Thank you,” they said, shaking more coins onto the grass and off they went to find the giant.

The green serpent licked up all the gold pieces and admired her brilliant reflection in the river. Back in her rocky terrain, it occurred to her that she now possessed the light to explore a tunnel she had long been curious about. She knew it led to a grand rotunda, but she could never see the details. The moment she entered the large hall, her belly illuminated four mysterious figures, each partially hidden in a niche. The first, wearing a crown of oak leaves, shone with a golden light as he stepped toward her. Two other statues, one silver and one bronze, also stepped forward into the light. The silver king was ornately dressed, with a jewel-studded crown and a silver scepter. The bronze king was clothed in armor and carried a heavy sword.

“Where have you come from?” they asked the serpent.

“This is my home,” she answered and moved deeper into the cave to get a better look at the silent fourth figure. He appeared to be a composite of all three metals, but insufficiently amalgamated. Just as he was about to speak, a crevice in the wall opened and an old man carrying a lamp appeared.  

“Why are you here? We have light,” said the silver king.

“As you know, my lamp cannot illuminate darkness; it can only enhance and make manifest the inner light.”

Hearing this, the serpent whispered something into the old man’s ear. He turned to the others and cried, “The time is at hand!” His words echoed throughout the hall causing the metal statues to vibrate and ring. With that, the old man ran back though the crevice to the west, while the snake rushed out to the east.

As the old man approached his hut, he heard his wife and children sobbing. “What is the cause of this misery?” he asked.

“Two young men threatened to burn down our house if we did not agree to pay the ferryman their fare.” The children were most upset by the death of their cat. “They scattered gold coins all over the hut and our dear little kitty ate a piece and died.”

The old man calmed his family and told them to place the dead kitten in a basket with as many vegetables from their garden as they could carry down to the river. “The vegetables are for the ferryman, including what he needs to appease the river. But take the kitten to the Beautiful Lily and the Vibrant Rose, for only they can bring it back to life.” The sisters were blessed with the touch that could restore life to the lifeless but cursed to bring death to any living thing that came in contact with them.

As the family arrived at the riverbank, the ferryman was just arriving with a taciturn young man holding a walking stick entwined with sprigs of jasmine. After the wife paid the ferryman his vegetables, the family—joined now by the young man—proceeded along the river toward a distant green bridge that would carry them across to the garden of the Lily and the Rose. When the wife explained to the young man why they were carrying the dead kitten to the two sisters, he reached down and lovingly stroked its ears. “How I envy this tiny animal for I yearn to embrace the sisters but know that their touch would spell instant death for me.”

Once they had crossed the bridge, the glittering span became slack, and the serpent dropped into the water and swam ashore in time to join the procession. The garden where Lily and Rose lived had become a refuge to people from across the region. There had been fighting among the many factions for so long, no one could quite remember what they were fighting about. They all loved the land and they all loved Lily and Rose, that was clear. But peace eluded them as they waited for the ancient prophecy to play out. Indeed, even as the group crossed the river and made its way to the garden, air raid sirens wailed in the distance and bombs struck both sides of the river, ever closer to the protected garden.

The air was dense with smoke as one by one each member of the procession entered the garden and presented themselves to the sisters, beginning with the wife who placed the basket holding the dead kitten at their feet. “My old man asked me to tell you that just when misfortune seems greatest, you must see it as a sign of good luck, for the time is at hand.” Lily looked at the woman and suppressed a sob. “Can it be?” Rose bent down to pick up the little animal and instantly it came to life, running and jumping all around the garden.

Next, the young man approached, but he became so overcome with desire that he ran toward Lily and could not stop himself. Rose held out her arms to warn him off, but no sooner had he touched her hand than he dropped dead on the spot. Everyone stared in horror at the scene. Lily and Rose dissolved in tears, barely able to stand. The green serpent rushed forward and encircled the lifeless body of the young man with her own, holding her tail in her mouth and creating a magic circle that would protect him. They all remained motionless as the day wore on and twilight began to settle over the garden. Finally, the green snake lifted her head and shouted for someone to go and find the old man with the lamp. The wife sent one of her sons and presently the old man joined the throng surrounding the magic circle, as did the two will-o’-the-wisps.

Holding his lamp high above his head, the old man’s light intermingled with the beams emanating from the serpent, creating an otherworldly aura. He instructed Lily and Rose to hold hands and as Rose placed a hand on the serpent while Lily grasped the arm of the young man, the boy immediately stirred and took a deep breath. The old man leaned down to the green serpent, “Have you decided?” “Yes,” she replied. “I shall sacrifice myself in the name of love and peace.”

Immediately upon saying this, her body disintegrated into a circle of precious emeralds. The old man and his family quickly gathered them up and tossed them into the river. No sooner had they finished this task than the ground began to shake, and the huge stone temple rose up and settled on the riverbank. “This time we must enter through the main portals,” said the old man and he showed the will-o’-the-wisps the great bronze doors secured by a golden lock. They made short work of the lock, and the doors sprang open, revealing the four kings.

 “Where do you come from?” asked the gold king.

“From the world,” said the old man.

“What do you want with us?” asked the others.

The old man held his lamp close to the four statues. “All shall be clear,” he said, “for the time is at hand.” He led Lily, Rose, and the young man to the foot of a high staircase where the kings had fallen to their knees.

“There are three things that rule the earth.” The old man spoke in a voice loud enough for all to hear. “Wisdom, empathy, and power.” As he recited these things, each of the kings stood in turn. Meanwhile the will-o’-the-wisps clung to the composite king, licking away the gold vein that traversed his form. In a last desperate attempt to ward them off, he grabbed one and flung it at the other kings. Suddenly flames engulfed all four figures and they quickly melted into a pool of molten metal that seeped into the green gemstone foundation. Lily picked up the oakleaf crown and placed it on her head; Rose salvaged the sword in its bronze scabbard and put it on; the young man found the silver scepter and cradled it in his arm. Then, the old man led the three up the stairs and held their hands high in the air. “If we unite and everyone does their duty, a universal happiness will resolve each individual’s pain. Love and sacrifice,” he said, “form the foundation of this new world. Remember that and honor the serpent.”

As the rising sun shone through an opening in the domed roof, he pointed to the river below where a massive bridge was crowded with not just individuals, but also cars and transports, moving freely from one shore to the other. Beyond the bridge, what appeared to be a lighthouse proved to be the petrified figure of the giant, arm raised over his head, holding the old man’s lantern, its wondrous light erasing all trace of shadows from the land.  

K. L.  Shailer is a lifelong student of German and Scandinavian Romanticism, fairy tales, and myths. Her stories have appeared in CommuterLit and Uproar; in 2022 she won first place in the Canadian Authors Association’s inaugural flash fiction contest. She lives and writes in southwest Ontario and BC’s lower mainland.           

Image: The Prophecy (Charon and Psyche) by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope.



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