Title: The Sparrow Prince.
Archiving: Just ask.
Disclaimer: not mine. Wait, technically, this one might actually be mine since it's completely AU and the name Draco isn't exactly copyrighted.
Notes: this is a sleepy little AU fairytale that has nothing whatsoever to do with Harry Potter.
Huge hugs and thanks to littlealex
for betaing. :)
This is for orphne
, with love.
The Sparrow Prince
nce upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, there lived a boy named Draco, who was the fairest in all the land. Being the fairest, he was, naturally, heir to a very large fortune; and it was difficult to say whether the large fortune did not in fact make him all the fairer. At sixteen, he never wanted for suitors, and his mother and father made sure that his hands never knew roughness.
It came to pass that the boy’s house fell into disgrace; his father was stripped of his lands and all his fine possessions before being sent to a far-away land to work for his bread. With nothing left to her but her name, Draco’s mother gathered her few belongings and took him to live in a tiny hut on the edge of a great mountain where the wind rattled the thin walls and turned their blood to ice. The cold threatened to ruin Draco’s complexion, and so every day he sat by the fire, warming himself, while his mother gathered nettles, the only thing growing on the mountainside, and wove them into fishing nets.
One day she called Draco to the edge of the cliff at the edge of the great mountain where their little hut sat. She stretched out her hand and said, ‘All this was once ours—the earth and the heavens, too. And now we cannot afford even to buy bread. You must take these nets down to the village by the sea, the village at the end of the world, and sell them in exchange for bread and kindling. You must do this, or we shall starve.’
‘But mother,’ said Draco, ‘the nettles are rough and will prick my fine hands.’
‘Then wear you these gloves I have sewn from my skirts.’
‘But mother,’ said Draco, ‘the nets are too many—how can they be bound?’
‘Take you this rope I have spun from my hair.’
‘But mother,’ said Draco, ‘the load is so heavy—how can it be borne?’
‘Take you my walking stick to shoulder the pack.’
And so they bound the nets with Draco’s mother’s golden hair, and tied it to her cane; and sliding on his soft new calico gloves, Draco shouldered the load of nets and set off down the mountain.
Many leagues he traveled without sign of a single living creature, for the mountain was very remote; but at last he came to the place where the sea touches the shore, that place known as the end of the world. There, Draco was eagerly welcomed and praised by all who admired his beauty, and all through the village it was whispered that surely this stranger was the handsomest boy in all the world.
Because of his beauty, Draco had no trouble selling the nets his mother had woven—indeed, some men were so bewitched they paid double what the nets were worth. But Draco was eager to enjoy having money of his own to spend again, and so he decided to delay his return for a few days while he explored the village. His days were spent sightseeing and buying, while his nights were spent carousing in each of the various inns and taverns about town.
One evening into the tavern came a young man, a boy with eyes as green as holly, as bright as the sea beneath the sun. Intrigued by the sight of the boy, Draco offered him a drink and a place at his table. But the boy refused both. Looking Draco up and down he said with scorn, ‘So you’re the famed beauty I’ve been hearing about. Why, you’re nothing but a cat-eyed calico.’
Everyone laughed loudly at the newcomer’s joke, but Draco, affronted and angry, seized upon the scar that lined the other boy’s forehead. ‘Why should a cat care for the taunts of the prince of sparrows?’ he said. ‘You should be careful lest I pounce upon you and rip off your wings.’
From that day forth, the boy was known as the Sparrow Prince.
Yet even after the boy with the holly-green eyes as bright as the sea had departed the tavern, his taunts continued to bother Draco, and upon leaving that night, he resolved that he would set off for home again the very next day.
But when he went to pay for his bread and kindling, he found that he had squandered all of the money he had earned from the sale of his mother’s nets. He did not have enough for even a stick of wood for the fire. He tried first to borrow money, but no one wanted to lend. At last he was forced to sell his mother’s calico gloves so that he could buy a single loaf of bread for his mother. Binding it up with the rope made from her golden hair, he set off for their hut on the mountain.
Many leagues he traveled before he arrived once again at the hut where he had left his mother. Yet when he entered, he found the hut deserted. He cried out for his mother, but there was no sign of her.
‘I am sure she has gone out to gather nettles,’ he thought. ‘I will wait for her to come back.’
The day wore away and she did not return. The night was lonely and cold, and Draco, who had grown unused to the chill of the wind, had nothing to build a fire save for his mother’s walking stick. ‘She will not need it,’ he thought. ‘Look, clearly she is out walking already.’ And so he threw the walking stick onto the hearth.
Instantly there arose such a flame as he had never seen before—it was so bright that Draco had to shield his eyes, and so hot that he had to back across the room.
Suddenly out of the flames there stepped a beautiful cat with golden hair. ‘Do not be afraid,’ it said to Draco. ‘I am the spirit of your mother, who, before she died, consigned her body to ashes and her soul to embers.’
‘You mean my mother is dead?’ cried Draco.
‘Yes,’ replied the cat, ‘and but for your selfishness she might have lived. She died awaiting your return, having given you all she had.’
‘Is there nothing,’ cried Draco in despair, ‘nothing that can be done to bring her back?’
‘Only one thing,’ the cat replied. ‘You must sail across the sea at the end of the world, to the Kingdom of Riches. There you must beseech the King of Kings to give you a fruit from the Tree of All Things, which holds that which is universal, yet cannot be found anywhere in the world. Feed me the fruit, and your mother shall be restored to you.’
‘But how shall I find this Kingdom and this Tree?’ said Draco.
‘You must return to the village at the end of the world,’ replied the cat. ‘One is there who knows the way.’
‘I will do this,’ said Draco, and then he began to weep. For many days he mourned, until his complexion lost its luster, his eyes their glimmer, and his hair its sheen. He grew frail, and when at last it was time, he braided the cord of his mother’s hair into his own, and set off with the cat for the village at the end of the world.
For many leagues he traveled, and when at last he arrived at the village by the sea, he found it much changed. It was a somber place where few smiled, and so surprised was he by the difference that he asked the keeper of the inn where he stayed what had happened to cause everyone’s faces to droop.
‘We are ruled by the kingdom across the sea,’ said the innkeeper, ‘the Kingdom of Riches, which has lately been beset upon by a terrible dragon who has ravaged the land. Many have tried to slay it, but all have died, and everyone fears it will come here next if it is not stopped.’
‘But that is where I must go,’ said Draco, ‘to the Kingdom of Riches.’
‘You will have no luck finding any ships departing for that shore,’ said the innkeeper.
‘Yet I was told there was one who knows the way,’ said Draco. But in the days to come he discovered that the innkeeper was right. No boats set out for the shore across the sea at the end of the world.
‘No one who sets out for the kingdom across the sea ever comes back,’ they told him, one after another.
‘But how then do you know of the dragon?’ he would ask, and they would shrug.
And so it went, and Draco grew weary of trying to find a ship that would sail to the kingdom across the sea at the end of the world. His face grew long and lean, and his hands grew rough; he began standing on the docks to ask each ship as it came to port, ‘Have you come from the Kingdom of Riches?’ The villagers all said he was in his madness. His hair and his nails grew long, his clothing unkempt; he barely ate, and he slept for a few hours each night at the docks, with his strange cat curled by his side.
There came a bright day, when the sun was high in the sky, and the sea was green as holly, and Draco stood on the docks looking out across the sea, to where he thought the Kingdom of Riches might lay beyond the horizon. Suddenly, at the juncture between sea and sky, appeared a huge, magnificent ship with all its sails drawn and gleaming in the sun. Draco felt a great tide rise in his stomach. He followed the ship with his eyes as it approached, then ran down to the dock where it was lowering its anchor.
‘Have you come from the Kingdom of Riches?’ he shouted anxiously to the first sailor who disembarked.
‘Yes, only just,’ said the sailor. ‘We’ve come to amass an army to fight the great dragon.’
‘I want to join your army,’ said Draco.
‘You?’ said the sailor, looking him over. ‘You’re nothing but bones and rags. But talk to our captain—he’ll know your worth when he sees you.’
Draco did not have to ask how he would know the captain, because at that moment he caught sight of the captain descending from the ship. It was the boy with eyes as green as holly, as bright as the sea. He had grown into a fine young man: he stood taller, his shoulders were broader, and the brightness of his eyes had hardened into a fierce intensity. For the first time since he had arrived at the village, Draco felt ashamed of his haggard appearance and his unkempt clothes. Still, with what little hope was left to him, he went to speak to the Sparrow Prince.
To his great relief, when he approached, the young man appeared not to know him. He raised an eyebrow and looked Draco over with some distaste.
‘Is it true you are sailing to the Kingdom of Riches?’ Draco asked.
‘Aye, we set out again in a fortnight’s time,’ said the Sparrow Prince.
‘Is it true you’re gathering an army?’
‘It is, but what would you want with that?’ said the Sparrow Prince. ‘Haven’t you heard we go to battle the fiercest dragon in all the land?’
‘I wish to join your army,’ said Draco.
The Sparrow Prince scoffed. ‘You? You’re barely standing as it is. The first puff of the dragon’s nostrils would singe you to a crisp.’
‘Please, I must come with you,’ said Draco.
At this the Sparrow Prince paused. ‘Can you cook?’ he said, after thinking it over.
‘Yes,’ lied Draco.
‘Very well,’ said the Sparrow Prince. ‘I shall keep you aboard as a galley cook for the two weeks my sailors are on leave. You shall cook for me and do my bidding, and it I am satisfied with your services at the end of the fortnight, you shall come with us to the Kingdom of Riches.’
Draco was much moved at this, and bent to kiss the hem of the captain’s garment in the tradition of his family; but already the Sparrow Prince was moving away, giving no more thought to Draco. Draco was left to make his way on board and move his few belongings below deck. The ship was cold and drafty, and reminded Draco greatly of the hunt on the mountainside; only instead of the wind whipping through the cracks in the wood, seawater leaked onto the floor, and barnacles and algae sent him slipping and sliding when he walked.
He had never cooked in his life and was very afraid lest he be sent from the ship in disgrace; yet the first night the captain stayed on shore and did not send him any orders. The next morning, however, Draco was awakened from sleep in his tiny bunk in the galley by a sailor holding out three large gold coins.
‘The captain pays you for your services and requests you purchase food for the journey,’ he said.
Draco was amazed, since he had heard nothing from the captain since the day before. Still, he made careful note of what supplies the ship already had and went ashore to purchase quantities enough to feed an entire army—for the captain had given him money enough to feed the ship’s crew and passengers three times over, at least. Having seen the supplies delivered aboard, he returned ashore. With part of the remaining money he purchased a sturdy new set of clothes, trimmed his hair, and took a hot bath for the first time in ages. When at last he stepped back aboard the ship that evening, he felt more himself than he had in weeks.
The Sparrow Prince greeted him, his brows furrowed in anger and impatience so that his scar was more pronounced than ever. ‘Where have you been?’ he demanded, paying Draco’s changed appearance no attention. ‘I am hungry. Your orders await you below.’
Quickly Draco hurried down to the galley, where his heart sank. The captain was calling for a large order of venison stew. Not only was there no venison with which to make the broth aboard ship, there was no venison to be found anywhere in the village, for venison was scarce throughout the land.
Draco, feeling that the Sparrow Prince must have known the impossibility of his request, was about to curse his captain’s cruelty when the cat spoke.
‘Cook the ingredients you have and squeeze a few drops of blood from your finger into the broth,’ it said. ‘Then pull a strand of your mother’s golden hair and place it in the pot.’
Draco gathered the ingredients he had, cooked them, and spilt a few drops of blood into the broth. Then he took the strand of his mother’s hair, placed it in the pot, and sang:‘Mother, oh Mother, with your blood I brew;
Favor my fortunes and flavor this stew.’
Then he tasted the broth, and found that it was as fine a taste of venison as any cook had ever produced.
He soon produced the stew for the Sparrow Prince. The Sparrow Prince tasted the stew, said coldly, ‘This is hardly adequate,’ and said no more until he was finished eating. Then he rose and departed with an order for Draco to clean the kitchens and have his breakfast ready early the next morning. Draco, frustrated and lonely, did as he asked and went to bed, feeling certain he would not last the week.
In this way the days passed quickly. Each night the captain would demand a dish more outlandish and extravagant than the next, and each night, with the cat’s help, Draco would pull a strand from his mother’s hair and flavor the dish just as the Sparrow Prince requested. Each day he worked twice as hard as the day before, cleaning and scrubbing the galleys like any slave, storing away supplies, and learning to bake, boil, fry, steam, roast, broil, and brew. Sometimes after eating dinner, the Sparrow Prince would have Draco into his quarters to unlace his boots and press his uniform, and always he would have the same cold assessment for Draco’s performance: ‘Hardly adequate.’ Draco often awoke with the dawn, feeling dull and tired and useless, certain the captain would turn him from the cabin the next day. Each night, however, the captain would send him to bed with his orders for breakfast the following day.
On the thirteenth afternoon of the ship’s stay, Draco was jolted out of his chores by the sound of a shrill whistle on the quarterdeck and the thump, thump, thump of thick boots tromping overhead. Clambering above deck, he beheld a glorious sight: the Sparrow Prince had amassed a huge army, so many Draco doubted they could all fit on board the mighty ship; yet somehow, they did, and now, from his command on the foredeck, the Sparrow Prince was training them all to slay a mighty dragon.
When he spotted Draco peering out from below, the Sparrow Prince barked, ‘You there, get back to your duties.’ Draco obeyed; and for the rest of the day he dreaded the evening meal, feeling certain that the captain would dismiss him the next morning. Yet when he went to bed he received only the usual ‘Hardly adequate,’ and his orders for breakfast.
When he awoke the next morning, they were at sea.
The first few days were hellish indeed, for, having never been at sea before, Draco was completely unprepared for the lolling and tossing of the ship on open water, or the sudden changes in weather that would have every man awake and active at all hours of the night. He learned to control his stomach during a swell, and how to stand upright and walk without falling over in the middle of a gale. He learned to rush on deck in a sudden storm and help lower the sails or add to the ballasts.
Overjoyed as he was to have passed the tests the Sparrow Prince had devised for him, Draco could not but wonder what had convinced the Sparrow Prince to allow him to stay; for, with the money he seemed to have at his disposal, he could certainly have hired any number of splendid cooks to sail with him. When he was around the Sparrow Prince, Draco always felt ashamed, for he was reminded of how frivolous and haughty he must have appeared the night they had met long ago, when Draco had taunted the boy for his scar. What a fine man he had grown into! thought Draco more than once. No one could have argued that the Sparrow Prince, with his handsome features and gallant carriage, was a sight for mockery now. It is I, Draco reflected bitterly, who have become the mockery. Indeed, his fine smooth hands, always so pampered in his youth, were now coarse and rough, and his delicate pale features were chiseled into hardness. Had I but been less selfish! I, too, could have had my wealth restored to me, and my mother might live today!
Draco had only one consolation for these bitter reflections: that the Sparrow Prince had never yet recognized him for the proud boy at the tavern. How insignificant Draco must seem to the Sparrow Prince, then as well as now! For they rarely saw each other, except during the mealtimes when the captain would sup with his crew and his army, and at night when Draco would enter the captain’s chambers to help him undress. Draco had his hands full feeding and cleaning up after the hundreds of men aboard the ship, and though now he had a regular galley crew to help, the job did not get any easier. At night the captain rarely spoke to him except to deliver his orders for breakfast the following morning, and to issue the same accolade: ‘Hardly adequate.’ Still, Draco began to grow used to the cold, gruff voice, and as the weeks passed he found himself looking forward most to those few moments in the captain’s cabin each night.
At only one other time during the day did the Sparrow Prince notice Draco. Each afternoon the army the Sparrow Prince had recruited from the port would assemble on deck to practice its drills. The Sparrow Prince would take his place on the foredeck, armed only with his whistle and a look of command. There he would train the soldiers to recognize the signals of the whistle, until they moved as a unit, swift and sure; and to the deck, every day, Draco would be drawn as if by force, to watch and learn and observe, until the captain, spotting him as he always did, ordered, ‘You there! Back to your duties.’ And Draco would go below, his head full of drills and patterns and whistles.
They practiced in the sun and rain: on afternoons when the sunlight lancing off the ocean made it impossible to see, and on afternoons when the sky thundering overhead made it impossible to hear. And always the captain would spot Draco peering out from below deck, watching and learning; until at last, one torrential day when the rain stung Draco’s eyes so badly he could hardly see, the captain saw him there and barked, ‘You there! Fall in line!’
Thus it was that Draco became a soldier for the mercenary army of the Kingdom of Riches.
By day, Draco cooked and cleaned, joining the other sailors only when dining and drilling, or when his assistance was needed on deck during a gale. By night he served the captain and his officers in the captain’s quarters, and waited upon the captain after he retired. Gradually, the Sparrow Prince ceased telling him what to serve and let Draco draw up his own menus. Moreover, as the drills progressed, the Sparrow Prince cast his eye upon Draco more and more frequently, and soon moved him up in the ranks to become a regular officer. Then at last his chores as the cook were given to someone else. But even though Draco no longer ran the galleys or served the captain his dinner, the captain still seemed to require Draco’s presence for a few moments each night, even if it was only to remark to him that his progress, as ever, was hardly adequate.
The voyage to the Kingdom of Riches was long and wearying, lasting many months; and when at last they neared land it seemed to Draco that he had aged a lifetime between one shore and the next. He said a prayer of blessing for the royal family of the land as he stepped onto the soil, for he had not forgotten his mission to retrieve the fruit from the Tree of All Things, which held that which was universal, yet could not be found anywhere in the world.
‘I must go to the royal family and ask the king to grant me a bit of fruit from the tree,’ he vowed to himself. ‘Then I shall return and discharge my duty by fighting in this army against the great dragon.’
Word of the ship’s arrival spread quickly throughout the city, and to the sailors’ great surprise throngs of people, clad all in black, hurried to meet them, wringing their hands and crying praises and thanks for their safe journey. When the Sparrow Prince disembarked, a cheer arose from every side, and all the citizens went down upon their knees for him.
At this the Sparrow Prince’s eyes filled with tears, and he said to one who was near, ‘But what does this mean? What of my father and mother?’
‘Oh, your majesty,’ the villager replied, ‘the dragon has beset the castle. It has killed your mother and father and many others. It has declared itself ruler over us all, and intends to kill you upon your return so that none may conquer it.’
Then all the citizens cried out with one voice, ‘Hail to the King of Riches!’ And thus the astonished sailors and soldiers who had come from the land across the sea learned that their captain, the one they called the Sparrow Prince, was in fact a true king.
Upon hearing this news, the new king’s despair was great, and he went away from the huge throngs of people that were gathered there. Seeing him go, Draco followed at a distance. The Sparrow Prince led him out of town to the top of a great hill, where Draco could look over the city and see the billowing smoke from the ruins of the castle, and the hulking black shape of the great dragon.
The Sparrow Prince sat down in the middle of a small clearing. There, he wept, and sang softly: Oh, mother, oh father, oh where have you gone?
Would I had stayed here and fought for the throne.
Now all your strength must become my own—
Oh, forgive me, forgive your poor wand’ring son!
When he heard the Sparrow Prince’s song, and saw his sadness, Draco, who had been hidden in the brush, stepped forward and made his presence known. Kneeling before the Sparrow Prince, he said, ‘Oh, great king, do not weep. Turn your vengeance into victory. Let us march against the dragon. I am at your command.’
Drying his tears, the Sparrow Prince looked down at Draco. ‘How far we have come since the day we met, Cat-Eyes,’ he said with a weary smile.
Draco was astonished, and could scarcely speak a word for mortification. The Sparrow Prince continued gently, ‘I recognized you the moment you approached me that day on the docks. I wondered what had caused such a change in your fortunes. You had been so haughty, and I relished the prospect of having power over you. The trials I devised for you when we began our journey were done out of my arrogance. I wanted to humble your pride, but it is I who have been humbled instead.’
In shame Draco hung his head. ‘I am not worthy of calling myself your subject,’ he said, and he recounted his exploits since that fateful meeting at the tavern—the loss of his mother, his long journey, and the instructions the cat had given him.
‘When we have reclaimed the castle,’ said the Sparrow Prince when Draco had finished his tale, ‘You shall have all the fruit from any tree in the orchard you desire—and may it end your quest at last.’
Together they went back down the hill to the city, where the surviving members of the King’s cabinet were anxious to speak with him, and where Draco was all too eager to find a bed that did not roll back and forth as much as he did.
In a few days’ time, the Sparrow Prince and his army were ready to march against the dragon. They set off for the castle. All along the route where they marched, the people of the kingdom cheered them on, and then ran to lock their doors and bar their windows in anticipation of the mighty battle about to begin. When at last the mighty army arrived at the castle gate they found it broken completely off its hinges. Huge chunks were torn out of the stone wall where a large, bony tail had crashed into it. All around was a heavy stench of brimstone, and the air was filled with smoke.
As they were preparing to pass through the damaged gates, a mighty roar came from within, and suddenly the giant dragon sprang up from within the castle ruins. The shadow it cast fell over the entire army, and many drew back, afraid.
‘Who dares to disturb the king of dragons?’ roared the dragon.
‘I am the true king of this land,’ replied the Sparrow Prince in a firm voice. ‘Leave this place at once and we shall let you live in peace.’
In response the dragon let out a mighty roar, and spat out a huge flame that promptly burned up half a dozen soldiers. Great were the cries of alarm, but the Sparrow Prince was not afraid, and on he led them into battle. For many days and nights the battle raged, and despite many casualties, the dragon was driven back and back, into the reaches of the ruined castle.
The further they drove it, the more destruction they found, until at long last they cornered the dragon within the castle orchard. There, the Sparrow Prince called to Draco, and bade him look at the devastation the great beast had wrought: all around the trees lay felled, and not a single thing remained growing in all the gardens.
‘See what becomes of your quest,’ said the Sparrow Prince sadly. ‘The Tree of All Things is no more.’
‘Which one is this tree?’ asked Draco. Upon spotting where the prince pointed, he darted forth to find the fruit. The dragon, who had been using the tree for his giant nest, saw him, and spat out a flame that devoured the entire tree in one blast, and nearly took Draco right with it. But just as he jumped back, Draco managed to grab one of the fruits that had fallen from its branches, before the fruit and the tree were turned to ash forever.
As Draco dodged the dragon’s talons, all at once the Sparrow Prince took up his great sword, ran forward, and thrust it upward into the beast’s heart. With a cry, the dragon fell onto the sword—but with its claws it struck the Sparrow Prince as it died. The Sparrow Prince gave a cry and sank back.
Immediately, Draco was at his side. ‘Good king, are you hurt?’ he asked.
‘If I but had a little water,’ replied the Sparrow Prince.
‘Then take you my flask,’ cried Draco, giving him his flask. The Sparrow Prince drank, but fell back with a cry of pain, and again Draco asked: ‘Good brother, are you hurt?’
‘If I but had a pillow for my head,’ said the Sparrow Prince.
‘Then take you my cloak,’ said Draco, bundling his cloak beneath the Sparrow Prince’s head.
Again he asked: ‘My prince of sparrows, are you hurt?’
The Sparrow Prince replied, ‘Soon I shall feel no hurt ever again.’
‘Then take you my quest,’ said Draco, ‘and live.’ And he fed the Prince the fruit that he had taken from the Tree of All Things, which holds that which is universal, yet cannot be found anywhere in the world.
At once the Sparrow Prince was healed, and he sat up and threw his arms around his loyal soldier. Draco, knowing his mother to be lost to him forever, wept and held the king close. But as they embraced, the cat who had directed Draco on his journey now approached them both. As they watched, it transformed into a fine lady with hair of gold, and Draco cried out in amazement, for it was his mother.
‘My dear mother, I did not complete my quest,’ he said. ‘How can it be that you are alive?’
‘My son,’ she replied. ‘Your selfishness sent me to my death, and only its opposite could restore me,’ replied Draco’s mother. ‘The fruit of the Tree of All Things is that which is universal, yet cannot be found anywhere in the world. Unselfish love is that which everyone in the world needs—yet it can never be found; it can only be given. When you learned to love someone else above your own desire, you gave up your quest—and through your sacrifice, I was reborn.’
Then she embraced Draco and the Sparrow Prince.
‘Now I shall rebuild my kingdom,’ said the Sparrow Prince, ‘and you shall both live in the castle as my family.’
Then all the kingdom gathered to celebrate the defeat of the great dragon, and the Sparrow Prince was finally crowned the King of Kings. And the king took Draco and his mother to live with him for the rest of his days, and if they have not found another dragon to chase after, they are living there still.The End.