This week Chuck gave us a list of random titles. One leapt out at me, The Thief of Moons, although after I’d written the story I amended the title to The Thief of the Moon. I wanted to feature a Princelings story this week, as it was Fred and George’s birthday on Tuesday, as you may have read on my TSRA Guest Post. I haven’t done a Princelings short for ages, probably not since November (for Christmas). I must do more. This one (it’s 1800 words) owes something to various folk tales and possibly also to Blood Moon by Rebecca Weinstein, which I’m reviewing in August, just before the total solar eclipse.
The Thief of the Moon
“Daddy… why does the moon change shape?”
“That’s a very good question, dearest. Do you want the long answer or the short one?”
Jasmine giggled. She knew that long answers were sometimes very complicated, and might even lead to experiments and tours of the upper workshops in the castle. Then again, short answers were nice too.
“Maybe just the short one today. Can we do the long one later?”
“Yes, of course. I might even take you up to the new spyglass that Geoffrey has invented so we can get a closer look. But that’s best done at night, and over a few days, in good weather.” Fred winced as the hail spattered against the window behind him.
Fred’s steward got up from his desk beside the king. “Shall I come back later?”
“Oh, only if you want a break, Willoughby. The short one is really quite short. But it would help if you could take that light and hold it steady while I demonstrate with this apple, and er… oh, this will do.” Fred picked out an acorn from a selection of autumn detritus that Jasmine had brought in to show him earlier.
Willoughby picked up the bright glow lamp linked to the castle’s fuel cell supply and held it at one side of the room.
“Now,” Fred started. “Imagine that Willoughby is holding the sun, which you know shines during the day, and brings light and warmth, even though it’s not as warm in winter.”
“I’ll cover that another time. This is the first lesson in astrophysics today, so pay attention.”
“But it’s the short explanation?”
“Yes, it is. This apple represents the earth that we live on. It’s more or less round, and the earth is round.”
“Most of it’s flat though.”
“Well, most of the marsh is flat, but when you go to Summernot beach and look at the sea, you can see a line we call the horizon, can’t you?”
Jasmine nodded, pursing her lips.
“That horizon shows where the bend of the earth is. We can’t see round the corner. Just like if I hold this apple like this… you can’t see the other side, but you can see the horizon, here, see?”
Jasmine nodded. It looked like an apple to her.
“So, this is the earth. And this,” he picked up the acorn, “is the moon. Although it should be rounder.”
“Try this pebble,” Willoughby offered.
“That’s better. This pebble is the moon. Now the earth moves around the sun. You’d better get up and follow me round. Willoughby, move more into the centre of the room. Good. So the sun shines on the earth, and the earth moves around, in fact it spins around. Hang on, I’m getting in the way here, and the pebble goes round the earth. And the sun shines on the pebble too. Oh heck.” Fred bumped into his desk and leant against it, looking at the apple-earth in one hand and the pebble-moon in the other.
“Just do it for one day, rather than the seasons too,” Prince Engineer George called from the doorway.
“Now you’ve got us all involved, Jaz.”
Jasmine giggled. She loved it when her daddy got all his important people playing games to entertain her and her brothers.
“Jasmine, you hold the apple, and let daddy walk around you with the moon,” George suggested.
“Good idea, George. So, when the moon is here, it’s got the light from the sun like so, but if you are on earth, you can only see half of it. And when I go round the back, it’s got all the sun light on it, but you’ve got your back to the sun, so we get a full moon in the night sky. And here, it’s half full. And here, you see it looks black because the sun is on the other side and it’s got its dark side to us.”
“Ooh, that’s clever!” Jasmine exchanged the apple for Fred’s pebble and proceeded to walk around him.
“Are you doing eclipses today, too?” George asked.
“There’s an eclipse due next week,” Willoughby commented. “I was going to do my narrathon story about it at the weekend.”
“What, sun or moon?” Fred asked, obliging Jasmine by turning round to face her as she held the pebble in full moon phase.
“Moon, not total, but we should still get a good red glow over most of it.”
“What’s an eclipse, daddy?”
“It’s when the shadow of the earth falls directly over the full moon. Look, stand here… that’s right. See?” He moved his apple so the shadow moved across the pebble to block out Willoughby’s ‘sun’.
“Oh. Okay. Thanks, daddy.” Jasmine reached up to give him a kiss and ran out of the room.
George and Willoughby exchanged glances as Fred’s eyes followed his eldest and only daughter, destined to be his successor.
“I hope your narrathon story is more impressive, Willoughby.”
In the Great Hall, the Sunday meal was drawing to a close. It had become a tradition for everyone to gather for the evening once a week, which made sure that every person got a decent hot meal, whatever their role within the castle. If there were any important messages to give out they would be announced too, but the evening usually included a story before the children went to bed. After that, there was music and dancing, if anyone had the energy left, and most of the teens and young adults did.
Willoughby got to his feet and a hush fell over the room. At least, it fell once the teenagers in the corner stopped giggling.
“Tomorrow night, starting late and going past midnight, there is going to be a crime committed. Someone is going to steal the moon!”
A few people gasped and others stood up. Haggis, the green-coated chief of security, put his hand on his sword belt and glared at them.
“Fear not, it is nobody here.
There was once a very proud and very cunning fox. He was also very greedy. He was the sort of fox who lay in wait for others to kill the smaller creatures for their supper, then pounce on them and steal their meal. One day a squirrel looked down on him as he was eating one of his stolen meals and started laughing.
“What are you laughing at, squirrel?” the fox grumbled.
“”I’m laughing at you, oh fox,” replied the squirrel. “You think you’re so clever, but you’re a beginner really, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean, a beginner?”
“Well, anyone can see that stealing from small defenceless animals is a beginner’s game. If you were a really cunning fox, you’d eat something much bigger.”
“Well, you could start with a few rocks. Then maybe some trees. That might impress people.”
The fox looked at the rocks, and the trees. They didn’t look very appetising to him, but if it would impress everyone, he’d give them a go.
“Tell everyone to gather here tomorrow night and I’ll eat that tree.”
Tomorrow night came, and the fox saw everyone gathered around, which he hadn’t expected at all. So he broke off a branch of the tree and started eating it. Fortunately it was a good tasting tree, like an apple or a lime tree, so after the leaves he started gnawing the bark, and everyone got bored and slunk off to their beds, or their own hunting, whichever suited them best. But the squirrel stayed in one of the other trees, watching him.
“That didn’t seem to impress them much.”
“I said, that didn’t impress them. You ought to try something bigger.”
“And what is bigger than a tree?”
The squirrel squinted up through the branches. “There’s always the moon.”
“Don’t be silly, nobody can eat the moon!”
“You can’t, you mean, but I bet someone will try it if you don’t.”
“But how could anybody get to the moon?”
“I think old Mother Shibden can help you there.” The squirrel scampered off.
“Wait! I’ll do it! Just tell everybody to watch me eat the moon tomorrow!”
“Okay!” The squirrel’s voice faded into the distance, but the fox had the uncomfortable feeling that the noise that covered it was laughter.
The fox visited Mother Shibden just as suggested, and got a powerful powder to help him run very very fast so that he could leap into the air and swim all the way through the sky to the moon. And that’s exactly what he did.
The next night, he ran and ran and leapt into the sky, one bound, then another, until he was swimming among the stars, getting ever closer to the moon.
And just as he reached the moon he opened his mouth and swallowed it whole.
But the moon was very big and very heavy in his tummy, and it shone through his skin like a big red ball in the sky instead of the white one it normally is.
“Thief, thief” all the creatures on the earth cried. “The fox has stolen the moon! Thief, thief, thief of the moon!”
“I’m not a thief,” cried the fox, who was feeling very uncomfortable with the moon in his belly, and besides, the magic powder was wearing off. “I’m the most powerful creature you’ve ever seen!”
The creatures below still called him ‘thief’ though. After a few more minutes of their anger, and a few more minutes of feeling as if he’d eaten far too much, he burped, and out came the moon, to shine above the earth with its clean white light again.
“Hooray!” cheered the creatures of earth.
And when the fox landed, he slunk away to another country, where nobody had ever heard of him. And he vowed never to eat the moon again. Because he’d never intended to be a thief, yet that’s what people who steal other people’s food are.
Yet every so often, some other creature gets the idea that they have to show off and steal the moon, and eat it up, but it’s always the same. A thief of the moon always has to burp it up again, and find somewhere else to take his or her arrogant ideas.”
The delighted audience burst into applause as Willoughby created one of his trademark flashes and disappeared, only to reappear at the back of the hall, talking with Haggis. And Jasmine got off King Fred’s lap, kissed him goodnight, and went to bed to dream of foxes, and swimming through the air, and the moon disappearing into a red ball, which is what it did, one night later, on a cold, crisp autumn night at Castle Marsh.
The Thief of the Moon © J M Pett 2017
Eclipse photo from 28 September 2015 by me (hence it’s fuzzy)