The king is alone, long abandoned by his court after he announced he was going to cross the snow desert, something no one from the kingdom had ever dared. Is a king still a king without a kingdom? he wonders. (Is a sun truly a sun without a solar system? Is a man still a man without men?) He does not know, but he is learning many things as he walks. How his body reacts to the elements. How to keep warm and fish in the frozen lakes. How to pray.
When the sun reaches its zenith, the king takes cover under a violet jacaranda tree and closes his eyes. He thinks of all that he has lost along the journey (his subjects, his palace, his socks) and smiles at his predicament. This is exile. He laughs so hard his breath makes cumulus clouds. Weary from walking and laughing, the king falls asleep and dreams about a fable his father often recited to him as a young prince.
An elephant loses his way in an ancient forest. He wanders, searching for his herd. He sleeps by the river during the day and roams the forest at night. He cries out, hoping they will return for him. But to the other animals in the forest, his cries sound like music. To this day, the elephant sings a lullaby, waiting to be found.
The king wakes up thirsty. Did he only imagine a river? He cannot recall if it was just another mirage in the snow desert. The king rises from his bed of ice, and with his bare hands brushes away the frost that coated his body while he slept. His skin is burned by sun and wind, and snow sits in the creases around his eyes and mouth like a frozen waterfall. He fills his mouth with a handful of snowflakes.
The king walks wearily across the perpetual winter until the orange sun disappears below the horizon. The moon rises higher into the night sky. Another day. He falls to his knees and softly hums the only song he knows.
Stephanie Bento is a writer, cellist, and photographer based in Washington, D.C. In her creative work, she explores the musicality of sound and form, and our connection to time and place. Stephanie’s work has been featured in Firefly Magazine, The Rumpus, District Lit, and Politics & Prose’s District Lines anthology.