The Heart of a Child
The Heart of a Child stories
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laurastephens
laurastephens Bookend Stories
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The town of Hagsgate is miserable but complacent. The annoying earth shakes are becoming too much but no one does anything. Somehow a little girl is able to change their destiny.

The Heart of a Child

The town of Hagsgate was shaped like a footprint: long toes splaying from a broad paw and ending in the dark claws of a digger.

Old legends claimed King Haggard was once a large beast and that he chose the location of the town by stomping his foot hard into the ground.

Later he fell in love with a witch that cast a spell to make him human while remaining immortal.

The oldest living citizens couldn't remember a time before King Haggard so the legend appeared to be true.

The townspeople were cleaning up after one of their nightly earth shakes. Some nights were stronger than others but still, even the lightest vibrations hummed every night.

This particular night proved to be one of the strongest: tree fruit scattered on the ground, large signs fell over, and houses found with large cracks. No one flinched.

They were born accustom to the shakes. As they cleaned a chorus of groans filled the air.

"Why did the beast get so angry last night, Papa?" Little Nami asked as she looked over the destruction.

"What beast are you speaking of, little one?" Her papa became frightened of what Nami encountered.

"The one who makes the earth shake."

"Nami, dear, no one makes the earth shake. You know how when Mama falls asleep she snores?"

"Yes!" Nami laughed.

"The earth sleeps at night along with the rest of us. The earth shakes are his snores."

"But then how come the earth only snores when the beast is walking?"

"Nami, there is no beast, now stop being silly."

Nami and her papa were busy cleaning up their farmland with The Great Harvest just around the corner.

Papa stayed busy counting his losses from the damaged crops while Nami collected the pieces to fry for dinner. Papa worked more slowly than normal.

He could not stop thinking about this beast that his daughter claimed to see. He heard the stories before; periodically a random crazy peasant would claim to witness such sights.

The words had always flown in one ear and right out the other until the words came from his own daughter.

"Nami, where do you see the beast?"

"Different places."

"When?"

"Only while the earth is sleeping."

"Can you show me?"

"Sure, if you can stay awake that long." Nami winked and took her findings into the house.

Papa stopped working to observe the world around him. Hagsgate has never been a happy place, but Papa noticed how much more miserable everyone was today.

If there is a beast, and he is angry, what is he this angry about? Papa wondered. Yet no one is ever hurt.

Grunts from nearby homes interrupted his thoughts, and he continued to work his field well past sunset.

"Papa, Papa! Wake up! I told you that you would fall asleep."

"Nami?" He blinked up at a face that loomed too close to recognize.

"You forgot about the beast, didn't you?"

"I didn't forget. Is it time?"

"Yes and I already found him."

Papa fought mixed feelings of anger and wonder. Nami knew the dangers of going out alone after dark.

Has she been sneaking out this whole time? On the other hand, she may have made a big discovery to stop all the damaging shakes.

How did she become so brave? He wondered as he followed close behind her-- ducking behind bushes and fences. Where is she taking me?

Nami stopped. She lifted her little hand and pointed her finger.

Papa looked towards the sky expecting to see a crazy cloud formation that had little Nami confused, but she wasn't confused at all.

There he stood, wide as the sky and red as fire, the one she called the beast. He was sitting with his head down and shoulders slumped.

Every few seconds they heard a booming loud watery scraping noise.

"How does he go unnoticed?" Papa whispered.

"Several people talk about him." She answered.

"We never believed them."

"I see him almost every night."

"Have you spoke with him?"

"No. I just like to watch him."

So watch him they did. For hours nothing happened. Then he stood. The moon that brightly dangled above his head disappeared. The night seemed to grow quieter.

Then the beast began to turn around and Papa and Nami could feel the hum of the soft earth shake under their feet. They watched the beast without blinking as he walked away.

Within a few steps he towered over King Haggard's castle, stood up straight, and then shrunk in size until he vanished.

"They're true!" Papa shouted. "The legends are actually true!"

"Why wouldn't they be?"

Nami looked up at her papa and he looked back down at her. He smiled and his eyes grew soft. She is just like me. He realized. Opposite sides of the same coin.

Where he never believed in anything she believed in everything, and for the both of them, that was just the way it was. This time Nami was right.

This time Papa had to change his way of thinking. This time could change life as his town knew it. Ready to make plans right away--Papa dragged Nami back towards their home.

"We need to tell everyone!" Papa beamed with excitement. "If we get rid of this beast then the earth shakes will stop!"

"No!" Nami pulled her hand free and anchored her feet in place.

"What do you mean?"

"He never hurts us why should we hurt him?"

"He ruined half of our crops, little one, and several people's homes."

"Not on purpose, I'm sure of it, he never gets very close to town."

"Are you suggesting we ignore our opportunity?"

"No, I'm suggesting that we do it differently. He is sad tonight."

"How could you tell he is sad?"

"He was sniffling. Didn't you hear?"

Papa stared down at Nami and noticed something different this time. He could see right through her eyes to her heart and easily the biggest one in Hagsgate.

He looked up into the distance at the castle and replayed the old legends in his head. Maybe King Haggard is the beast after all.

He visited the castle one time years ago and long before Nami came along. Maybe it's time to make a trip and show her the castle.

The Journey took their short legs the greater part of two days. When they arrived at the castle it seemed abandoned. It looked nothing like its former glory.

Stone crumbled into piles along the wall, tower tops missing, and only half a drawbridge.

Papa wanted to turn back, but Nami was running for the door, so Papa had no choice but to follow after her.

The main hall had many doorways to lead in every direction, but it still seemed to funnel you right into the throne room at the opposite end.

As they walked they heard no sound--not a footstep, not a cling of armor, not even a single word.

This place is abandoned! Papa thought to himself and kept moving out of curiosity only to stop when he noticed another living soul. Sitting alone. On the throne.

"Hello King Haggard." Nami curtsied and approached him without a hint of fear.

"Hello little one, what brings you here? I can't remember the last visitor." He grumbled his reply.

"I wanted to see if you need anything." Her eyes grew with sincerity. "You've been angry or sad many nights."

"And when have you seen me?"

"At night, when the earth is sleeping, and you become the beast that makes the earth shakes."

"Earth shakes?"

"With every step."

King Haggard sat quietly for a moment. He never realized what happened when he walked around in his original skin.

The pieces began to fall together, the damage, the complaints, and the dwindling company. If this little girl could feel it in Hagsgate then it must have been horrible here.

His eyes stopped wondering and fixed right on Nami.

"I've been creating my own loneliness and I didn't even know it."

"You don't have to be lonely." Nami smiled. "I would like to be your friend."

"You would be friends with a nasty old man like me?"

"Yes."

That one word brought a warmth to King Haggard's heart that he forgot could exist. This child before him was brave, friendly, and kind.

She reminded him of his own daughter that he lost too many moons ago. When she went missing all of his joy vanished and pain replaced it.

He never stopped looking for her even long after he knew she was dead. His heart was doomed to be cold forever. To his surprise this little girl changed that.

Very little ever surprised King Haggard.

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