A long, long time ago, when words still contained magic, and abstract concepts were living things, there lived a woman, who was a wife, that lived alone. Deserted by her husband, for reasons known only to him, she would have been crushed if not for her pregnancy. She poured every ounce of love that her heart possessed into preparing a loving home for her child, and one day, while out chopping firewood, she gave birth.
The child was not the seventh son of the seventh son, nor born ‘neath the lucky star, nor blessed with any special gifts which would have set him apart from anyone else of woman born. With the exception, that he was born dead.
So torn with grief was the mother, that she wailed unrelentingly, without stopping to catch a breath, nor pass out from exhaustion for three days straight, which attracted the attention of a traveling wish.
“Why wail you so?” asked the wish.
“My son–untimely from me snatched was he,” the woman said, holding up her blue-hued baby boy.
“Tis sad indeed,” said the wish.
The woman examined the wish closely. “You are a wish, are you not?” of which she was certain, for nothing else on Earth looked like a wish.
“That I am,” the wish nodded.
The woman pleaded, “Then grant me the life of my son!”
“Alas and alack, I cannot,” the wish said, its countenance growing sullen.
“And why not?”
“I am not your wish. I belong to another.”
“Then I am ended. There is no place for me in this world. Not without my son.”
The wish pondered a moment, in a way only a wish could. “All may not be lost if I can, No, you would not want that.”
“Nothing. Forget I spoke. It was a foolish, errant thought.”
“Speak it, o wish, for I have ears for thought, errant and foolish alike, if it may offer me but the tiniest hope.”
“Well,” the wish said hesitantly, “Though I cannot grant a wish to you, I may exchange a boon with thee.”
“Speak not so quickly–“
“My tongue cannot carry conveyance at the speed my heart travels, so without hesitation, without reservation, I bid thee, wish, to speak thy will!”
“I propose a trade.”
“Of what shall we barter?”
“I cannot say.”
“What? I do not follow your meaning.”
“You must accept the trade on blind faith. Agree, and be bound to it.”
“I agree to it then!”
“Are you certain?”
“As certain as you are a wish, and I am a soulless wretch without my son.”
“Is this boy child truly your heart?”
“And you desire it above all else, this heart of yours?”
“Then I will give you your heart,” the wish said, closing its eyes in concentration, and the woman felt the boy twitch in her arms. Then the body grew still for a long moment, and her heart sank even lower than she could have imagined possible. As she was about to turn her rage upon the wish, her son, born dead, and remaining thus for three days hence, took a deep breath, and let out a cry that could be heard ‘round the countryside. To the woman, it was the most glorious sound she had ever heard.
“You have given me the thing I wanted most in this world,” she said to the wish. “Now what would you have me trade?”
“I have already taken it.” answered the wish.
“What was it?”
“I have given you your heart, correct?”
“And in exchange, I have taken his,” the wish said, gesturing at her son.
“My son has no heart?”
“Not such as you know. Because no being can survive without a heart, I have given him a heart, perfectly carved of the purest red glass, that is as fragile to the touch as his birth heart.”
“But why a glass heart?”
“The exchange had to be equal. a fragile heart for a fragile heart.”
“Will my boy be cursed to possess a glass heart forever?”
“You must guard his fragile heart, and teach him to do the same, for it will shatter far too easily. And it will remain this way until his real heart is delivered by a person who truly loves your son and whom he also loves.”
This answer saddened the mother, for she knew that without a real heart, her boy could not properly love anyone or inspire love in another to undertake the quest for his real heart.
This was the story the woman told her son when he was old enough to properly comprehend the situation. Until hearing this story, the boy thought all children were born with glass hearts that slowly became real as they grew older. Funny how the mind of a child worked.
“And where is my real heart?” her son queried.
“According to the wish, it lies East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” she recited by rote. “Farther than the farthest thing the eye can behold. There you will find an endless sea. And in that sea, there is an unscalable mountain. And atop that mountain, there is an uninhabitable castle. And within the grounds of that castle, there is a bottomless well. And in that well swims a flightless swan. And in that swan, there lies a shatterproof egg. And in that egg, there lies your heart.”
The boy asked, “Well, why can I not just retrieve it myself?” which was a fair enough question. The journey sounded like a grand adventure, just the sort that little boys craved.
“Because it will always be just beyond your ability to detect. So, even if you managed to travel farther than the farthest thing, swim the endless sea, climb the unscalable mountain, dive into the bottomless well, find the swan, make it lay its egg, and crack it open wide, it will be empty to you,” the mother waved off the foolish notion as if she were swatting a fly. “So, do not even try, for it will then move to yet another location, even more impossible to reach.”
And so, the boy lived a careful life. Oh, he was active enough and none could tell that there was the slightest thing awry, that was until he fell in love. Now, the brightest among you might be asking, “How is it that a boy with no heart could love?” please allow me to tell you that I honestly do not know the answer to that question, yet the boy loved just the same. In his own way.
And unfortunately, that way was never quite enough to satisfy the young ladies he courted. And even though the boy explained his plight to all he loved, it mattered not to them. They all left him, in their turn, each cracking his red glass heart a bit.
Then one day, when the boy was well into manhood, he suffered a heartbreak that sent him to the family doctor, who was aware of his unique condition. After the examination, the doctor said grimly, “You must be careful not to attempt to love again, for should you suffer heartache but one more time, your heart shall surely shatter.”
Not love? Impossible. The glass-hearted man could not sit idly by and feel no love for the rest of his life, nor could he risk another heartbreak. So, despite his mother’s warning, he set off west in search of his stolen heart.
Why west, you ask? Because he needed to speak with the Sun and could not do that in the East as it rose, for he would surely be blinded by its brilliance. No, the man needed to find the Sun in the East while it slumbered for the night. And after some time had passed, he arrived at the place where the Sun rested.
“Ahem.” The glass-hearted man cleared his throat as loudly and as politely as he could.
“Who are you?” the Sun grumbled, peering at him through the narrowest slit of its solar eye.
“My name is,”
“I did not ask for your name, did I?” the Sun said curtly. “I asked who you were! Are you merely your name?”
“Um, no, sir–or madam,” he was not versed in the gender of the Sun, and he, she, they, had not bothered to correct him, so on that fact, he remained clueless.
“Then who are you?”
“Who I am is a born-again optimist. What I believe is that love is not denied to anyone, even to those born with glass hearts, such as myself. What I know is that I am wise enough to accept love as it finds me and not reject it because it doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty package. What I hope is that someday every lonely person will reach out to another lonely person and befriend them so that the word lonely fades from our lexicon.”
“Glass heart, eh?” the Sun sighed, and his, her, their, breath was a warm Summer’s breeze. “So, you have finally come. I will tell you where to find the Moon, for that is your next destination.”
The Sun expected him? How much did he, she, they, know? I wanted to ask questions, but the Sun rattled off a set of instructions and promptly rolled over and fell fast asleep. The man had been summarily dismissed, but he didn’t mind. He smiled as he trekked to meet the Moon.
The glass-hearted man had a dreadful time with directions and could scarcely follow his train of thought even with a road map, normally, but the directions given to him by the Sun were spot on, and in no time flat, he found himself at the lair of the Moon.
“Well, do not stand around dawdling all day, come in!” a cool voice said impatiently. And as the man entered the chamber, he saw the Moon sitting on the edge of its celestial bed. “I heard your approach from a mile away. I am a light sleeper. Must be all the sunlight in my eyes.”
“I am very sorry to disturb you–“
The Moon cut him off. “You have a glass heart, searching for the genuine article, east of the Sun, west of me, blahdy-blah, and you need me to point you in the right direction, correct?”
“Uh, yes, sir or madam.”
“There will be none of that nonsense here, young man!” the Moon sniffed. “I am The Moon, and you can either address me as such, or do not address me at all, but do not seek to confine me to a gender.”
“And don’t apologize. How were you to know? Now, come here and climb aboard,” The Moon said, diminishing into a crescent in order to provide a seat for the man, and no sooner had he positioned himself when the Moon rocketed skyward and it was all the man could do to keep himself from falling.
“Look to your left and tell me what you see,” said the Moon. I turned my head and was about to speak when the Moon said, “Your other left.”
Embarrassed, the man looked in the opposite direction. “I see the city.”
“Um, I see land.”
“And farther still.”
The man strained his eyes out past the sea of glimmering blue, searching, searching until, “I think I see land!” he exclaimed. “But it is so far away that it might be a trick of the Sun reflecting off the water.”
“That is no trick. That is where you must go,” the Moon said and began lowering the man to the ground. “Off you go, for I must sleep or it will be a long night for all concerned, if you catch my meaning.”
The glass-hearted man thought he did, but was not quite sure and had not wanted to seem like a dolt for asking, so he let the comment pass. And off he went, to travel past the farthest thing he could see.
He walked for days on end, and if such a thing as wanderlust existed within him, it had long stopped by the side of the road to rest its feet. The man, however, did not have that luxury. He traveled past the point where the soles of his shoes were worn down to nothing and the soles of his feet became as rough as leather, until he finally hit land’s end.
The glass-hearted man sat on a dock and pondered his situation. He was bone-weary, penniless, and staring out across an endless blanket of glimmering diamonds. Had he traveled all this way to simply end here?
“Ahoy!” a voice called out, and he turned to see a woman with hair the color of sunset, and eyes of the clearest aqua, leaning over the bow of a boat.
“You are not thinking of diving in, are you?” she asked. “That would not be a smart thing to do.”
“Uh, no. I cannot swim,” the man admitted.
“Then what brings you to the sea?” she asked, and he told her his story. When she was done, she stared at the sun-baked man and rubbed her chin. “Farther than the farthest thing, eh? And it is out past the sea? Fancy a lift?”
“I could not ask you to put yourself out like that,” he waved off the invitation.
“Pshaw. Got nothing better to do, and I love me a good adventure I do. ‘Sides, how can I turn my back on someone who had conversations with the Sun and the Moon? The name is Bryony, by the way.”
To Be Continued…
Text and audio ©2011-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys