Heart & Sword

sword of peace

Once upon a time, there was a great King who led his people with fairness and wisdom. Unfortunately, the King’s health was in decline, and so was his kingdom. None of the King’s subjects understood why, but many suspected the reason had to do with a recent omen.

The royal family’s coat of arms was displayed high above the King’s throne. For generations, it consisted of a sword crossing a heart, during which time the kingdom was ruled with fidelity. However, after the Queen died, the coat of arms changed, so that the sword seemed to pierce the heart instead of protect it. Real blood began to drip onto the feet of the King as he sat on his throne, which his servants scrubbed away. Many saw this as a sign the King’s demise would mark a period of turmoil for the kingdom, unless the royal family again learned to live together peacefully.

The problem was the King’s sons were neither married nor had children, and many of the King’s subjects felt these young men were too ill-tempered to rule. As the time for the King’s death drew near, his sons plotted more fervently to seize power from one another, and the royal family’s coat of arms dripped more blood day by day.

Perhaps the most greedy and selfish of all the king’s sons was his eldest and the heir apparent, the Prince. He wanted to make sure none of his brothers robbed him of the opportunity to control the kingdom, but otherwise he gave little thought to the manner in which he might use his power, which greatly troubled the King.

“Even now, you look at me as if I am already dead,” the King said. “But what shall you do, and whose will shall you serve, when I really am gone? Your own?”

“I shall serve your will, father,” the Prince said. “I will force this land and its people to do as you intended, always and forever.”

“That’s a clever answer, but I fear not the right one,” the King said. “I would prefer my successor serve the will of the people, and not mine or anyone else’s. Force should only be used to do right by others. Do you understand?”

The Prince dismissed his father’s remarks and continued his plotting. There were rumors of a map that led to a treasure so powerful that anyone who obtained it could lead an army against the Prince and threaten his chance to control the kingdom. The Prince wanted the treasure, so none of his brothers would dare challenge him.

The map to the treasure was said to be buried deep inside the stomach of a talking oak tree, which only made itself known if someone worthy sang to it.

The Prince, believing himself worthy in any matter that interested him, arrived at the forest, and sang. His voice, however, was so coarse and unpleasant that the birds flew away, and the rabbits and squirrels buried themselves deep in their holes to avoid him.

Needless to say, the oak tree the Prince sought remained unresponsive, and so the Prince left the forest, dejected. The next day, he returned, pondering what he should do next, when he heard a lovely voice.

He followed the voice to a brook, where he found the forest birds, rabbits and squirrels listening to a lady singing as she washed her hands in the water.

“Excuse me, Prince,” the lady said, when she noticed him.

“No, please, excuse me!” the Prince said. “It is I who interrupted you and your beautiful song. May I ask you for a favor, miss?”

The Prince explained that a map had been taken which rightfully belonged to him. The map was under a spell, hidden somewhere in the forest.

“Only a person whose voice is worthy can lure the map out of hiding,” the Prince said. “I suspect you will do. Will you help me?”

“Of course, my Prince,” the lady said. “I am always willing to help those in need.”

The Prince took the lady by the hand, and she sang as they wandered together through the forest. At last, they came upon an oak tree that had the gnarled features of a face.

“What might I do for thee, o’ lovely one?” the oak tree said.

“Help me return a map to its rightful owner,” the lady said.

“Of course,” the oak tree said, and out of its mouth emerged a rolled scroll.

The scroll would have landed on the lady’s feet, had it not been for the Prince, who leaped forward and snatched it midair.

“Ah-ha!” he said. “Mine!”

Once the Prince had the map in his possession, he thought his quest soon would be finished, because no one would be able to stop him from obtaining the treasure that would ensure his power for as long as he lived. However, as he unraveled the scroll, he realized his quest was anything but complete.

“What’s this?” the Prince said. “It’s blank!”

He turned to face the tree, but the face in the tree was still and silent.

“Great, now what?” the Prince said.

“May I see the map?” the lady said.

“Promise to give it back?”

“You are its rightful possessor, are you not?” the lady said. “Of course I will!”

The Prince handed the lady the map. As soon as she touched it, something magical happened. The scroll was no longer blank; a map to the treasure appeared.

“Amazing!” said the Prince. “How could this be?”

“I do not know,” the lady said, equally surprised. “Perhaps this is a sign our work together is not done yet.”

“I cannot think of a better reason myself,” the Prince said. “Perhaps you will join me for the rest of my quest, or at least as long as your company proves necessary?”

“I would love to, but I really should get home,” the lady said. “I am told nothing good happens in the forest at night.”

“Fear not, my lady!” the Prince said. “You would be in excellent company. No harm would come to you, I promise. Also, my father the King would be most grateful for your service.”

“In that case, very well,” the lady said. “No one is expecting me home, anyway. My parents passed long ago, and I support myself by selling mushrooms in the village.”

The lady raised a basket full of truffles she recently collected under the trees.

“I see,” the Prince said. “Maybe we can turn your misfortune into something more palatable. Perhaps you would allow us to enjoy your morsels tonight for dinner? I would compensate you in coin for the trouble, or course.”

“As you wish, my Prince,” the lady said. “But, really, it’s no trouble at all. My truffles are delicious, as you will see!”

“Excellent, then it’s settled!” said the Prince, and together they followed the map to the mountains beyond.

The map led them along a trail up a majestic peak that overlooked the kingdom. At the top of the peak they found a cave, the final destination of the map.

Night fell, they were tired, and the Prince and lady decided to camp near the cave’s entrance. They lit a fire, munched roasted mushrooms, and shared stories about their lives. Then, they heard a distant hum.

“Oooooh, eeeeeeee, oooooooh, ahhhhhhhhhh, oooooooooh!” bellowed a group of dwarves as they marched up the mountain.

“Quick!” the Prince said. “Hide!”

He and the lady poured dirt on the fire. They watched as the dwarves unsuspectingly passed them and continued into the cave.

“Gather your belongings,” the Prince said. “We will catch them by surprise!”

“They look tired,” the lady said. “Are you sure we should be introducing ourselves at such a late hour? Perhaps tomorrow would be a more fitting time for all of us to meet.”

“Absolutely not!” the Prince said, and he stood and drew his sword. “Let’s go!”

They proceeded slowly, cautiously. The cave was dimly lit, its rocky walls strewn with gold. The deeper the Prince and lady went, the brighter the cave became, until at last they reached a large cavern, filled with the comforts of home.

Tired, indeed. By the time the Prince and lady arrived, the dwarves were fed, a pile of dirty dishes were stacked near a sink, and they were fast asleep, snuggled together in a big bed.

Opposite the cavern was a closed chest.

“That must be it,” the Prince whispered. “The treasure!”

Together he and the lady crept past the dwarves. The chest was unlocked. The Prince quietly opened it, peered inside.


“What?” he said. “How could this be?”

He closed the chest, and by so doing, inadvertently let his frustration known; the chest slammed shut with a loud thud.

When the Prince turned back toward the lady, the dwarves were sufficiently aroused. They stumbled forth from their bed and formed a barrier barring the intruders from the exit.

The dwarves carried an array of knives, forks and other kitchen ware, raised as weapons.

“Who goes there?” they said in unison.

“It is I, the Prince!” the Prince said, pointing his sword. “I have come for the treasure that rightfully belongs to me!”

“What treasure?” a dwarf said, stepping forward. “We have no treasure here, just that empty chest you see. It has inhabited this cave longer than we have!”

“Listen up, you little monsters!” the Prince said. “I didn’t come all this way just to hear …”

As the Prince and dwarves bickered about the whereabouts of the treasure, the lady peeked inside the chest. This time, there was a beautiful golden necklace with a heart-shaped ruby pendant.

The lady gently retrieved it, and the Prince and dwarves ceased their bickering. They stood and watched in silence.

“Try it on, my dear,” a dwarf said.

The lady did as suggested, but she could not clasp the necklace together by herself.

The Prince stepped forward, reached behind her neck, helped her, and then he stepped back. He and the dwarves marveled at the lady and the heart necklace. It was as if it were made for her.

“My lady, would you be willing to return with me to the castle, to show the King what I have found?” the Prince said.

“Of course,” she said, and the she turned to the dwarves. “Would that be all right with you?”

The dwarves mumbled to each other in awe and agreement.

“Take it as long as you wish, my dear,” they said. “Good luck!”

The Prince returned to the castle with the lady. The two appeared before the royal court. Blood stained the foot of the King’s throne. Gathered around the King were his sons.

“Father, I have been on a great journey,” the Prince said. “All this time I sought a treasure I thought would help me vanquish my enemies. I found that treasure, but it was not a powerful axe or sword, as I hoped.”

The Prince turned to the lady.

“The treasure I found is you,” he said to his companion, “and your kind heart.”

The comment caused murmurs around the court.

“In our time together,” the Prince continued, “you have shown me a power that goes beyond my own. You have shown me the power that comes from looking out for others. I have been selfish and greedy in my objectives, and for what purpose? A sword that protects itself serves no one, while a sword that serves others protects everyone. Today I seek your hand in marriage, because I realize that the heart and sword rule fairest and wisest side by side.”

The lady agreed to marry the Prince, and he was delighted.

So was the King. His son had learned a valuable lesson about the nature of love and loyalty. Finally, the Prince was fit to rule the kingdom, and soon his brothers would follow his lead, too.

The royal family’s coat of arms ceased to drip blood.

In time, the Prince and lady became King and Queen, and together they had several sons and daughters.

They lived happily ever after.

Dragon Buster

Dragon Buster 1

On the day of the camping trip, Marshall arrived at the home of his ex, Lauren, and instead of his usually jubilant 6-year-old daughter greeting him, a pensive young investigator sat on a stool in the middle of the living room with a note pad and pen in hand.

“Good day, sir,” Autumn said, trying to withhold a smile. “Have a seat, please.”

She pointed at the couch; her father did as directed.

“How can I help you, miss?” Marshall said, struggling to hide his amusement.

Autumn crossed her legs and remained silent.

Lauren explained. An argument erupted the day before in Autumn’s kindergarten class after a student lost his pencil, and Autumn suggested a fairy might have taken it. A boy in the class responded that there were no fairies, nor Santa Claus nor Easter Bunny, for that matter. A girl, offended, insisted the boy was mistaken; she claimed to have seen a fairy herself.

The class quickly divided in two camps, the Believers and Non-Believers in a world of magic. Meanwhile, Autumn’s faith had been sufficiently shaken, so much so, in fact, that before her father arrived that morning she created a survey that she intended to use to interview the adults she knew to determine if her favorite mythical creatures were real, or not.

Autumn already completed her interview with her mother. Next was her father.

“First question, sir,” Autumn said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Do you believe in fairies?”

“I believe in you, don’t I?” Marshall said.

Autumn smiled.

“Check,” she said, and with her pen she marked the appropriate square box on her note pad. “Second question, do you believe in Santa Claus?”

Marshall glanced nervously at Lauren; Lauren smiled.

“Let me put it this way,” Marshall said. “I believe in the spirit of Christmas.”

Autumn raised her eyebrows suspiciously, but after further consideration she interpreted her father’s comment in the affirmative.

“Check,” she said, and she marked her survey accordingly. “Third question, do you believe in the Easter Bunny?”

“Maybe,” Marshall said, and he stood. “I’m not sure I have the right answer. What do you think?”

“Excuse me, sir,” Autumn said, and she pointed at the couch. “Please, sit down. I’m the one asking the questions.”

“Sorry, sweetheart,” Marshall said, glancing at his watch. “Chloe’s waiting in the car, time to go!”

“Oh, all right,” Autumn said, and she disembarked from the stool, shoulders slouched, and harrumphed her way to the door.

Autumn kissed her mother goodbye as her father loaded her into her car seat, survey still in hand. As the car ride began, Autumn switched back into investigator mode and greeted Chloe, her father’s girlfriend, seated in the front passenger seat.

“Good day, miss,” Autumn said. “Okay, first question …”

They were on their way to a forest up north that Marshall promised would be unlike any Autumn had ever seen, but she was skeptical. If there were no fairies or Santa Claus or Easter Bunny in the world, what else was left that could be so special?

Autumn mulled the implications of such an existence as she, Marshall and Chloe meandered in the car up the coast.

They had been driving forever, it seemed, and Autumn felt tired as the sun receded beyond the dark blue Pacific outside her window. The car entered a tunnel as Autumn started to doze.


The car emerged from the tunnel: what a forest, indeed! There were fields of flowers that resembled sugar cookies, trees made of lollipops, mountains covered in whipped cream.

Bob the Mystic Frog was driving, and El Papa, the immortal potato, sat in the front passenger seat. The Troll from Autumn’s birthday party sat next to Autumn in the backseat. Everyone was in good spirits.

“Wow!” Autumn said. “This is cool. Where are we going?”

“We’re meeting up with your dad and Chloe at the camp site,” Bob said. “Just taking a detour, that’s all.”

They stopped at a fueling station, and some gummy bears ran out of a garage, grabbed a pump and filled the tank with liquid licorice.

The passengers stepped out and stretched. Autumn surveyed the area, and noticed white frogs bellowing from creeks made of orange soda, blue birds soaring through a pink sky that smelled like cotton candy, and little bunnies hopping to and fro.

Then, a horrifying sight: a dragon, purple and menacing, appeared overhead. It zigzagged its way across the sky in a strangely logical fashion, exhaling grayish smoke that formed circles, rectangles and triangles.

Stranger still, the dragon’s eyes were closed. It began to cry out in fear and anger and rained fire on the enchanted wilderness below.

“Run!” the Troll said, and Autumn, her friends and the gummy bears huddled together inside the fueling station.

When the rain of fire ceased, Autumn and the others stepped outside and assessed the damage. Many of the lollipop trees were scorched; some of the sugar cookie flowers were wilted. The frogs, birds and bunnies remained in hiding.

“It’s okay, you can come out now,” Autumn said. “Don’t be afraid, cute little animals.”

Reluctantly, one by one, the mythical creatures of the forest followed Autumn’s cue and again revealed themselves.

“Let’s get out of here,” El Papa said. “This place gives me the creeps.”

Autumn and her friends waved goodbye to the gummy bears. Bob directed the car back to what he believed was the tunnel through which they came, and Autumn was suddenly thrilled at the prospect her nightmare soon would end and she would be reunited with her father and Chloe again.

But that’s not what happened. Bob was a lousy driver, and the tunnel they entered was not a tunnel at all, but a cave.

Deep into the cave they drove, until at last the car’s lights shone on the closed eyes of a dragon slumbering peacefully.

It snored loudly.

“I’m scared!” the Troll said, clinging to Autumn in her car seat.

“What should we do?” Bob said.

“Back up!” El Papa said. “This place gives me the creeps.”

“That’s what you said about the forest, and look where that got us!” the Troll said.

“No, wait,” Autumn said. “We can’t leave. We have to save this magic world.”

With note pad and pen in hand, Autumn disengaged herself from her car seat, opened the door and stepped before the snoozing dragon. Her friends watched, mesmerized, as she sat on the ground, Indian style, and proceeded to ask the terrifying monster a series of questions.

“Do you believe in mountains covered in whip cream?” Autumn said.

No response from the dragon, only snores.

“Trees made of lollipops?”

Still no response, just more loud breathing.

“Gummy bears?”


“Fine,” Autumn said. “It’s clear you don’t care about this world. I’m not sure why I should, either.”

As Autumn stood to leave, the dragon opened its eyes. They were as green as her own.

“Excuse me, little girl,” the dragon said, “I just had a terrible nightmare of a land far, far away. It was a world where people only believed what they could see with their own eyes, and it made me fearful and angry.”

“He must have been flying in his sleep,” Bob said.

“Thank you for bringing my bad behavior to my attention,” the dragon said. “I must remember to eat more strawberries before I nap. That will help calm my nerves. I’m so sorry for scaring you and your friends.”

“We forgive you, and I am sure the forest animals will, too,” Autumn said, and she hugged the dragon’s nose.

She returned to the car.

“How about that?” Bob said. “You saved the day.”

They drove away.


As the car exited the tunnel, Autumn startled awake. Her father was behind the wheel, and Chloe was curled up next to him. The sun’s last rays shone through a beautiful forest.

They were surrounded by trees taller than any building Autumn had ever seen, with trunks so red and leaves so green that Autumn thought she was on another planet.

But she wasn’t. She was home, on Earth.

“Pretty awesome, hey?” Marshall said.

It was true, Autumn thought, even if it were a planet without dragons, or at least any she could see.

Another Kid’s Treasure


Autumn was a born treasure hunter. Not long after she learned to walk, Autumn began scouring the ground in search of shiny objects: buttons, coins, rocks and sea shells were among her favorite findings. For a while, Autumn tried to eat her treasures, but in time, as she grew from toddler to girl, she learned such behavior was neither acceptable nor desirable. When it came to fine dining, Autumn realized she preferred fries over pennies any day.

However, Autumn’s steps toward maturity didn’t stop her from collecting the odd things discarded by everyone else. By the time she began kindergarten, Autumn’s “treasure chest,” as she liked to call it, consisted of a shoe box brimming with a wealth of trinkets collected in her day-to-day travels from home, school, park or beach.

With each figurine, key, pebble or ring Autumn discovered, she liked to recount the story of its unearthing. She was also known to sometimes embellish her tales and attribute magical qualities to the items she found.

“Where did you get this?” said Marshall, Autumn’s father, one morning as they prepared to depart for school.

Marshall held up a small, stitched tie-dyed sack that crumpled in his grip.

“I found it at the laundromat with Mommy,” Autumn said, whispering in a secretive tone. “I think it might be a pouch to carry Pixie Dust … Daddy, do you know what it is?”

“Yes, it’s called a Hacky Sack,” Marshall said. “My friends and I used to play with them when I was a kid. Here, let me show you how.”

Marshall demonstrated how to kick and catch the Hacky Sack with the top of his foot, and he and Autumn practiced passing it back and forth to each other with their feet.

“Cool!” Autumn said.

“Well, Hacky Sacks may not make us float with magic powder, but they can still be fun.”

“Shouldn’t we get going?” said Chloe, Marshall’s girlfriend.

“We should,” Marshall said. “Time to clean up, Autumn.”

As Autumn put away the contents of her shoe box, her father absent-mindedly pocketed the Hacky Sack.

It was Work Day at school, where members of the community volunteered to help beautify the campus. Autumn’s class was gathered at the school garden, where Autumn and her fellow classmates worked alongside their parents weeding and tilling the soil before the spring planting.

“Look what I found!” a boy said, unearthing a caterpillar.

Several of the boy’s classmates, including Autumn, gathered around him.

They took turns admiring and petting the green bug.

“What should I do with it?” the boy said to their teacher, Jay.

“Put it back in the soil where you found it,” Jay said. “That way it will live.”

The boy did as suggested and returned the caterpillar to the soil.

Not long after, another classmate found another caterpillar.

“Look what I found!” she said.

Several of the girl’s classmates, including Autumn, gathered around her.

They took turns admiring and petting the green bug.

“What should I do with it?” the girl said to Jay.

“Put it back in the soil where you found it,” Jay said. “That way it will live.”

The girl did as suggested and returned the caterpillar to the soil.

Autumn and her classmates continued weeding and tilling.

Marshall and Chloe were knelt side by side, pulling weeds and amused in the pleasant work, sunshine and small talk with the children when they noticed a squabble underway.

“Put it back!” a boy shouted.

“Yeah, put it back!” a girl said.

“I won’t!” Autumn said. “It’s mine!”

Marshall glanced up from the soil and noticed Autumn surrounded by her classmates. He walked to the circle, and the crowd of children parted.

“Autumn found a caterpillar, and now she won’t let it go!” the boy said.

“She’s not listening to what Teacher Jay said!” the girl said.

“Autumn, what’s the problem?” Marshall said.

Autumn opened her cupped hands; languishing inside was a green caterpillar.

“That’s a beautiful little creature, isn’t it?” Marshall said.

“Uh, huh,” Autumn said.

“What do you plan on doing with it?” Marshall said.

“I want to take it home and add it to my treasure chest,” Autumn said.

Marshall knelt before his daughter, gazed in her eyes. He spoke as softly as possible.

“But, sweetheart, that’s the problem,” he said. “That caterpillar isn’t like your rocks and keys and rings … it’s alive, and it will die if you don’t let it stay here. This is its home.”

“I can build a home for it,” Autumn said. “I can put it in a jar with sand and grass …”

“Sure, you could,” Marshall said, “and with a little magic, anything is possible … but wouldn’t it be better just to let the caterpillar be, to be surrounded by other caterpillar friends?”

“Maybe,” Autumn said.

“Let this beautiful little creature be, sweetheart,” Marshall said. “Believe me, it’s the right thing to do. You won’t regret it.”

“Okay,” Autumn said, and she slowly put the caterpillar back into the soil.

“Nice job, sweetheart,” Marshall said, and he stood.

He glanced at Autumn’s classmates surrounding her, and he had an idea.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “All of you have worked so hard, why don’t we take a break, and I will show you a little game. I’m sure your teacher won’t mind.”

Marshall pulled out the Hacky Sack and winked at Jay; Jay gave Marshall the thumbs up.

“How many of you have ever played with one of these before?” Autumn’s father said.

Autumn was the only one to raise her hand, so Marshall offered to have him and her demonstrate. Soon, Autumn’s classmates joined them, and they took turns passing the Hacky Sack to one another.

No one mentioned the caterpillars again.

Then, a few months later, Marshall picked up Autumn one day from school, and she and her other classmates rushed him and the other parents toward the school gardens.

There were herbs, vegetables and flowers. There were also beautiful white butterflies, fluttering freely.

It was magic.