The Otter’s Gift: A Once Upon A Spork Preview

My online writing group has recently indie published Once Upon a Spork. This anthology features thirteen pieces from members of a group I’ve had the privilege of being a part of for five years. Once Upon A Spork’s stories and poem range from malicious fey to malfunctions of science, cautionary tales of satire to fairy tale retellings. It will be available in both print and as an ebook.

This is one of the short selections I have in the book, which I organized with Kit Campbell.

The Otter’s Gift

When the old sea king had passed away, it came time for his daughter, a young sea witch, to rule. All the creatures under her charge gathered together according to their kind to select a gift to present at her coronation as was the custom. On the day of the ceremony the gift givers were welcomed into the palace deep in the heart of the sea. Ducking beneath the blades of two handsome swordfish, they entered the throne room. Plankton glittered along the arched ceiling. At the end of a long coral carpet, the beautiful new queen reclined against the back of her silver pink shell throne.

Now Otter and his kin were a playful people, though true at heart. He had sought out the perfect gift for the new queen, a dear friend. Coaxing free the seed of an oyster, he had spent weeks bringing out its shine, drizzling it in sunlight, waxing it with seaweed. Even with all this care, the pearl kept a share of its wonders locked inside. So intent was he that the day of coronation slipped from his thoughts.

One by one, the gift givers made the slow swim to the throne, bowing and presenting their tribute to her future reign. Shark presented her with a crown of teeth to give her the fierceness to lead. Turtle gave her a shield of shell to honor her role as staunch defender. Whale raised the gift of song to her lips so she could speak to all her peoples. Dolphin slung a golden net over her shoulder to catch the sun’s rays to make them dance upon the water. Eel gave her lights for the deep. Then the fish, from the greatest to the least, submitted their gifts to her radiant approval. Finally, the procession was done. One animal had not come forward. A whispering began, filling the cathedral with pain and dread. Where was Otter?

Far above the palace, Otter slept upon the surface of the deeps. He drifted along the edge of a small cove, his tiny, always moving paws holding his treasure tight to his chest. It was sunset when the queen finally found him. Looking down upon him, she felt compassion, for had she been allowed a heart, she would have lost it to him. Yet she was bound by ancient law and could not eschew it, though it made her hollow. As Walrus, Sea Lion, and Penguin had gone so long ago, so must Otter.

She drew him close, tender and stern, a reed in the water. Together they made a whole, a whole for the sundering. He awoke. Knowing what he’d failed to do, he wept, the tears bathing his paws. They opened, revealing a yellow blue pearl, the beauty of which has never been matched. Looking upon it, the queen felt her heart yearn toward bursting.

“With thy tardiness, thy life must now belong to the queen of the shore as well as to me. No longer wilt thy kin dwell secure in my palace. They will, rather, sprout fur and live betwixt and between, at home in the water but unable to take breath in it.”

He bowed his head. She reached out to touch him. “I know thy truth. Because of thy gift, thy people will not die. Nor will thee. They will spread forth and multiply, cleverness their guide. But thy path lies differently. Thou wilt walk the shore on two legs while they caper on four. In shape and form, thou will be as her people, but thou wilt bear my mark as I will carry your gift as my heart. If one outside thyself removeth my mark against thy will, thou wilt join me until it finds you anew.”

She took a tooth from her crown, removed a golden strand from her net and fastened the tooth around his neck. She sealed it with a drop of her blood and a tear from her eye. He changed before her, growing tall, gills vanishing. Lean muscle gave way to strong shoulders and a powerful body. His nose was long, almost a hook. His hair and eyes were now earth brown like the new fur coats of his people. Otter took his first breath in his new form.

They moved into the shallows, where she could yet swim and he could stand. His beauty pained her. The shark tooth rested between her cheek and his bare chest. Slowly, he knelt. She moved back. He held up the pearl between them. He brought it to his lips and let them caress it. Then, its glow increasing as it drew closer to her, he fed her new heart to her. Warmth washed through her. He ran his fingers through her hair and kissed her one last time before stepping up onto shore, mist gathering around his feet.

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