There once was a village out on the plains. It was small, as these things go, filled with farmers, an inn and a blacksmith. The residents mostly stayed there for their whole lives, with few leaving and fewer outsiders arriving. Spread around it was the farms and around those vast expanses of grass ran to a horizon that seemed so far away. The village had no name and only one road, that wound from one side of the world to the other and cut through the village like a sword thrust.
This is a story about a little boy who lived just outside the village in his parents farm. Like most of the inhabitants of the village there was nothing special about him, no in-built destiny. He looked the same as those around him, hair within the variances of brown, eyes a blue like his parents, skin a healthy tan. He wasn’t stronger than other boys his age, he wasn’t smarter. There was only one thing that set him apart and that was his curiosity.
There was one way the village differed from others. In a tower on top of a nearby hill The Storm King lived. He was rarely seen, preferring to keep to himself within. The villagers would make deliveries of their crops to the tower and do their best to keep him happy. Because when he flew into a rage, and anything could set him off, the wind began to blow and storm clouds blotted the sky. Thunder would roll and lightning would flash.
The boy was fascinated with the King and would often sneak away to his tower to spy on him. Whenever his parents found out they would tell him off, warning him to stay away. “Don’t make the Storm King angry with you,” they told him. “Some storms cannot be weathered.” Then they’d put him to work, weeding their muskmelon patch or feeding the goats. But he wouldn’t listen and at the next opportunity he would go again.
Familiarity builds contempt and, though they would scold him every time he came back, the boy’s parents began to get more relaxed. “He’s not doing anything wrong,” they would tell each other. “If the Storm King was going to get angry, surely he would have already?” Though they wouldn’t tell him it had begun to be a point of pride to them. “Look at our son. See how brave he is!”
So the day that the boy angered the Storm King caught them by surprise. They ignored the warning signs, of the clouds slowly gathering over the distant needle of the tower, of the sunlight beginning to fade. They continued their work, taking care of their crops and pegging up the laundry on the lawn where the goats grazed. Even if they had noticed they had no reason to suspect it was because of their son.
Until the boy came sprinting out of their neighbour’s field of maize, his footfalls echoing with the roar of the thunder. By this time the sky was black as pitch and they’d had to hurriedly take in the washing and house the goats in the outhouse. The boy ran up to them and into the house, slamming the door behind him. They looked at his panicked face and knew at once that he was to blame. “What did you do?” they asked him. But the boy wouldn’t answer.
For the rest of the day and late into the night the storm raged. The villagers all cowered in fear in their homes, wondering what had set the Storm King off. Only the boy knew and no matter how often his parents asked him he wouldn’t tell. Finally dawn’s light broke through the cloud as the storm blew itself out. The villagers all breathed a sigh of relief and got back to their lives. They’d lived through the storms before and would do so again.
But this time was different.
The boy stayed inside for the next two days and his parents let him. It wasn’t wise to go outside after angering the King and so they made him clean their house from top to bottom, sweep out all the dust the storm had blown inside and fix the holes the wind had howled through. On the third day they sent him into town to trade their goat’s milk for some eggs.
As soon as he stepped outside there was a change in the air, a sharpening and a tension as if someone had suddenly started paying attention. He was halfway to the village before the rainclouds covered the sun and he had to run back, the milk sloshing in his bucket. His parents gathered him and the goats into the home and locked it up tight.
This storm was less ferocious than the previous one. The rain sheeted down but the lightning only occasionally flashed, the thunder wandering among the hills and plains, booming from here and there. As if it were searching for something.
His parents tried to laugh it off as a coincidence. People had annoyed the Storm King before but, though his vengeance was swift, it was usually brief. You weathered the storm and that was an end of it. The Storm King didn’t hold a grudge.
But this time was different.
Just in case they kept the boy inside for a week. He want sent down into the cellar, where he sorted through the old sacks of half rotten vegetables and the broken remembrances of days past. By the end of the week his back was sore from spending so long bent over and cobwebs netted his hair. But the cellar was sparkling clean and his parents felt it was safe for him to go outside again.
The boy was handed a shovel and sent to muck out the goats, a task that took him an hour. Then he washed in the water butt, cleansing himself of the dust of the past week, before going to help with the weeding. He made no loud noises, nor strayed far from the house. And still it was just past midday that the clouds came rolling in again.
Once again the family dashed to the house and once again the storm was mild, as such things went. But this time the booms of thunder were nearer and the lightning flashed between the shutters. The boy quaked with every peal but otherwise remained silent. His parents looked at him, concerned. It was getting harder to tell themselves that the Storm King wasn’t looking for their son.
“What did you do to upset the Storm King so?” they asked but still the boy wouldn’t tell them.
His parents feared what would happen when the King found their son. This time, they decided, the boy needed to stay inside for a month. After all, the Storm King would have forgotten whatever he did by then.
A month inside is tough on a boy of any age or disposition. This boy, who was used to running through fields with his friends and working long hours beside his parents, was especially despondent. His parents put him in charge of all house chores, cooking, cleaning, mending, fixing, and, while that helped, his endless horizons had still been replaced by four close walls. His legs grew weaker, his skin grew paler and his eyes grew accustomed to candles or sunlight through glass.
Eventually though the month past and he was allowed outside. Now he would be safe. Never before had the Storm King been angry a month, a week and three days after.
But this time it was different.
And the stormclouds began forming within an hour.
The parents looked at each other. What could they do? Their son couldn’t live in the house forever, never going outside. They had tried running from the problem. Now they had to face it.
They gathered the goats inside, because hope is never a replacement to caution. Then, baring the door so the boy couldn’t slip inside, the family waited as the storm approached. Closer and closer it crept, the air hazing from golden yellow to purple. Finally it was upon them.
Lightning flashed overhead, thunder cracked.
The Storm King came.
The clouds above, black as a bruise, black as broken love, started circling around the hill the house was built on. The sky briefly appeared above them, light blue and unreachable, before the clouds slammed together and down with a clap. They impacted the hill before the family and within it a shape formed.
The Storm King was of nature and such things are impossible to properly describe. Yes, he was tall but it was the vastness of a cloud in the sky. His beard was bushy and Cumulonimbus. His eyes were St Elmos fire, his mouth a crack of tempestuousness, his voice a gale. His anger was static, sparks of it jumping around him. His attention, when it settled on the family, was landfall.
Was it the being before them speaking or was it the very air around them? There was no way of telling. The boy quaked but didn’t falter. Instead he took a deep breath, the fury in the air filling his lungs, and stepped forward.
“Me,” he said, small, quiet but dauntless.
“You broke into my house. You took what wasn’t yours.”
His parents fall back in shock. “You stole from the Storm King?” They asked the boy. He looked at them and nodded.
“It was mine,” the Storm King raged. “Mine. I made it, I owned it. You stole it.”
“You made her, but you weren’t worthy of her,” the boy replied. “So I took her back.”
Another crack of thunder lit the air. The Storm King towered over them, then bent down and glared at the boy. “Return it to me! Now!”
“I can’t,” the boy said. “I gave her away and now she’s where you’ll never find her.”
The clouds, that had been circling the hill like sharks, stopped for one, heavy moment. The Storm King’s eyes narrowed.
“Then suffer in its place.”
Then the man was gone. But the storm, and the rage, remained.
The family barely made it into the house before the first flash and boom filled the air. The goats huddled in a corner, some climbing onto the beds, and has to be wrestled down into the cellar. Because there was no question that they needed into the cellar, the house was shaking and the storm had only just begun. Finally they got the last nanny in there and shut the trapdoor.
Thunder rolled like a drum, lightning was as constant as candlelight. The hill shook, struck by forces rarely unleashed. Night, turned into day, turned into night, indistinguishable from each other and their passing was only noted by the oil lamps being refilled and the feeding of the goats.
There was no natural reason for this. They all knew what this was. Rage, fury, vast and untapped, vented upon them.
But even the anger of the storm is not endless. Eventually the constant barrage of flash and thunder slowed and stopped. The howling wind blew the storm heads to bits and rays of sun finally poked through.
They crept up from below, followed by the goats. The house was a wreck. The windows had been blown in, glass and shutters vanished to never be seen again. The door could be found sunk into the table, the two joined like lovers. The chimney was a tumble of fallen stone. But outside the sun beckoned.
The boy took a trembling step outside into the light, the smell of renewal thick in the air. The onslaught of the storm had changed him and his hair had turned a thick, shining silver. His parents stood with him and together they looked at their farm.
The storm had wrought changes. The lawn, once kept neat by the goats, was wild and knee high. The muskmelons had swollen to huge sizes. The shed and outbuildings were gone, as was the clothes and the line. In places the ground had been rent down to the bedrock, generations of soil stripped away. A trickling stream that hadn’t existed before bubbled quietly past the base of the hill.
“Well?” his parents asked him. “This is what happens when you steal from the Storm King. Was it worth it?”
The boy looked around, a ringing in his ears that would never go away. Finally, he replied. “Yes.”