Jackie Morris

Fairytale | Of Kings and Curses by Jackie Morris

The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow is a beautiful collection of brand new folk tales by world-renowned author and illustrator Jackie Morris.

Sometimes telling a story of love, sometimes one of woe, every tale features music and the power it can wield. The rich, intricately detailed illustrations weave this large-format book, conjuring magical animals, enchanted woodlands and a symphony of songs which come to life within Jackie’s lyrical text.

Every story has been inspired by, and is illustrated with, an image originally created by Jackie as a Christmas card for Help Musicians UK (previously the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund). Produced over a period of 16 years, a series of characters began to emerge, sometimes missing for a few years before once again appearing in a new image.

Here Wales Arts Review is very proud and excited to publish one of those stories with Jackie’s accompanying artwork.

Jackie Morris

There was a land where, long ago, the people chose their king or queen. They were ruled over wisely, not by the man or woman who was richest, nor by the one who had the biggest army, nor through the crown being passed down from father to son, mother to child. The king or queen of the land was chosen from among the musicians.

When a ruler died people would come together from far and from wide and even from other lands and a contest would be held, a contest that had, over centuries, grown to be the most marvellous celebration. All who stepped forward were given a stage, all would be heard, singer or player, and the contest would continue until one person’s work stood out above all others.

During a person’s reign they could be challenged, so it was in the interest of any ruler to stay close to their music at all times and continue to grow and to learn.

In this way it was felt that the land would always be ruled wisely, for to learn music a person needed to have an understanding of the rhythms of life, an endurance, patience.

There were musicians who never sought the power that came with such high office, wanting only to play, to sing, to learn, for the beauty of the music itself. Such a one was Evan.

Evan was born into a poor family. All could see that even from a small child he had been gifted with a talent for music and a desire to play. He sang, and when he did the world stood still to listen. Even the birds in the trees would stop their busy darting flight to hear him play.

He was sent at the age of seven to the land of the Towers of Song, the youngest student ever to be sent, to widen his talent, and though he learned drum, bassoon, harp, and all manner of instruments he always returned to the simple wooden flute. He honed his skill, only to serve music the better. This was always and ever his only ambition.

But his family had other ideas. As did Grace.

Grace grew up alongside Evan, in a poor family. She loved his music. She loved him. And she was ambitious. She knew that soon the king would die. She knew that Evan would most likely win the crown. And so she wished to rule by his side.

The king died.

The festival was held.

People came from all over the land, from the Towers of Song, from far and wide. Evan did not wish to go, but Grace spoke to him of how it would benefit his poor family if he did, how his country needed him, how she loved him and wanted what was best for him. She said that more people would hear his music if he became king, surely he would want that. He didn’t. It mattered not to him if he played to a sparrow or a beggar or an emperor. What mattered to him was the music itself. He wanted only to be a hermit, to learn and to grow with the notes.

Grace said he was selfish.

She said his talent had been gifted to him for a purpose. She said that he owed it to his family to take this chance to lift them from poverty. To deny that he should be king was against nature.

And she said that she loved him, had always loved him.

And she said he should do this for her.

So Evan went to the festival and, as everyone believed he would, he won the crown.

Feasts were held in his honour and Grace announced their betrothal. For forty days and nights musicians came to play for Evan and the beautiful Grace. His family moved into the royal palace.

Everyone was happy, except for Evan. For now there was no time to play and, though he loved to listen, it was not enough. He was showered with gifts, of golden flutes, guitars and lutes, harps, drums and aeolian pipes.

The palace was like a museum, with all the finest musical instruments, anything his heart could desire, except for peace and quiet in which to think and to play. All his hours in every day were held captive by affairs of state.

On the fortieth day, the day of the coronation, a huge feast was set. Grace presided over all the details and arrangements. It was only at the moment of crowning that she realised Evan was nowhere to be found. He had set off early on the swiftest horse he could find, taking only his flute. He travelled far, far away, hiding his talent, never playing in public, for fear that the people of his land might find him and take him back to the palace.

Grace sent out spies, determined to bring him back. She missed his music. He must return to rule beside her. She loved him with such a fierce passion. At least, she thought it was love.

She found him at last, living alone in a small hut in a clearing in a wide forest.

When Grace walked into his hut, many months after the failed coronation, he felt only dread in his heart.

At first she cried, clinging to him. Then she grew angry. All the while he held his silence. When she ceased to rage he asked, “Why have you come?”

“To take you home.”

“This is my home,” he answered.

She looked around his cabin. It was tiny, clean, but sparse. She thought of the palace she had left behind and knew she could not live here with him.

“Come home with me,” she said. “I will help you to rule. And your family need you. Can’t you see how much I love you? Why else would I travel to this godforsaken place to find you?”

“I cannot come,” Evan said. “I was not born to rule. Affairs of state are an anathema to me. Music is my language, not politics. Music is my soul. And this place is anything but godforsaken.”

“So, you love music more than me,” and as she spoke sparks of hurt and anger flashed in her eyes.

Evan chose silence.

“Then I curse you. Stay here in your hovel and play your flute. But if you ever step outside this clearing you will become a cat, screeching and howling as only a cat can. That will be your only music. Never again will you find an audience for your music. Never again.”

She left Evan then, alone in his cottage in the clearing in the forest with his flute. She did not know that he had no need of an audience, that he played music only for the joy of the playing, not for praise, nor wealth, nor power.

In his forest clearing he played to his heart’s content, and his audience was the trees, the flowers and the woodland creatures, at night the moon and the stars, and even at times the ancient woodland gods who travelled far to hear him, hidden in the forest.

Sometimes a curse can become a blessing. And he was happy with his music, until the day a voiceless girl walked out from the trees and up to his fire.

Of Kings and Curses Jackie Morris

There will be an exhibition of the paintings featured in the book, and musical instruments, at New Brewery Arts, Cirencester, 17-30 September, with preview and book launch on Friday 16 September.