The Huntsman’s Gifts by C.J Peat
To those outside the palace, and even to many within, Luka was known as a great hunter and marksman. While the King and his noblemen hunted only in sport, Luka had an air of fierce professionalism, providing a daily supply of deer to the palace kitchens. This false perception of Luka’s role was allowed to spread, his reputation as an animal hunter fanned by the few people privy to the real reason for his service to the King.
Luka was not employed to hunt animals. He had become known as ‘the Huntsman’ because of his ability to find unusual objects, preciosities, impossible artefacts that would be delivered to the King in exchange for a salary. The King’s remarkable collection was renowned far and wide and gave him many diplomatic advantages, yet not even he knew where Luka acquired all those strange items from.
He found them in our world.
Luka, in his youth, had followed a path deep, deep into the darkest part of the woods, to the very centre of Fairytale Land. There he had found a tree full of red apples. Luka had not been the first to find these apples; most people, however, compared their redness to blood and put themselves off eating them. Luka instead compared the apples’ redness to a burning sunset and they looked all the more tempting for it. As soon as he bit into one, he dropped to the ground in a dead sleep and woke up in our world.
Many children travel to other worlds and gradually forget them as they grow. Perhaps it was the combination of Luka’s imagination and enterprising spirit that helped him remember our world and keep returning there, first as a curious boy, then as a resourceful adult working for the King. He always awoke in London but would often spend weeks or months at a time in our world and by now there were few countries he had not visited. Eventually he would return to the park in London, to the apple tree that would take him back home. Everything in our world was a little bit less: the apples not as red nor as sweet, the people more tired and slightly shorter. Our technology and goods, however, seemed magical to Luka and to the King. The collection rooms in the palace were filled with toy cars, radios, postage stamps, binoculars, shiny CDs, anything unknown to Fairytale Land.
When the King remarried, Luka heard rumours of the Queen’s distrust for ‘the Huntsman’ and decided to win her over. He returned from his next trip with only one item, a tablet computer, a gift for the Queen. The King had always prized electronic objects above others and Luka had years ago learned the secrets of electricity and fitted the collection rooms with power sockets. After researching it during his trip, he was now ready to install the miraculous Wi-Fi in the Queen’s quarters.
The Queen was enchanted by the tablet, at first for its uniqueness but later for the power it gave her. Inside its sleek shell was a wealth of knowledge only she could access. To everyone else it appeared as some kind of magical black mirror.
More importantly to Luka, the Queen seemed to forget any misgivings she had had about the Huntsman and quickly made him her confidant. When the King died, she told him of her fears that her stepdaughter, Snow-White, would destabilise the kingdom by attempting a coup. Although they were alone, the Queen had looked around her and leaned closer towards him before speaking.
“I know you are expert at acquiring things, Huntsman,” she whispered, “but are you also able to get rid of them?”
Luka could not misinterpret the Queen’s meaning. When he answered, he wholly intended to fulfil his patroness’s wish in the way that she meant. He had a reputation as a hunter, a killer, a murderer; getting rid of Princess Snow-White would only enhance his reputation, further shielding his true role. The Queen would mistakenly see Luka’s agreement as a sign of his loyalty but the cold, dispassionate business sense that made him consent to murdering a princess was the same that kept him from truly aligning himself to one person or cause.
Luka the Huntsman led Snow-White into the woods, those same woods that would eventually lead to the apple tree, although he did not plan on taking her that far. The woods were a good place to dig a grave and bury a body to never be found, while he told the princess that he was taking her to the place where his gifts came from. He knew that she had sometimes watched him enter the woods when he set off on his trips and she had always, child-like, been the most curious about where he had been.
Snow-White was still curious. As they stepped over tree roots and pushed aside branches, she asked constant questions about the places he had been to and the people he had met. The King, the Queen and the few advisors who knew the truth about his role had always been fascinated by the objects themselves. Luka, only half-listening to her questions, realised that Snow-White was the only one interested in their origins, in the world he had discovered and travelled to. He started to listen more closely and to spend more time answering.
Luka suddenly wanted to show Snow-White the apple tree. He wondered if she would see their redness as blood or as a burning sunset. He wanted to share the world he had spent so much time in and not told anyone about. He wanted to reveal its secrets to another person and admitted that he could not do that to a person he would then murder. As they walked on towards the middle of the wood the weight of the knife hanging from his belt seemed to lessen.
Luka the Huntsman and Snow-White reached the apple tree. The sky was now dark but the apples still looked the colour of a burning red sunset. Luka picked one and handed it to Snow-White.
“Eat this, Princess. One bite will take you to the other world, the place we have talked about. A place, I think, where you will be happier than you can be here.”
“How can an apple take me anywhere?” More questions from the curious Snow-White, spinning the fruit in her hand.
“One bite,” Luka the Huntsman answered, “and you will fall into a deep sleep. Sometimes it feels as if you are sleeping for days or weeks or years. You fall asleep here but then you awake in the other world. You will be able to see it for yourself. Please, Princess, it is not safe for you here.” Luka’s concern for Snow-White surprised him. Yes, he wanted her, someone, to see our world but he also wanted her to live. If he did not kill her, the Queen would find someone else to do it.
“The Queen wants me dead,” Snow-White said calmly. Luka could not tell if she was realising this now or had always known. She looked closely at the apple in her hand again. “This might be poisoned. How do I know that you, Huntsman, servant of the Queen, have not led me to a poisoned apple tree to kill me? How do I know that I will awake in the world that you have spoken of?”
Luka picked a second red apple from the tree. He admired its glow for a moment, as he always did, before turning to Snow-White.
“I will wake you up.” He bit into the apple and fell into a familiar sleep, hoping that Snow-White would follow him.
C.J. Peat lives in Scotland and writes as a hobby. She has recently become slightly addicted to writing fairy tale retellings, which is a nice addition to her ever-expanding list of slight addictions that currently includes listening to R&B, attempting Tai Chi and watching clips of The Voice on youtube. Her retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses is available to read in Timeless Tales magazine.
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Tags: C.J. Peat, fairy tales