Another not-for-children children’s story!
This one is called ‘Happy Ever After’
Once upon a time there was a little boy called Stanislav who wanted very much to be a Warden.
“What do you want to be if you grow up?” People said.
“I want to be a Warden!” Stanislav said, unsurprisingly.
“But being a Warden is a very hard life,” they said, smiling the patronising smiles of adulthood, “you have to do a lot of walking and fight wolves (with and without a capital W) and spend your whole life helping people. Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“Duh.” Said Stanislav.
“But you will probably die.”
“Yes. I will. We all will.”
They found it difficult to argue that point.
“But the best we can hope for is to sell our lives dearly so that others do not have to know the horrors of our forests. And when I lay for the last time in my bed of blood and snow I will do so with a smile on my face.”
They all agreed that Stanislav was very wise, if terribly precocious.
And Stanislav spent his young days sharpening his blade for the kill and hardening his feet for the road. And he spent his nights telling stories to the dark sky, learning the secrets of the shadows and the twilight and sharpening the magic of his mind.
Everyone agreed that he would make a great warden one day and that while he would still almost certainly die, at the very least he would die well.
But, one day, through little fault of his own, Stanislav angered an old crone who was passing through the village. Perhaps he paid some accidental insult to the wild gorse of her hair or the creased ravines of her skin. Perhaps he ran into her while he was training and knocked her down, causing her to spill her basket full of teeth and whispers upon the ground. Perhaps he stepped on her foot in his heavy, iron-shod boots.
What he did isn’t really important, what is is that she laid a curse upon him and the wording of the curse was this: “May you live happily ever after.”
Stanislav tried to forget about the curse and in time he did become a warden as he always wanted. He roamed the frozen roads with his warden company and they kept aflame the fire that held back the night.
Until, one day, they were ambushed by a demon. Though surprised, they used every inch of their strength and cunning, they trapped and bound it within a riddle within a cave within an avalanche. But it killed every one of them except Stanislav.
Over the years, Stanislav was a member of many Warden Companies and though he lost many dear friends nothing so much as scratched him. The other Wardens began to think he was bad luck.
But he found a way to use the curse to his advantage, throwing himself always into the hardest and most hopeless fights, trying to save as many other lives as possible.
He even found love with another Warden in his company and quickly discovered that the curse extended to them as well, as he could not be happy without his love.
Together, the two of them were truly terrible to behold, their hands entwined as gore flew from their axes and dripped from their mouths.
In time, they grew old together. But they also grew slow and weak as the years drank the strength from their flesh and spat up fresh aches for their bones.
“Thank you for all your great deeds.” Their company told them, unable to meet their eyes. “But you cannot keep the pace with us on the roads any longer. It is time for you to return to the village.”
Being Wardens was all the two of them ever wanted and they could not face the idea of hanging up their blades or their boots. So they stepped off the road and into the wilds, determined to kill whatever monsters they found there and meet their end together in their bed of blood and snow.
And they lived happily ever after in the depths of the woods.
Which, in its way, is a kind of death.
And they live there still.