The Golden Apple
In a kingdom now crumbled long before our time, there lived a greedy queen. So much did this queen love gold that she was always adorned in it, her body always glistening in the sun as it reflected off of her jewels. Her husband the king, as nasty as she was greedy, loved to oversee the gold mines and whip the workers when they would not work as fast as it pleased him.
The jewelers who fashioned the gold for the queen to wear always worked until their fingers bled and were publicly flogged if their piece was not to the queen’s liking. With the nastiness of the king and the greediness of the queen, the kingdom was in disarray and its people impoverished.
Then one day an old woman came to their castle asking for an audience and though she was gruesome to look upon she was admitted for she said what she had to say was of dire importance. The king looked away holding his handkerchief to his nose and the queen all but collapsed as the old woman stood before them, but as she started to speak they listened.
She told them how the kingdom was failing and how everyone was falling ill.
“Soon there will be no more miners to mine your gold and no more jewelers to set it,” she said.
“What is it your propose, old woman?” the king asked. “How can we fix these things?”
The old woman slipped her hand through her big sleeves and produced a single golden seed. “Here I have a magic apple seed that will grant the kingdom fortune and peace. Just plant it in a fertile place and let it grow. As it grows its magic will spread and help the people of the land. But I warn you,” she said holding the seed back, “do not take a single apple from the tree or pluck a leaf from its branches. If you do, then everything that the tree has done will be undone once more.”
The king and queen exchanged curious glances as they thought of the woman’s words.
“There can be no harm of you planting the seed,” the king finally said.
The woman shook her head. “No, not me,” she said in reply. “But you.”
So the king and queen took the seed and found a place for it in their gardens. They dug a hole to the woman’s specifications and watered the seed every day for a week. When they rose on the eighth day they saw in their garden a glorious tree like none they had ever seen. The trunk was made of pure silver and the leaves were gems all their own, but the most captivating sight about the tree were the perfectly rounded, golden apples that hung beautifully from their stems.
The queen marveled at the tree in all its splendor. People from around the kingdom were invited to see the tree, but not touch it. Parties were held in the garden that began to bloom more beautifully than ever.
The kingdom itself blossomed as health and peace were returned to its people. Trade had never gone so well and the merchants had never prospered so much.
For many years the kingdom thrived and its people were joyful and kind. The king was more patient and understanding to his subjects offering words of praise and encouragement. Everyone seemed to be doing better, everyone except the queen.
The queen was haunted by the tree; it possessed her both day and night. Every night when she closed her eyes she could see nothing except the tree. Day in and day out she sat in front of the tree staring at its beauty wishing more than anything to possess it as much as it possessed her. For years the queen suffered in her torment watching as the tree remained constant. Even as the snow fell and the other plants around it withered in the cold it stayed strong. The only thing the snow did was make the tree sparkle more.
The beauty of the tree maddened the queen who could speak of nothing else. Often enough the servants would find her standing in front of it whispering to herself even in the late or early hours. To the queen, only the tree existed.
Seasons passed and thirty years later, the kingdom was still strong. The king held a celebration for the tree as he did every year, inviting everyone to pass through the garden and pay homage to the tree that saved them all. Everyone was joyous as they sang songs written about the tree and danced in tribulation. But as the guests began to dwindle and those that lingered were taken by drink, the queen made her entrance. She had heard the singing and saw the dancing from her bedroom window that overlooked the tree and she could take it no longer.
As if in a trance she walked past everyone, her arms outstretched as she approached the tree.
“It will be mine,” she said as she plucked a single apple from its branches.
Suddenly the sky was covered by clouds, blocking the light from the moon and stars. The earth began to shake causing those still standing to fall. The wind began to blow fiercely and wildly. The castle began to crumble to the ground, bits of stone falling everywhere, but the queen still stood alone in front of the tree. As the ground opened around the gardens the people of the kingdom and her husband fell through the cracks screaming swallowed up by the earth itself.
After everything calmed down, the queen finally blinked and stared at the rotten apple in her hand. She gasped as she let it fall. She then looked at the tree and began to cry. Standing before her was a tree, just a tree.
The wind blew and all of the leaves flew away leaving the ordinary browness of its trunk and branches before the queen. The queen, shaken from her madness, curled up against the roughness of its plain bark and wept.
She had traded her kingdom for a rotten apple.