The Queen of Roumania's Fairy Book - Chapter 10


THE SUN-CHILD


The tears all told her whence they came and grew so heavy, that beneath the burden sore,
The maiden died. . . .
The Bard of the Dambovitza.


AT her birth-hour the sun kissed her and made her his. The sun enwrapped her in a golden halo, and called her his child. The sun stole into her heart and took up his dwelling therein, he sent his rays to fill her wee hands and told her that for ever they were hers, he left his reflection in the blue of her eyes, and buried his radiance within the thoughts of her brain—therefore was she the Sun-Child, the Sun-Child whom everyone loved.

Her hair was golden, because the sun had forgotten his light amongst her curls, her eyes had the colour of deep summer seas that held captive his smile. Wee were the feet that carried her noiselessly into the dark lives of men, and her hands were two soft promises that had come down from purer climes.

Not even the sound of water bubbling out of desert sands could equal the charm of her voice, and the words she spoke were like priceless pearls that some legendary queen might thread upon a silken string. When she smiled it was as though all the buds of spring had suddenly opened, covering the world with blossoms after weary winter nights.

The Sun-Child was beautiful with a beauty no other child possessed. She lived with her parents in a humble street; both father and mother were simple and ignorant, little understanding what was the light their little one had brought down into their midst. 

But others understood, and flocked towards the Sun-Child's dwelling laying all their longing, their dreams, and their sorrows at her bare little feet.

The Sun-Child was not afraid of their voices; patiently she listened to their tales of woe; her small fingers gathered the tears from their eyes, gleaned the sighs from their lips; her heart, where the sun had his dwelling, became a beacon for weary wanderers, a sanctuary for souls that had lost their way, and so much light did the Sun-Child carry in her bosom, that it was as though she could have turned the whole world into gold.

But human sorrow is a weight heavier far than all the gravestones that cover the dead, and little did the Sun-Child realize what she was doing when she gave herself up to all those who wept. . . .

From far and wide they came to her, the weary, the heartbroken, the crushed, the humiliated, miserable outcasts flocking together from the four corners of the earth; in a long file they came, hoping to steal some of the light the great sun had left in her hands at her birth, and the rich came also, for they too carry many sorrows in their hearts . . . and the Sun-Child gave and gave, laying up no store for herself.

Her mother scolded her, telling her that she was foolish; her father was full of anger when he saw all the beggars and cripples and the haggard, tattered waifs collecting round his doorstep, talking to his little one, kissing her hands, listening to her words, as though she had belonged to the wise ones of this earth.

What had the Sun-Child to say to them? In what way did she console them, what power was hers, what magic, what tongue? I know not, for it is indeed a mystery that belongs to God.

But often at night her mother would awake from her sleep, and then it was to her as though out of the silence she could hear the Sun-Child's heart talking all alone in the dark, talking of all that it had felt and understood, and the mother would be filled with anguish, knowing that at night children should sleep, that their hearts also should sleep, forgetting for a while the toil of the day and its troubles and cares; but the Sun-Child's heart could not be silent nor could it rest, for full to overflowing was the Sun-Child's heart. . . .



The Sun-Child and her Visitors


The heart was telling about the poor woman whose children had died one after the other, so that the bare mounds of their graves stood side by side like little heaps of sand blown up by the wind.

It told about the old man who was so poor that he had naught to feed on but bread-crusts, that like a stray dog he picked out of the gutters in the streets, of the sister whose little brother died in her arms, although she had cried to the heavens to take her in his stead, of the bride who in vain waited for the bridegroom who never came back; of treachery, of vice, of poverty did the heart tell, of lost dreams of shattered homes, of death, of pestilence and murder, of dark waters and darker streets; of creeping jealousies, of sordid sufferings, of hollow desires and of tongues that say untruths. All this did the Sun-Child's heart relate in the dead of night, when it ought to have been at rest, but strange it was: never matter how sad or how infamous were the tales the heart was remembering, in passing through the thoughts of the Sun-Child even the ugliest story became beautiful, even the darkest deed seemed forgivable, even the greatest sorrow appeared bearable; it was as though the sunshine had taken hold of them and turned them into light. . . .

The mother marvelled and trembled as she listened, but the mother could not understand. . . .

One day the Sun-Child was sitting on its threshold in the ugly little street; upon the broken doorstep it had placed many little phials filled with the tears it had gathered from those that wept. The phials stood in a little row beside her and the sun, shining upon them, made them resemble giant diamonds of inestimable worth. With a rusty nail, the Sun-Child was gently striking against them, drawing from them marvellous melodies sweeter than the tunes which angels play on their harps.

The sordid street was filled with harmonies so sweetly penetrating, that the dirty panes of the windows began to vibrate, echoing, like distant voices, the notes that floated through the air . . . and so much light had collected round the Sun-Child that she seemed to be seated upon golden steps. . . .



The Sun-Child and the Phials of Tears


"What are those bottles?" asked her mother, stepping out of the house.

"They are holy philtres," answered the Sun-Child, "philtres I have filled from human hearts."

"Why do they shine so brightly?" enquired the mother with a frown on her brow.

"Because I have changed them into diamonds," said the Sun­Child, "diamonds that I am bringing to God."

"Give them to me," demanded the mother; "we are poor, and if they have become precious I can sell them, and turn them into golden coin."

"Do not touch them, O Mother," cried the Sun-Child, "they are sacred, and I bought them with part of my life!"

"Thy talk is foolish," scolded the mother; "give me thy phials that I may carry them to the merchant at the far street corner, so that we may have wood for the winter and bread for our starving stomachs through the long, bitter months!"

"Do not touch them, my Mother!" repeated the Sun-Child, "did I not tell thee that I bought them with part of my life!"

Looking down at her little daughter the mother suddenly became aware of her paleness, and seeing it, for a moment she hesitated, her foot quite close to the precious vials.

"Thou art not as other children," grumbled the mother; "thy ways are uncanny, and thine eyes are too large, they frighten me, they seem to be looking beyond the boundaries of this earth. Get thee hence with thy bottles, or verily I shall smash them, or sell them, I cannot bear the sound that they make!"

"They are the sound of tears, O my Mother, of tears that I am carrying to God."

"Be still!" cried the mother, "enough of thy talk! Be off! Go to play with other children, sit not thus idle on my doorstep, for I am busy, and thou art sorely in my way."

So the Sun-Child gathered up her precious flasks, and carried them to another place.

To a wood did the Sun-Child carry them, and setting them down on a stone, she played to the birds, to the leaves of the trees, to the sky above her, and to the small clouds that silently floated past, and the tears in the bottles talked a wonderful language, filling the little forest with music, relating of the long way they had come, remembering the eyes out of which they had fallen into the Sun-Child's heart.

The forest became like a cathedral on the day of All Saints. The Sun-Child sat gazing up at the far-off heavens; but why was the Sun-Child's face so pale. . . so white?

It came to pass that the Queen of the land heard talk of the Sun-Child, of the Sun-Child with the wonderful heart. . . and desiring to see her, the high lady had her brought to the palace where she dwelt.

Through noble halls, up marble steps, over shining floors did the Sun-Child's feet carry her towards a garden where the royal woman sat in lonely grandeur, awaiting the strange little guest.

Curious it was, but all the splendour through which the Sun-Child passed paled before her radiance—the Sun-Child was brighter than gold and precious stones, fairer than lilies, sweeter than the roses that bent towards her as she passed . . . but then, see ye, she was the Sun-Child, the Sun-Child whom everyone loved.

Now the Queen hid a secret in her soul, a woe that filled her days with darkness, a woe that made her nights a torture, a torture of which no one ever knew; but when she saw the Sun-Child, it was to her as though the Gates of Heaven had suddenly opened, and stretching out her arms to the little stranger, she drew her within them, pressing her wildly to her aching heart. With her hands, in which the sun had left his rays, the little one caressed the weeping woman; from her heart, where the sun had confided his light, she drew forth such radiance that the sad Queen's face began to shine like a star.



The Sun-Child and the Queen


Both arms round the lonely woman's neck, the Sun-Child whispered words into her ears, words that no other ever heard, but the Queen's expression as she gazed up into the skies above was so marvellous, that those around instinctively folded their hands.

What, however, no one noticed was the Sun-Child's paleness. When she walked back through the garden-verily she was whiter than moon-blossoms when they are very white.

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The Sun-Child had become the pulse of the land, the heart of the town; more and more people came to her asking light from her hands . . . the Sun-Child gave and gave, but the collection of little tear-­bottles near her bed became bigger and bigger, till they almost entirely encircled her miserable couch—somehow the Sun-Child felt that when the circuit of phials would be completed . . . but why speak of such things. . . .

The Sun-Child's mother was too busy to count the tears her little daughter gathered from human hearts into her own; besides, since she had been called to the palace, the simple woman looked upon her little one with a feeling of awe, rejoicing over the reputation she had won in the town.

Something, however, which the mother never knew, was that the Sun-Child felt a great pain in her heart, a pain as though the sun within her bosom were burning her up. Still, whenever anyone came to her doorstep the Sun-Child had always the same smile, and her hands were ever full of light . . . but the pain in her heart was becoming daily harder to bear, and the face of the Sun-Child was now pale as the moon on winter nights.

Often it happened that the Sun-Child came back from her wanderings very late at night; her parents, though anxious at first, soon got accustomed to her strange little ways, and would go to bed quite quietly without awaiting her return, for had not the Sun-Child a charmed life?

Thus it came to pass that one evening the Sun-Child stole softly home in through the door mother and father had left ajar, that she stole noiselessly, softly, to her poor small bed, carrying a wee flask in her hand; it was only a tiny glass bottle full of clear, shining tears, a tiny glass bottle that completed the almost closed ring. . . .

Softly, the Sun-Child lay down upon her pallet of rags; no noise did the Sun-Child make, for she did not wish to awake her parents from their well-earned sleep, but the Sun-Child was horribly tired—the little phial she had carried home was the heaviest her hands had ever held.

Folding her arms over her aching bosom the Sun-Child closed her eyes and lay quite still, as though she had been dead. . . .

As she lay there all the tears in the many little bottles began to relate their stories—to speak of all the griefs they had seen, and the Sun-Child's heart responded, answering their complaints, for verily the small heart understood them all too well. . . and, therefore. . . therefore, did the small heart break. . . .

Quite noiselessly did it break, never a sound did it make, but as it burst asunder all the light that the sun had hidden within it on the day of its birth, streamed forth, flooding the room with a radiance so great that it was as though all the glories of heaven had come down upon earth.

With the feeling that some miracle had taken place, the parents awoke, and staring around them they could not imagine what had happened, so overpowering indeed was the glare that filled the humble dwelling, that they had to shield their eyes with their hands.

Never had the dawn shone thus into their hovel! Oh! what did it mean? What was it? Where was their child?

With trembling steps the man and the woman approached the pallet where the Sun-Child lay dead. . . there she rested, her hands still crossed over her heart, and the Sun-Child was now like an alabaster casket filled with light.

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Falling on their knees, the father and mother stared in speechless wonder, and as they gazed at the wee corpse, there was a sound as of cracking glass, and the innumerable little flasks that stood in a closed ring around the bed splintered into a thousand pieces, but instead of tears a shower of diamonds scattered over the floor, a shower of shining, wonderful diamonds, of priceless worth. . . .

But the Sun-Child lay quite still, the Sun-Child made no movement, for the first time the Sun-Child did not rise to greet her parents with her sweet, sunny smile. . . .

There is no more to relate . . . only this quite little thing:

When the moment came to lift up the Sun-Child, so as to lay her in her poor little coffin, the body crumbled into ashes, into tiny grey, soft little ashes, ashes that could be gathered into a single hand.

For see ye, no one had ever guessed that the sun that had dwelt in the little child's heart had been so strong, that it had consumed it entirely, so that when its small soul flew back to God, the worn-out little shell fell to pieces, burnt up by a flame that had been too ardent, a flame that had been too strong to last.

The Queen, on hearing what had happened, begged for the Sun-Child's ashes, and she buried them with her own royal hands, buried them in her palace garden, there where the shade was darkest, there where the birds sang most! . . .

But every day at dawn and at sunset the grave became golden, golden like a dream, for in spite of the shade at those hours, all the rays of Heaven came there, quite naturally, came back to the heart of the Sun-Child, that had been their dwelling, to the heart of the Sun-Child, whom everyone had loved.