Flying Horses

February 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Posted in from the Sea of Stories, Notes | Leave a comment

My dad had an assortment of stories he used to tell my brother and me when we were kids. There was one about a king and a magician, which recently found its way into my current work in progress:

One of the stories his sister had always loved best had been about a proud king, who had summoned a magician to his court. When the sorcerer and his assistant arrived, the king led them to a stable, where a magnificent black stallion was kept.

“You are the fifth magician I have brought here,” he said. “I command you to make this horse fly.”

The magician was all too aware that the other four magicians had failed—just as he was aware that what the king asked was impossible.

“I will give you a year and a day,” the king continued. “If you succeed, I will reward you beyond your wildest dreams.”

“And if I fail?”

“Well then, I will have you decapitated.”

“I see.” The magician paused. “And what if I refuse the commission?”

“Then I shall have you killed immediately.”

The magician nodded. “In that case, I accept. I will work my magic on this horse, and in a year and a day, God willing, he will fly.”

Once the king had taken his leave, the magician’s assistant shook his head. “How could you say that, master? You know the task is impossible!”

The magician shrugged. “Many things can happen in a year and a day. I could die. The king could die. And who knows? The horse may even learn to fly.”

* * *

One of the things I always liked about this story was that to me at least, there’s no obvious lesson to be learned. It’s somewhat oblique. It could speak to the idea that anything can happen, even the seemingly impossible. Or it could speak to the fact that sometimes we’re not given a choice, and we just have to do what we have to do under difficult circumstances.

There are other readings, as well. I don’t know where it came from–it has an Arabian Nights feel to it, but the versions of the Nights that I’ve read do not feature this particular tale. Regardless of the origin, however, I’ve always been rather fond of it.

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