Gemini (Second Draft)
Fables. Legends. Myths. It does not matter to me how different they are from each other; they're all one and the same as far as I'm concerned: they're stories. If there's one thing I enjoy more than listening to them, it's telling them. And perhaps that's why I find myself as a bard. But enough about me. As much as I love to prattle about myself, the story I'm about to tell is not about me. At least not at first.
Several years ago, I was drawn to the realm of Twin Peaks. It was originally named after the two valleys that surrounded the place, but some people speculate that the reason for its name is because of the frequency of twins that are birthed in the area. That being the case, it was not surprising that the king and queen of the realm gave birth to twins two decades earlier.
My story revolves around them, the twin princes as they were called. Some kind of conflict had arisen when the king and queen had passed away, and the one who now sits on the throne is Jason, the younger of the twins. I had ventured far from my home to hear his story, that I might add a new tale to my repertoire. I thought myself fortunate when King Jason approved my request for an audience with him.
I will skip the details of how I lodged in a nearby inn (paying for my board with song) and how I covered quite a distance to reach the castle. Suffice to say, I was escorted by guards to the throne room, which had purple drapes covering the walls and a crimson carpet leading to the actual throne. With the exception of the two guards escorting me, the king was alone, comfortably sitting in his throne, his eyes somewhat eager to see me. King Jason was far from what you'd expect a hero would look like. He was skinny and bony, his overflowing robes exaggerating the thinness of his body. His skin was dark and parched, totally unexpected coming from royalty. And then he stood up.
Whatever King Jason lacked in his physic, he made up for in body language and confidence. His poise was firm and his gaze never wavered. He was assessing me just as I was assessing him, that much I was certain. With a quick wave of his hand, the guards beside me nodded and left the room. I was now alone with him, which was strange since kings usually take more precautions than this.
"Greetings," he said. "I am glad you have made the journey safely."
"Thank you for your concern, my lord. I am used to long travels and I am eager to ask for a certain boon from someone such as yourself."
"And what might that be, hmmm?"
"A story, my lord. Your story to be exact."
"And might I ask why you are interested in just a story? Why not ask for gold, or perhaps an artifact I had obtained from my quest?"
"I am but a bard and stories are my way of earning a living. I am sure many people would be interested in hearing your tale. As far as everyone is concerned, you left your kingdom while it was in the hands of your brother, arrived several weeks later, revealed your brother to be an impostor, and ruled the realm ever since. As much as it leaves much room for embellishment, I'd rather have the details so as to give the story a ring of truth."
"And what if you do not find the story I have to tell pleasing?"
"I am a bard, my lord. Making it sound pleasing is what I do best, no matter how unlikely that might be."
King Jason merely smiled at my reply and returned to his seat.
"Very well then. I will begin with where it all started, the birth of my twin."
"My parents wanted an heir to the throne. But fate intervened when you least expect it and so my mother had given birth to twins. I was later told by my mother that I was originally supposed to be the eldest, crawling out of her womb first. But my brother grabbed my leg and pulled me before I could get out entirely. Thus it was he who had emerged first and proclaimed the eldest. He was then named Jacob."
"I do not know whether it was because of chance or because Jacob had been proclaimed the heir to the throne, but several days after we were placed in a cradle, someone abducted my brother and replaced him with a creature that looked identically like him. It was just as plump and pale as Jacob, or so I remember. I wailed but when the wet nurse had arrived, it was too late. No one could distinguish the impostor from my real brother. I obviously could not speak at the time and the only way I managed to express my distress was through my screams and tears. The impostor merely mimicked me and started crying as well."
"I would only find out later, after some thorough research, that the impostor was a changeling, a creature that takes the place of newly born babes to be raised by a family that was not its own. The legends say that it would grow to be a mischievous and ugly creature. Unfortunately, only the former was true. The changeling was as handsome as Jacob would have been: golden locks, smooth skin, a firm build—all accented by his confident demeanor. As for me, I would grow to be a pale shadow of him. Mind you, I wasn't as confident as I am now. I was the meek and shy one, the one who would hide in a corner whenever guests would arrive, or the type that would look at his feet whenever someone would stare. The impostor, however, would play tricks on the maids, charm the maidens, and banter insults with the other boys. But whenever we were alone, Jacob would threaten me, and none too often hurt me, just to scare me even if I didn't dare tell anyone about my childhood memory."
"It was on our nineteenth birthday that the impostor had been proclaimed king. Father was ill at the time and was confined to his bed. Mother was too much in distress. Everyone agreed it was the right time for ‘Jacob' to assume his place as king. I, on the other hand, was relegated to court duties. Honestly, I did not want to be king. But I chafe at the idea of the creature pretending to be my brother as ruler of the land. And so on that day, I set out to look for a magical talisman that would reveal the falsehood of the impostor."
"I was told by an oracle, after making a huge donation, that beyond Twin Peaks lay a mirror that would show a person's true form. However, I was warned that there were three challenges I had to overcome. The first lay in a hall near the mountains. I must pass through it in order to get to the second challenge. And so I went there, fending off wild animals and brigands on the way. I finally got there but all I saw before me was a huge marble hall shrouded in darkness."
"I entered and was consumed by the putrid smell of rotten bodies. I could not see where the stench came from though because of the darkness. I fumbled through my belongings to get a torch and lit it. I saw the corpses of men still garbed in their armor, a torch in one hand, a blade in the other. There did not appear to be signs of a struggle, only a gaping expression on their faces. And then from the corner of my eye I saw something move in the darkness. A silhouette of my size and shape appeared, creeping out of the fringes of the light. It encircled me, moving from the floors to the walls which was lighted by my torch. It made no sound and all I heard as the crackling of the flames of my torch. And then it slowly drew its sword from its sheath, preparing to thrust its immaterial blade at my beating heart."
"It was actually my folly that saved me. Instead of drawing my own sword, I got frightened and dropped my torch. The shadow suddenly lunged at me, a quick change in tactics considering it was taking its time the other moment. But the light gave out before it could reach me and when I expected its blade to pierce my heart, all I felt was the cold darkness around me and the stench of dead men."
"I hesitated to pick up my torch and reflected on what had just happened. Was the shadow a mere illusion or a real threat? If it was the former, that would not explain the corpses. Of course I wondered why I didn't join the fate of the others if that was the case. And then I remembered the torches and swords the men were holding. Swords would be ineffective against incorporeal monsters such as the shadow I just encountered. The men needed the torches to see their foe, but shadows need light as well to exist. That was their error, and I considered myself lucky that my torch had gone out in time."
"Groping in the darkness, I eventually found my way out. I do not know how much time I spent in that hall and the only way I managed to track my progress was through the fading smell of the corpses I left behind. You also cannot imagine how tempted I was to light a torch even for just a moment; a man can go crazy at not seeing the light. But I remembered the gaping expressions of the dead men and I did not want to share their fate."
"The second challenge I faced was something more mundane, albeit just as strange as the first. After exiting the hall I had emerged into a courtyard. Tress and shrubs surrounded me and best of all, I finally saw light. After wandering in the courtyard for some time, I was finally greeted by a two-headed giant garbed in wolf's skin and carrying a pair of wooden clubs."
"The giant approached me and one of the giant's heads introduced himself; the other head appeared to be sleeping. He told me that he had not always been like this. He too was a prince but was born with two personalities. People could not tell the difference between him and his ‘other self' until his other self had committed murder, and was cursed into this form by a wizard as punishment for his crime. To atone, he has been guarding this place ever since."
"I thanked him for his story and asked where I could find the magic mirror. He told me that it was ahead but that he was guarding the mirror and could not let me go any further. It was his duty to protect it, after all, and waved the club he was holding in his left hand to make sure I got the point. He did not sound threatening and in fact said it with a smile, and I did feel his reluctance in having to harm me."
"But the giant's other head seemed to be waking and the head that I was currently conversing with told me to run away. I honestly would have if it were not for the fact that I thought this was probably some kind of test as well as feeling ashamed for not standing my ground in the first trial. The other head finally stirred and the first thing he did was swing his club at me. I managed to dodge it but my courage wavered at that moment. It was strange, hearing from one head to run, while the other was muttering curses and told me to stand still. My sword was not drawn out yet so I thought it would be best to do as the kinder head said."
"The two-headed giant chased me, his stride significantly longer than mine. I did not expect such an abrupt change in my situation but I had to think fast. I headed back to the hall, knowing that the giant would not enter the place. I managed to get there before he could reach me but he guarded the exit, waiting for me to come out. I took a deep breath and planned my next move. I would not win over the giant with strength so I had to do it with guile. Unlike most foes, he had two personalities, hence the personification of two heads. It seems that the two heads were not cooperating with each other and perhaps that is where the giant's weakness lay."
"I drew out my sword, went out, and charged at the giant. One of the giant's faces looked sad and did not even bother to raise his club. The other was eager, his club raised and ready to smash me when I came into range. But I halted before that came to pass and asked the giant a question. I asked which of the two was the strongest. The ferocious one laughed and told me it was him. I then asked both of them what their names were and they both blurted out the same name. As I suspected, no one ever acknowledged them as individuals so the concept of two different names never came up. This caused some confusion between the two as they quarreled over their names, each one wanting the other to choose a different one. I offered to parley between the two, me being a neutral party in their conflict. In exchange for arbitrating, they would not harm me and allow me to continue my quest. I rationalized that there would still be a third challenge awaiting me so letting me pass would not mean automatically failing in their duty to protect the mirror. After all, if I did manage to succeed in conquering the first and third challenge, would it not be logical that I would have succeeded in the second? At least this way, we did not have to slaughter each other and at least they would have one of their problems solved. Either I was more persuasive than I thought or they were quite dim-witted, but the two heads agreed to my proposal."
"I left, giving the two-headed giant totally different names altogether. The more violent one I gave the name of Strength, appeasing both his ego and attitude. The other I named Gentle, for I thought he was a kind person at heart. I sheathed my blade and continued on my way until I found a shrine housing the mirror I was looking for. My quest seemed at an end as I gazed into the mirror and saw my reflection."
"Behind the mirror though was a doppelganger, a creature with the ability to take on my shape as well as my memories. As I was looking at the mirror, the doppelganger was assuming my form and prepared to strike me dead with his copy of my sword."
"Suffice to say, I came home with the mirror in tow. I revealed that the changeling was actually not my brother but a foul creature masquerading as him. Everyone saw in the mirror that the creature's reflection was that of a malformed creature, its eyes bulging from their sockets, ears sharp and pointy, skin greenish and pale. The changeling was slain on the spot by the guards, and I eventually took his place as king."
"My father eventually died of his sickness. An investigation showed that the changeling had poisoned my father to hasten his death. I had a proper funeral for both my father and long-gone brother, while the changeling's body I had it burned and the ashes blown to the winds. My mother is currently residing in a monastery, mourning the demise of my father and brother. The mirror is in the treasury and that is the end of my story."
I committed to memory King Jason's narrative. He was grinning at me after finishing the story and I felt somewhat uncomfortable as he peered at me.
"My lord, I am concerned at your tale of the third challenge. For the most part, you skipped narrating your conflict with the doppelganger. And judging from how you conquered the previous two challenges, fighting is melee is not your best ability, if I might say so, my lord."
"How perceptive of you. But I know of the way you bards exaggerate your stories and how the commoners do love a dramatic battle at the end. I will leave the embellishments to your discretion." The king smiled at me as he said those words. Again, I felt uncomfortable, but I pressed on knowing this might be the only chance I might have to satisfy my curiosity.
"I appreciate your trust in me, my lord, but I would be much more content if you obliged me in narrating what happened in the shrine between you and the doppelganger."
"Do you really want me to tell you?" The king was smiling when he asked me that question, and as a reflex, I started looking around, observing that all the guards were outside. There was only myself and him.
"I peddle in stories, my lord. But I am just a bard and at the disposal of the king."
"Do you know that names have power? Names are part of a person's identity and for a creature such as the doppelganger, naming himself confines his power. The changeling, for example, once it adopted the name Jacob and introduced himself as Jacob, could no longer alter his shape. He was locked in the identity of ‘Jacob' even though it originally was not his own."
"I have just noticed, my lord, that you have not introduced yourself to me."
"It's funny that while everyone has seen the changeling's reflection in the mirror, no one has ever seen mine."
The man before me just smiled as his laughter echoed around the room.