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Allegory Fantasy Short Story

The Wooden Palace

This short story is set on another world but is inspired by a particular era in our history. I won’t ruin it by telling you! I hope you work out the allegory by the end and leave the story feeling empowered.

Alara was sitting amongst a flurry of butterflies, they circled in a spiral around her like a shoal of fish. She was getting stronger. Her eyes closed, lined with concentration. Her mind was focused, inhabiting all of their minds—her arms disappearing into paper-thin wings.

If she could just keep the swirl flowing for a few more minutes—it could be her longest swirl yet. The whispers in the forest began encouraging her. She hadn’t seen them yet. Who were they?

She couldn’t help it. She peeked. But nobody was there. Curiosity had broken the flow. The butterflies started to disperse into the forest. Alara sighed in frustration as they began to disappear into the evergreens.

The forest was not unlike the evergreen ones on our planet, but, unlike ours, it was supposed to cover most of her world. A world that Alara could walk across in less than three hours. With no ocean, but, alongside the forest, plenty of streams and caves. Networks of caves that were filled with hundreds of bears. No one dared to go near the stone fields where their entrances lay. Not even Alara. But soon—when she felt brave enough—she planned to try. She felt like she might soon be powerful enough but she needed to try with a bear—not hundreds of them. 

The butterflies had mostly dissipated now but she held the minds of a few. She smiled at them sitting on her hand wagging their wings. 

‘Alara, can’t you ever be where you’re supposed to be?’

She whipped around, the butterflies flew away as her mind snapped out of focus. Her mother stood over, her hands on her bony hips. Everyone had bony hips—except the mind leaders. 

‘You were supposed to help cook. Dad has been out working all day…be more grateful.’ Alara’s hand was still mid-air, her mother grabbed it. ‘Get up, we’re going to be late.’

Alara sighed as her mother dragged her up. She couldn’t wait till she was powerful enough to protect him.

‘Hurry-up. No dragging your feet or you’ll be making new shoes.’

They walked together through the forest. Her mum grumbling to herself as she stormed ahead. Alara wasn’t listening; she was too busy glaring at all the men chopping down the trees in the distance. She always ran into the forest. She could feel everything near the chopping—it made her head twitch when a beetle got crushed under the logs; it made her eyes sting when a bird’s nest fell and killed the young. 

‘Alara. Get a move on, or I’ll eat your sweet bun for supper.’ 

Her mum grabbed her arm and dragged her forwards. Alara hummed to herself as she passed through the tree-felling zone. She kept hold of her mother’s arm to guide her. The pain was causing her to scrunch her eyes shut as she walked.

‘We’re nearly there, thank the lords.’

The wood palace. She glared at it. She could still hear the methodical thud of the hundreds of axes behind. She imagined the axes slicing through the palace, collapsing it to rubble. It was forever expanding with no clear purpose. Nearly a third of the forest had been cleared now. Yes, they couldn’t use stone from the caves—the bears were violent guardians—but, surely, they could use less wood. Maybe, they could consider planting more trees to replace what was lost. Maybe, they could be less greedy and stop hoarding all the food. Her dad mumbled this occasionally (but only when he thought no-one was listening).

The wood palace was far wider than all of the palaces in our world. It wasn’t very high but it was imposing in it’s scale. She knew they would keep expanding until it covered most of the planet—all of it if they could. Until it dwarfed all of the evergreen forests that ever existed; until there were none left to dwarf. 

But no one seemed to care. If they did, they kept quiet— or they would be fed to the bears. 

‘What are you thinking about?’ Her mother asked. 

Alara still kept forgetting to make sure her face was straight near the wood palace. Mother always watched her carefully when they neared it. Someone was always watching. Reporting was rewarded with food. Everyone was bone hungry here. 

Alara looked at her blankly.

‘What do you think?’ She said. 

‘Well don’t…at least, stop showing it.’

Her mum pointed to the wooden bear cage ahead filled with bony bears, growling with hunger. They wouldn’t have eaten since last week’s punishment. 

‘Do you want us eaten by the bears?’ 

Alara winced. She felt herself trapped whenever she was near, she felt like her heart was trapped inside a cage that was slowly compressing, crushing it, until it could pop. 

All of the huts lay either side of the palace path with the giant bear cage in view. A constant reminder of where the power lay and what would happen if it was challenged. However, most people didn’t need reminders; they had myths.

The mind leaders told everyone that the bear trials were a mercy; if they were truly angered they would unleash their powers on everyone as punishment. Parents always warned their children that the mind leaders could choose to force everyone to do their will, but, instead—because of their so-called benevolence—they chose to be kind and gave everyone free-will as a mercy. A guise, Alara thought. The whispers in the forest had told her this once. It’s a guise. She’d told her Dad this thought and he told her to never repeat it in front of anyone else. 

He didn’t say she wasn’t right. 

But, although some people might have been suspicious, for most, believing they were truly powerless to a benevolent higher power was more comforting than being controlled by people the same as themselves. Believing the latter would mean the possibility to change— change could mean even worse. 

They walked past the pitiful huts alongside the pathway leading to the bear cage. Alara looked at the state of most of the huts. Worse couldn’t be worse. The bear cage was in better condition than all of them. The feeling of entrapment was getting stronger.

‘I don’t want to.’ Alara said.

She’d stopped in the middle of the path, villagers were brushing past her to get to the front. The chopping had stopped in the forest. The sun had started to set. It would be time soon. Her first bear trial.

‘Of course you don’t. I don’t. But you need to understand.’

‘What? To be too scared to do anything?’

‘Do what?’ Her mum glared at her. ‘We can’t do anything. Do you want to be next? Or for us all to be punished?’

Alara stared down at the floor, rushed footsteps passed by in a flurry now. 

‘We have food, we have shelter. We could have nothing.’ Her mum put a hand gently on her shoulder. ‘Answer me. Do you want us all to starve or worse?’

The drums started sounding from the wood palace. A deep and dark sound echoing through the village. The guards banged their drums in unison sending a gong echoing through the surroundings. They paused to let the sound vibrate to a lingering hum and then banged them violently once again. 

‘We have each other. Do you want to lose that?’

‘No.’ Alara mumbled. 

She pushed her mother’s hand off her shoulder and slumped ahead. Stalling, at least, had the effect that she was not too close to the front. And she was fairly short, so, although she couldn’t avoid seeing the mind priests, she could avoid seeing the bear trial. Her mother spoke louder over a deep gong and the chatter. 

‘I can’t see your dad. He might be far behind.’ 

Her mother looked behind but couldn’t see him. Before Alara could say anything, her mother snatched her hand with a sigh and started pushing through people in front. They started grumbling. 

‘We haven’t got time…My daughter needs to go to the front. It’s her first trial.’

Alara glared at her mother but she couldn’t say anything here. At this moment she hated her mother more than anyone in the world—even the mind-leaders.

‘Make way everyone, we’ve got a fresh pair of eyes.’ A scrawny teen shouted. 

He grinned at her when he noticed her face was contorted with pain. Alara could feel her chest tightening as she was ushered to the front. People gently tapped her back and wished her well in gentle whispers. 

‘Good luck’

‘Try not to vomit.’

‘Welcome, my dear.’ 

Alara was pushed to the front. The drums were rattling through her rib-cage but her heart was beating louder. She scrunched her eyes closed in pain. The bears were growling loudly, they were starving like everyone else. She could sense the craving for punishment in the air—it was their only entertainment here. The spectacle of death was making people feel more alive. She could sense the fear too. But she couldn’t tell which was stronger. 

The drums had stopped beating. 

Her mum hissed. 

‘Look up.’

Alara opened her eyes. The mind leaders were above in their long green robes. They had a balcony almost half a mile long that overlooked everyone. They were only ever seen on the balcony—only their guards left the palace.

In unison they started to scream their sermons to the crowd below. Their fat bald heads bulged with effort. The people in the front echoed their words back through the crowd in a continual wave of voices. 

It is futile to fight us. We can control your minds or feed you to the bears.

It’s futile to fight us. We can control your minds or feed you to the bears. 

Futile to fight. We can control your minds to please the bears. 

Futile fight. We can control minds and please the bears. 

But, no matter what the last person in the crowd heard, it wasn’t difficult to work out their meaning; they only spoke to punish someone. 

Someone was dragged out of the front doors struggling like a worm with their entire body bound. Their screaming head inside a tight brown sack. Two guards dragged them by the ropes towards the wooden steps. They pulled the writhing body to the platform at the top of the bear cage. Alara closed her eyes tightly, trying to trap her tears. The moaning body was thrown to the middle of the platform above the trapdoor. 

We begin the bear trials. If he is innocent may his life be spared.

We begin the bear trials. May his life be spared.

We begin the trials. May his life be spared.

The body lay still in defeat, cries becoming a soft whimper.

This man is accused of taking more than his allotted ration and conspiring against us. 

People had started to repeat the mind lord’s words but were drowned out by the sounds of people jeering and screeching in anger. 

Traitor.

Let the bears’ show their guilt.

‘Silence.’ A guard shouted, they turned to the body. ‘Do you have anything to say?’ 

The drummers started to tap the drums lightly in anticipation. Another guard pulled off the brown sack and cut off his gag. Alara’s eyes remained closed. Her mother screamed. Alara could hear her cup the scream in her mouth trapping it in her throat. 

Her eyes snapped open to the platform. Her dad was looking straight at her. He shook his head, his eyes saying please don’t. 

‘I do.’ Alara shouted. ‘I have something to say.’

The drums stopped. Everyone went silent and turned to stare at her in shock. Her parents both started screaming at her. A guard violently gagged her father again. 

‘Quiet.’ Shouted the mind lords, they pointed to Alara. ‘Speak.’

The guards began to creep closer to Alara and her mother. Her mother put her arms around her tightly.

‘You’re not taking her. Take me. She doesn’t understan—’

‘I understand.’ Alara said, glaring at the mind lords.

The guards pulled them apart and held them roughly by the arms. Her mother was struggling and screaming at her to stop but they gagged her abruptly. Alara stood completely still. She stared up at them in defiance and took a deep breath. For years she had been planning what she could say.

‘This is all a guise. You have no real power. All you have are some trapped bears and some stories. All you have is fear. If we stop believing them, you have no power.’ Alara began to shout. ‘I don’t believe in them. Prove you have real power.’ 

The crowd gasped. The mind lords stood back for a moment, they whispered to each other and nodded before they screamed together.

 ‘Trial her.’ 

They pointed to Alara together. The crowd started jeering and spitting at her. But she saw a few people silently watching. Wondering. She shouted as they started to drag her. 

‘We have more power. We are more. Listen to me, it doesn—’

A guard gagged Alara so she couldn’t speak and continued dragging her to the platform. She caught her mother’s feral eyes as she was pulled past. Alara didn’t hate her now. Her mother was desperate to take her place.

Now was the time to test her power. Could she stop over twenty ravenous animals from devouring them both? She hoped she could but she knew she probably couldn’t. 

The guards dragged her up the platform and dumped her with her father. She didn’t struggle. A guard lifted his arm into the air ready to drop them into the cage. 

‘The bears will show their guilt.’ 

The guards untied them before swiftly backing away. The bears were in a circle now, pacing below the trap-door, waiting for their meal. Alara closed her eyes and started to focus her mind. The guard dropped his arm and with a clunk they were dropped into the centre of the cage. The crowd went silent in anticipation. 

Her father yanked his gag off and stood up to protect Alara. He was circling to face the bears with his arms splayed outwards; as if his arms could protect her from their deadly claws. The bears just stared at them. The crowd started to murmur. They were expecting to be cheering by now. Instead, the bears began to prowl around them in a circle, growling softly, as if in a debate as to whether to devour them or not. 

Alara was sitting in the middle of the cage, cross-legged like she always did in the forest. Her eyes were gently closed. It felt like it was just her, her dad and the bears. Everyone else was completely silent. 

‘Dad, sit with me.’ She whispered. ‘Don’t argue.’

Her dad still had his arms splayed outwards, he turned his head to briefly look down at her. He was about to argue.

‘Dad, trust me, you’re agitating them.’

He paused for a moment and looked at her. She looked completely calm. Still keeping his hands up, he started to sit down, to see what would happen. To his surprise, instead of the bears attacking, they became quiet. He sat down quietly and put his hand gently on Alara’s shoulder. The bears circled them peacefully and then began to sit down in a circle surrounding them. The crowd let out a soft gasp. 

Alara knew she might not have long. Keeping them sitting was using less energy, but, they were starving animals, their hunger could soon out-power her mind. Her stomach was twisting into a knot with their starvation. Now was the time. Alara stood up and turned to the mind leaders. 

‘Prove you have real power.’ Alara shouted.

The mind leaders were almost hanging over the balcony with attention. Everyone looked at them. Terrified. Waiting for them to take control of their minds.

‘Prove you have real power.’ Alara shouted. 

The bears and Alara roared together in unison. As if demanding them to show their power in return. 

Alara turned to address the crowd. 

‘Prove you have real power.’ 

They roared together again. Louder. Blowing the hairs on people’s heads next to the cage. 

Her mother kicked the knee of the guard who was in a trance. Stood in front of the cage and ripped her gag off. She shouted at the crowd before the guard could stop her.

‘Prove you have real power.’ 

‘Prove you have real power.’ Her dad shouted. 

A man tripped the guard as he tried to grab Alara’s mother again. Everyone, including the mind leaders, could sense the crowd turning, as, still, they weren’t doing anything powerful—just staring. Everyone could see fear creeping across their faces. 

‘We have the real power.’ Alara shouted.

The bears roared with her. She could sense a roar building-up in the crowd, the hunger was beginning to overwhelm her senses. Her dad clutched her closely.

‘Alara, the bears. They’re starting to move.’ 

‘We have the real power.’ A girl in the crowd shouted. 

People in the crowd started to shout together.

We have the real power.

We have the real power.

We have the real power.

The bears could eat her now—it wouldn’t matter. Something had shattered. Everyone was waking up from a nightmare. The mind leaders could escape inside their wooden palace but their myths and bears wouldn’t protect them from the hundreds of power-imbued axes. She smiled as she imagined the sound echoing through her mind. 

A bittersweet smile. They would not be annihilated forever, the whispers told her—in the future the mind leaders would be just as insidious but much more clever. But, eventually, they would always lose, as long as people broke their myths and realised their perpetual weakness—they rely on people not realising their own power.

We have the real power.

We have the real power.

We have the real power.

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A.G
A.G
3 months ago

I love this story! Very well written and moving. Your writing style is brilliant. Keep it up!!