Mr. Chubs was a short, round and a rather red man. No, he did not have red-coloured skin but he was so fair that any activity, even mild, turned his skin a vivid scarlet. For a round man you would think he’d be slow on his feet and you would be right but he had rather strong arms and legs. A physical feature important for all the book hauling that needed doing. You see, Mr. Chubs was a travelling librarian.
If given a choice, Mr. Chubs would have loved to have settled in a place with a nice house adjacent to his library, a river running, greenery everywhere and some peace and quiet to swim in books and stories. And if he could have some customers on the side, interested in sipping tea, chatting, borrowing and returning books, it would have been ideal.
Strangely enough, it was his books and stories that got him into trouble in one village after another, in one town after another. He couldn’t fathom what was about his presence that disturbed the fabric of the place. All he wanted was to share the joy of books and all he got in return was suspicion and the inevitable ejection from the place he had set shop in.
Over the years, Mr. Chubs had learnt to read the signs of discontent brewing. This had reduced the surprise factor surrounding the inevitability and had given him an opportunity to properly close down his little shop before going on his way, in search of another set of people. He didn’t know if it was not overstaying his welcome or the temporary nature of his presence that had made people more receptive towards him.
It was one of these instances where he was shutting shop, understanding his time was now up, when a young woman walked up to him. She looked around him curiously before saying, “Are you leaving?”
“Well hello Miss Rosina, how do you do?” He tipped his hat. Gesturing at the half-packed books and scattered boxes, he said, “Yes I am leaving.”
Miss Rosina’s lower lip trembled. “But you are the only one with all the good stories!”
Mr. Chubs flushed. No one had ever said that to him, least of all a halfway adult.
“One last story before you leave?”
Now feeling decidedly euphoric at this unexpected audience, Mr. Chubs stopped what he was doing and dragged out a chair on which Miss Rosina could sit.
“What story would you like to hear?”
He saw the surprise register on her face and smiled. He never asked his listeners what they wanted to hear. He had a gift you see, a gift that allowed him to tell the exact story that the crowd needed to hear. But Miss Rosina deserved this gift, as much as the gift of eagerness she had bestowed on him.
Miss Rosina thought for a minute, panicking as her mind went blank. There were so many choices! “Tell me a story about love,” she said finally.
Two kingdoms lay beside each other, so close that only a jungle separated them. The one to the left was a beautiful azure, facing the west, turning a gorgeous purple when the sun set. The one to the right was a brilliant golden, facing the east, almost blinding in the morning light. Both kingdoms were ruled by fair but unambitious rulers.
It would be incorrect to say the two were friends for despite the short distance separating them, they did not deign to mingle, self-sufficient in their life and home.
Illuvey at the age of two, angry with her father because he couldn’t answer her question on what lay beyond the shores of their kingdom, was the first to venture out. She wasn’t looking for adventure, or hoping to inspire her lot of people to be bolder. Her actions were anything but noble. They were simply the actions of a child throwing a tantrum – a tantrum that costed much as time went on.
Corum, the apple of his father’s eye, was forced out of the kingdom, and into the high seas when he was seven, thus becoming the second only person to venture out. His motives weren’t his own but his mother’s – a woman far wiser than her age, who could see the cracks forming in the perfect life they had created.
It wasn’t until Illuvey and Corum were ten did they run into each other in the forest, bogged down by the daily lessons of running a kingdom, dashed hopes, crashed dreams and the melancholy that the sameness of their lives was going to swallow them whole.
Unlike their fathers, the two became fast friends, finding a kindred spirit with whom they could make plans on the forest mud, play in the tree branches and challenge to silly games like who could laugh the longest.
Illuvey and Corum fell in love when they were fourteen, and as they were trying to understand the logistics of getting married – Corum wanted them to rule the forest, the only neutral ground, while Illuvey, a little more practical than her love, knew it could prove as difficult as pulling out a thorn from your foot – what Corum’s mother had feared, came to pass: their idyllic existence was shattered as they were attacked by savages – both from the mountains and the seas.
Their meetings became less frequent, their involvement in the running and safeguarding of their kingdoms more taxing. But they met once in a fortnight to exchange news, and steal a few moments of peace.
By the time they could revisit the question of marriage, their respective kingdoms had been ravaged by war for the better part of three years. Clinging onto each other for dear life, both Illuvey and Corum knew what had to be done. But knowing it and saying it were two very different things.
“We cannot continue this. I cannot risk my life every day, knowing you are risking yours and not lose my mind a little,” said Corum as he stroked the cut on Illuvey’s cheek, slightly lighter than the rest of her skin. He knew the story of that scar, as intimately as he knew the stories of all the scars he had earned in the last two years.
Illuvey could only clutch to his jacket tighter, understanding completely. That was one the curses of knowing each other so well. They couldn’t even argue, couldn’t throw a tantrum like the two-year-old Illuvey who would never have found Corum had her father not infuriated her so much.
“We need to let each other go,” she said, looking into his dear, dear face. “We are neither here, nor there, and our people are suffering because of it.”
Corum knew he should let her go but knowing these were the last few moments he had with her, he could not. He kept her in the circle of his arms, completely focussed in this moment and not worrying about how he’d go on without her.
“I love you…my darling Illuvey…and…”
“No…don’t make any promises.”
“Not a promise. As the future King, I cannot make any promises. I only say, one day, may we meet again, and may we get to live for you and me.”
“May we meet again, and may we get to live for you and me,” said Illuvey as she kissed him one last time.
Then they got on their horses and made haste, back to their kingdoms, and their duty.
It took Illuvey and Corum another year to throw out the savages but another six months to convince their fathers that they needed aid.
As a sign of their victory, Corum commissioned a statue of the goddess he claimed protected him during the war. No one knew who the goddess looked like, or why She was made of white stone with a scar on her cheek, but her presence filled their hearts with joy.
Illuvey on the other hand was known to carry a knife with an intricate handle carved of ivory, a design no one knew how had come into her possession. And try as they might, none could duplicate it, or get the story behind it.
Mr. Chubs stopped and went back to his packing, giving Miss Rosina time to digest the story.
“Did they meet again?” she asked.
“Not in that lifetime, no.”
“Did they ever marry?”
“I believe they did…and lived fulfilling lives.”
Miss Rosina dabbed at her eyes. “It was a nice story, thank you Mr. Chubs. And yet it makes me sad.”
Mr. Chubs nodded. “Would you like some tea dear?”
Taking a sip from her cup, she asked, “Do you think they’ll ever meet again?”
“Someday Miss Rosina…when the stars align, when the time is right, when their story is ready to be told…they will meet again.”