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Featured Story • April 2018 • Mythic Delirium Books

Featured Story • April 2018



The Sky Watcher


Edith Hope Bishop


There once was a young king consumed with the business of running his kingdom. He soon realized he simply couldn’t do it all and would have to delegate. He already had someone to roast his meat, and someone to scrub the palace steps, and a small old woman to launder his robes. He already had someone to care for his prize grapes and he paid (a ridiculous price, in his opinion) for the upkeep of his stables and livestock. Still, he was too busy. He was always running here and there, always needing to read messages, and hold meetings, and catch up on the kingdom news. It was exhausting. He never had time to just sit and breathe and watch the sky. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a rainbow, or the wild flames of a sunset.

That was it. He would hire someone to watch the sky and alert the guards if there was something worth seeing. A shower of stars, for example, or a cloud that looked like a ship. That would make him feel better about his life.

He posted a description of the position and waited for an applicant. It was an easy job, he thought; he wouldn’t have to be picky.

A young woman by the name of Cal applied and was surprised to find herself hired and holding audience with the king himself the very next day.

“See that hill yonder?” asked the king, as he pointed out the tall arched window of his throne room.

“Yes, your majesty,” said Cal nervously.

“Set yourself up on that hill and watch the sky. I will pay you for as many hours as you can stand to be there each day. If you see anything interesting or beautiful, run down the hill and tell the guards.”

“Yes, your majesty,” said Cal.

“Good girl. Carry on.”

And so, Cal traveled up the hill, and spread her skirts around her, and lay back among the clover, and watched the sky.

At first, she wasn’t sure what she should report. That cloud over there was interesting. It looked a bit like a dragon. There, a flight of geese plowed through cheerful blue skies, but they were moving so fast. Perhaps she wouldn’t get to the guards in time. The daytime moon rose slowly in an arc, hiding shyly behind a bright cloud. But was any of this worth bothering a man like the king? She wasn’t sure.

As the sun began to set into swirls of lavender and gold, Cal thought she should probably report something, so she skipped down the hill and told the guards that she had worked for six hours and that his majesty might want to see the sunset.

She didn’t hear anything back the next day, but she did receive six silver pieces by messenger at breakfast. She did her chores, and shopping, and set a turnip soup to cook, and then returned to the hill.

It was a darker day and rain skirted the horizon above the mountains to the south. The grey lines of the rain seemed to shift continuously as the wind picked up and brought the rich smell of earth. Cal had the cloak her mother had made, and wrapped it around her shoulders. When the rain started to fall on her cheeks, she stayed and opened her mouth. She could dry off later by the fire. For now, the cool rain was refreshing.

That afternoon, after the rain, there was a faint rainbow beyond the hill. Cal wasn’t sure if the king would be able to see it from his window but she dutifully reported the phenomenon (and her hours) to the guards and returned home.

And so it went. Day in and day out. Month after month. Season after season. Cal observed snow and star, mist and morning. With the money she earned, Cal easily supported herself, took care of her aging parents, and eventually saved enough to buy a lute, the particular treasure she had always longed for. She brought her lute to the hill and taught herself to play, and then to sing (quietly at first, but then with a full heart), and then began to make up songs about the sky. She enjoyed her work and always walked down the hill if she saw something she thought the king might like.

Meanwhile the king stayed busy, and hired someone to receive and sort his messages, and someone else to pay his bills, and someone else to hang new drapes over that (blasted) window that let in too much cold. He quickly forgot that he had ever met or hired Cal.

Years passed and Cal’s songs were heard by the villagers below. News spread of the Sky Watcher. She was wise, they said, and had a beautiful wind-worn face. She knew the secrets to happiness. She had one hundred words for kinds of sunlight and she would give them to you freely. She could sing songs about the moon that made grown men weep.

People began to visit the hill. Children at first, and then adults too. When Cal sang about the sky, the people smiled and pulled back their hoods and looked up.

One day, when Cal’s parents were long buried and her bones ached as she walked up the hill, she saw people waiting for her there and she suddenly missed the king who had given her the gift of this good life. She felt she should visit him and thank him. She composed a simple song, among the most beautiful she had written. She taught the people to sing it. It was about the slow and steady wonder of the sky. The vast open space the sky provided to all who would notice.

Then she walked down the hill with a few of the people and asked the guards for an audience with the king. The guards knew her well. She was the batty old woman who always told them when she saw a rainbow. They routinely pretended to report her news to the king and then chuckled about it. But today, there was a peculiar twinkle in the woman’s eye, and the people behind her seemed no-nonsense. That made the guards wonder. Maybe they should double check and see if the king had an opening in his schedule.

And so Cal found herself in the throne room once again, many years and thousands of sunsets later. The room was dark and the drapes were drawn and the king sat slumped in his chair, grumpy, and surrounded by piles of unfinished business.

“Your Majesty,” said Cal in her strongest voice, “I am the Sky Watcher you hired so long ago, come now to thank you for your generosity and wisdom.”

“Sky Watcher?” scoffed the King. “Why would I hire a Sky Watcher? That’s ridiculous. Get out of here woman!”

Cal did not move. Some part of her had known this was coming. “No, your majesty. Not until you hear my gift.” She strummed her lute and began to sing. The people joined in.

The king sat in silence and listened. He closed his tired eyes and cried. Cal’s song brought him high, bright, quilted clouds. An orange harvest moon. The taste of February snow. Blank blue summer. The swift, wide circles of a red-tailed hawk. The wise play of rain.

As the music ended, the king rose from his throne and moved to the window. The servants came to help, but he opened the heavy drapes himself and stood, looking out the window at Cal’s hill and the vast sky beyond. “Thank you,” he said.



Edith Hope Bishop is a novelist, volunteer, and mother in Seattle, Washington. She grew up in South Florida, holds degrees from Harvard and Columbia, and taught for several years in a public high school. She was a finalist in the Pacific NW Writers Association Literary Contest in 2013 and 2016, was nominated for a 2016 Rhysling Award, and has been previously published in Mythic Delirium, Lucia Journal, Yellow Chair Review, and two benefit anthologies for Sirens Conference. She is represented by Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties and is online at www.ehbishop.com. Edie is most at home near, on, or in any body of salt water.

About her story, she writes, “I’d like to dedicate ‘The Sky Watcher’ to Terri Windling. Thank you for being you.”



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