© 2012 John C. Wright
I’ve always believed that a kind of magic
happens when a piece of wood is
crafted into an instrument that sends waves of pleasing sound out into
world. So, wood, magic and Cris Forster’s unique musical instruments
all on my mind when, shortly after first learning about Cris,
Shade Literary Magazine put out a call for submissions of
Tales. With thoughts of music, magic and Cris’ instruments humming in
the story I call The Zettarella came together nicely.
John C. Wright, 2015
If you ever come across a zettarella, make it your
most prized possession, for they are quite special, and there are only
a few of them left.
Our story takes place long ago and far away in a kingdom near the sea.
Prince Orzone ruled the land while his uncle, King Faircloth, was
away, said to be minding to matters of state in a distant country.
Prince Orzone was not a gentle ruler and the people despaired, as the
good king had been gone for years and many feared that he would never
Among the prince’s subjects was a poor luthier named Jeremy Fruittree
who lived in a humble cottage with his wife Ella and his son Zettar.
Jeremy Fruittree eked out a meager existence building lutes, lyres,
harps, violins, and zettarellas which he sold to musicians throughout
the land. Jeremy’s instruments were quite fine, but being a man who
loved the sound of beautiful music more than the sound of golden coins
clinking together in his pocket, he remained poor. For he would give a
lute, lyre, harp, violin, or even a zettarella free of charge to any
poor soul who had a son or daughter who longed to play sweet music but
did not have the means to pay for one.
Although the lutes, lyres, harps and violins made by Jeremy Fruittree
were built with the utmost precision, care, and craftsmanship, none of
those instruments could compare to his zettarellas. These zettarellas
had within their wooden bodies such honeyed tones that a single note
plucked on a single string could bring joy and happiness to even the
most dourly-disposed person. And a sad chord strummed just once by a
mere novice zettarella player could call forth such heartfelt emotions
from anyone within earshot that the listener’s wails and tears were
sure to follow immediately.
Now Jeremy Fruittree was indeed a craftsman who built his instruments
with precision and care, but the truth of the matter was that the
beauty of the music produced on his zettarellas was not entirely due
to the luthier’s instrument-building skill nor to the skill of the
musician playing it. The reason behind the magical music emanating
from the zettarellas was due to something else entirely—it was due to
You see, some years earlier, when Jeremy Fruittree was just learning
the art of luthirey, he had, one day, been out scouring the woods for
proper lumber out of which to build a violin when he realized that he
had wandered deep into a forest heretofore unbeknownst to him.
Entering a small clearing he came upon a tree that was unlike any he’d
ever seen. It was no more tall nor solid than its neighboring trees,
but its leaves were something to behold, for they were of two
varieties; both long, deep green needles, and flat variegated fronds
in vivid autumnal colors. And as the wind blew gently through the
tree’s branches, the needles brushed against the edges of the fronds
and produced a unique sound that made Jeremy Fruittree’s ears tingle
with pleasure. It was not a dry, rustling, crackling, leafy sound, but
rather a wonderfully watery, shimmering, harmonious, singing sound,
choir-like and mesmerizing.
Jeremy took up his saw and cut a stout branch from the tree, not so
large that he couldn’t haul it back to his cottage, but still enough
wood to yield a violin or two.
Upon reaching home, Jeremy immediately set to sawing and shaping the
wood into the parts of a violin. However, his saw seemed to have a
mind of its own; no matter how carefully he tried to guide it, the saw
cut the wood into unusual shapes that Jeremy had never used before in
building an instrument. Finally, as he failed in his attempt to
correctly cut the last chunk of the wood, he became discouraged and
swept all of the oddly-shaped pieces off his workbench and onto the
floor. ‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘it will make decent firewood.’ As he
stooped to gather the wood, however, he saw that the pieces had fallen
all in a row. Looking more closely he noticed that the edge of the
first piece was a perfect mate to the edge of the second piece. And
so, on a whim, he picked up the two pieces and glued them together. As
the glue was drying he inspected the next piece that lay upon the
floor and saw that its edge was a perfect mate to the second piece
that he had just glued to the first piece, and so he picked it up and
glued it to the second piece. Jeremy worked through the night gluing
perfectly matched piece to perfectly matched piece, all the while
marveling at how beautifully the pieces joined together, but not
paying attention to the overall shape of the structure he was
creating. Jeremy attached the final piece just as the sun rose and lit
the darkened workshop. He was amazed to see that the result of his
labors was an instrument, one unlike any other. It was both round and
square, it had bridges and fingerboards and tuning pegs and sound
holes not entirely unlike those on other instruments, but not in the
normal places. He fitted the thing with all the strings of a lute and
a violin and a lyre and a harp. When he strummed those strings such a
feeling of joy and peace and love washed over him that he immediately
wanted to share the sound and the feeling with his wife and son.
“Zettar, Ella,” he called out, and as he did so he knew what to name
his new instrument.
Jeremy Fruittree was up early the following morning and off to the
forest to chop down the tree and harvest its wood so that he could
build more of the amazing zettarellas. After some time he found his
way back to the clearing and to the zettarella tree. He took up his
broadax and was about to bury its blade in the trunk of the tree when
he noticed what looked like writing in the slab of bare wood where he
had, the day before, cut away a branch. He lay down his ax and,
looking more closely, saw chiseled into the tree, in the most
exquisite calligraphy, the following:
If just one limb a year is all you take,
Such music we shall make,
And the magic of my wood
Will always do you good.
But if greed makes you cut more,
There’s nothing good in store,
And what might be best for me
Will be the ruin of thee.
Jeremy Fruittree knew then that the tree was magical and decided
without hesitation to heed its warning.
And that is how it came to pass that once each year Jeremy Fruittree
found his way back to the clearing in the woods and cut a single limb
from the tree from which he produced one amazing zettarella. During
the rest of the year he continued to build lyres and lutes and violins
and harps. Years passed and Jeremy Fruittree was quite content with
Then one day while he was hard at work shaping wood for a harp, he was
startled when the door to his workshop was thrown open and Prince
Orzone and five of his soldiers strode in without so much as bothering
to knock at the door.
“Luthier Fruittree,” Orzone said, “I have heard that your instruments
are quite….exceptional, and I wish to have one. If your instrument
meets with my satisfaction I may even pay you for it,” he added with a
Being a humble man, Jeremy Fruittree bowed and said, “Perhaps Your
Highness the Prince would like to try one of my violins.”
“Not a violin,” responded Orzone in a voice that was not friendly.
“Ah, I see,” said Jeremy Fruittree. “Perhaps one of my harps; I happen
to have one right—”
“Not a harp,” interrupted Orzone in a voice that was dark and
“Well then,” said Jeremy Fruittree, “a lute?...Or a lyre?”
“No and no,” responded Orzone in a voice like a clap of thunder. “You
know what I want, and I shall have it…bring me a zettarella.”
“Ah, a zettarella,” sighed Jeremy Fruittree. “You see, at present I
haven’t the wood for a zettarella, and even if I had the wood and
could build one, I couldn’t give it to you as the next one I build has
been promised to the daughter of a man whose—”
“Enough,” interrupted Orzone, and this time there was lightning in his
voice. “There are forests upon forests of wood for the taking, and so
tomorrow you will go into the forest and cut a tree and you will build
me a zettarella.”
A small voice then interjected, saying: “He cannot get the wood
because it comes from a magic tree that cannot be cut from more than
once a year.” This statement came from young Zettar, who, unbeknownst
to the others, had crept into the room and been listening to their
“Magic?” scoffed Orzone. “We shall see about that. Tomorrow you will
bring me and my royal woodsman to your magic tree and we’ll see if it
is not possible to cut wood from it more than once a year.”
“I cannot do that,” replied Jeremy Fruittree, “I cannot.”
“Ah, but you will,” replied Orzone, “if you wish to see your son
again.” And with that he scooped up little Zettar, jumped onto his
horse and rode off.
The following day Prince Orzone returned to Jeremy Fruittree’s
cottage, without Zettar. “Come, luthier,” he said to Jeremy Fruittree,
“lead us to your tree. Your son will be returned to you when the tree
has been cut and the zettarella is mine. If, on the other hand, you
refuse to cooperate ... well, all I can say is that there will be
With a heavy heart, Jeremy Fruittree led the way into the forest and
into the clearing where the zettarella tree stood.
Orzone gazed at the tree for a moment. “Yes,” he said, “the tree is
unique. But it is made of wood and needles and leaves like any other
tree and so it can be cut down and its lumber harvested for whatever
use I demand. Cut the tree down…NOW,” he yelled to his royal woodsman.
The royal woodsman took a mighty swing and his ax bit deep into the
trunk. Again and again the woodsman swung the ax, and with each wedge
of wood chopped away from the trunk there seemed to come from deep
within the tree the sound of crying or perhaps laughing. Finally, when
the tree appeared ready to fall, the royal woodsman turned to the
prince and in a quivering voice said, “Your highness, I dare not…”
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” yelled the prince, “give me that ax.” And,
taking up the tool, he made the final chop to fell the tree. The tree
swayed to and fro and began to fall away into the woods. But just as
it was about to strike the ground, it suddenly snapped back to an
upright position and tipped … in the direction of the prince. Orzone
turned to run but was not quick enough and the tree crashed directly
on top of him, striking him dead.
And then, to the amazement of Jeremy Fruittree and the various other
onlookers assembled in the clearing, the felled tree began to shrink
and shift in shape. The trunk became a waist and legs, the lower
branches arms and the upper branches a neck and head…a royal head. And
suddenly standing before them was King Faircloth, weeping and laughing
and shouting for joy all at the same time. When, at last, he was able
to compose himself he described how his brother, Orzone’s father, had,
on his deathbed, compelled a sorcerer to cast a spell over Faircloth,
turning him into a tree so that Orzone could ascend to the throne. The
spell could only be broken by cutting the tree down, something that no
sensible man would want to do.
King Faircloth christened Jeremy Fruittree his royal luthier and
invited him and his family to live in the castle, which they did.
Jeremy continued to build lyres, lutes, violins, and harps for the
rest of his life. But, of course, never again a zettarella.
And that is why, if you ever come to own a zettarella, you must make
it your most prized possession. For there will never be another made.