Long ago, in a kingdom far away, lived the Red King. Once celebrated, he had earned the hatred of a good many of his people for his cruelty and indifference to the most vulnerable and poor. Of those whom he was especially hard on were the children of the Sun, who shined so wonderfully that it was said their rays could kill the darkness in any man’s soul. Though he’d deny it, the Red King was especially sensitive to their light; he feared their potential to kill him. Having learned the dark arts, and knowing the children of the Sun could not live without daily contact with the great star, the wicked king cast a spell that summoned clouds to permanently cast the kingdom in darkness.

As the children of the Sun began to fall dead, their lights fading, kindhearted people in the kingdom attempted to help, often at their own peril. People who were found helping the children of the Sun were arrested and put to death. Some succeeded in their valiant efforts, however. Before his arrest, one man helped carry a newborn child of the Sun down to the river and, in a basket, sent the baby boy flowing down into the next country, where the Sun could nurture him.

The child was found in the next country by a peasant woman, who took pity on the child and raised him as her own with her wife. With the Sun nourishing him, the child, given the name Radiance, grew into a beautiful, glowing young man. He was courteous, generous, and kind. The people in his village praised him for these traits, but Radiance always felt the small distrust they had in him. He was different, and nothing he could do would change that.

One day a hooded young girl stumbled into the village, gaunt and pale. She didn’t walk that far before falling to the ground. Radiance was quick to carry her to his home, where he and his mothers tended to her. After being fed and given water, the girl felt strong enough to speak. She told them she had come from the country of the Red King, now a barren place struck by a devastating famine. Without the Sun, nothing could grow, she explained.

“How can the Sun never shine in your country?” Radiance asked.

“The Red King made it so,” she responded weakly. “He summoned the everlasting clouds to kill your people, and in doing so doomed us all.”

Radiance was shocked. He’d often wondered if there were others like him, but he never imagined that they were killed by a tyrant.

“Then your country is my country?”

The girl nodded sadly.

That afternoon, when the Sun was at its lowest, Radiance sat outside and began to cry. Wherever his tears fell on the ground, a flower would begin to grow. Hearing his cries, the Sun spoke to him. “My child,” it called. “You cry as if there’s nothing that can be done.”

“But what can I do?” Radiance replied.

“The Red King can’t stand your rays. Just one glimmer will destroy him, and all magic that has come from him. Return to your country and reveal the light in the darkness.”

Radiance wiped away his tears. When presented with an answer to one’s issues, it’s cowardly to disregard them in favor of moping. He picked himself back up, shining brighter than ever. His mothers argued, heartbroken, over his decision to face the Red King.

“With no sword, no shield, no armor to protect you, how can you fight him?” they said. They didn’t understand that Radiance was the sword, the shield, and the armor. Just being himself was the most powerful weapon of resistance.

After the night passed, and the Sun rose to urge him onto his journey, Radiance left home. Over his shoulder, he carried food and wine his mothers had packed for him in a sack. The night before, the girl had described the path he had to follow on his journey, and he found everything as she had said. After two days he finally arrived at the border; it was easily recognizable by how the sky divided from clear blue and sunny, to cloudy and dark.

The Sun, then, spoke to him. “Do not tread further. At night, when you’re still full of my power, cross into the Red King’s kingdom and cut yourself. Flowers, fruits, and vegetables will grow from wherever drops of your blood fall. Leave a trail of these leading to the border. Do this for three nights, and always return here when you’ve finished. The Red King is selfish, and he is now as desperate for food as his people. By the third night, he will become arrogant, and suspicious of his guards, enough to venture out and collect your flowers, vegetables, and fruits by himself. When he comes to the border, engulf him in your light.”

As the last rays of afternoon sunlight began to dim, the Sun gave Radiance a golden knife with which he had to cut himself. When night fell, and the whole kingdom was asleep, Radiance snuck into the clouded country and did as he was told. He sliced his hand and allowed the golden blood to fall on the dry soil; immediately, tomato plants sprouted, flowers bloomed, and an assortment of vegetables and fruits appeared: apples, peaches, pears, and oranges; carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbages. Radiance squeezed his hand and walked back to the border, leaving the trail of delicacies as the Sun had instructed.

The poor and hungry found the food first the following day, but when the Red King learned of the treasures that had magically grown, he sent his guards to collect it all for himself. The second night came, and Radiance repeated the task. The Red King had his guards leave early in the morning before the commonalty to collect any food that may have grown. When his guards returned with the food, however, he began to doubt that they were bringing him everything. He accused them (without any evidence) of stealing some for themselves, and decided to go out the following morning by himself.

When the third night came, and Radiance created the trail for the last time, he hid behind a tree at the border and waited for morning. At the soft stillness of dawn, the Red King left his castle and followed the trail, collecting all the fruits, flowers, and vegetables. As soon as Radiance saw the Red King stop at the border, he sprung from his hiding place and shined like he never had before. The Red King turned to stone immediately and crumbled into nothingness. The clouds above dissipated, revealing the sky that had been lost to the country for so many years.

The throne was thus inherited by Radiance, who became the kindest king the country had ever known. The people embraced him wholeheartedly, without the slightest bit of disdain. He had his mothers brought to the castle to live with him in luxury, and they all lived comfortably for the rest of their days.

Diego Duran’s short story “Pride of the Sun” won second prize in the Fifth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest.