Clark Ashton Smith's "Xeethra" (short story, fantasy, free): From goat-herd to king & back to goat-herd
Some other reviewers see the moral of this story as "ignorance is bliss": in a dying world, the ultimate curse is the memory of old days of glory. I personally didn't see it like that, & read the story literally.
Story summary.Xeethra of title is a young orphan boy, a goatheard in a parched land, raised by his maternal uncle. One day, he discovers a kind of oasis among his pastures - a vast underground garden reached by a cave recently opened. He has an adventure there, tastes a strange local fruit, & is finally chased out by giant guardians.
Ah - tasted the forbidden fruit! That stirs up memories of a past life when he was a king centuries ago, only he doesn't think it was in the past - he thinks he is the king now.
Thus begins the quest for his kingdom. He will find the kingdom, now in ruins. He will rule again, after making a deal with the Demon who will recreate the kingdom through sorcery. But he makes an incompetent king, & will finally be back to ruins after failing a deal he'd made with the demon...
Fact sheet.First published: Weird Tales, December 1934.
Download full text from Eldrtich Dark.
[via John R Fultz]
Related: Stories of Clark Ashton Smith.