A New Fairy Tale
Joshua Alan Sturgill
Awake in the World of Dreams
[Wherein is recorded the story of our kingdom’s fall and re-founding, as told by the founding elder of the hermitage. This tale is among the elder’s final words, delivered over a period of several days before his repose in the Lord. May the peace of God grant rest to his soul.]
Brothers, I am old now. The days behind me far outweigh the days ahead, and abundance of memory is greater and more present to me than new experience. I look with eyes both old and young; what was, I see more clearly than what is; I see both past and present fading before the journey I make now: my imminent removal from your company.
Mark well what I have to tell you, because I will soon enter a silence and a concentration preventing me from speaking again with this voice of flesh and breath. When I am gone, remember what I say and recount it for those who will come after you, so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated in the future through forgetfulness or neglect.
This story reveals both the heights and depths to which the human soul may reach. Both the virtue cultivated by the wise and the depravity contrived by the foolish are open to us. Beware, therefore, the thoughts you permit to reside in your hearts. Thought becomes choice and choice becomes destiny. A seemingly inconsequential thought tending toward violation becomes a destiny irretrievably tangled in violence.
Brothers, despite the evil of those times, many persevered and many had faith in the Lord, though the kingdom became for a moment a dark and frightening place. We can learn from those who continued to farm, to marry, to raise families, to be generous to their neighbors. In the monastery, life is simple. But do we have the faith and perseverance of those outside our walls? Their reward will be great. They endured evil and did not lose heart.
Brothers, this is the story:
Once upon a time, and it was not so very long ago, a King came to the throne who was very capable and intelligent, a man of science and philosophy, who longed to know the secrets of Nature and the animating principles within the plants and animals, and who studied carefully the movements of the stars and planets.
In his youth the King was wiser than he afterward became, and though he did not care about marriage for its own sake—being more interested in his solitary studies—he knew he must find a Queen to share the rulership for the sake of his people.
In accordance with his calculating mind, the king indeed found a wise and beautiful woman, and in his own way, he loved and honored her, and she loved him in return. Soon, they had a child, a daughter, as beautiful as her mother and as intelligent as both her parents. The people loved their Queen and honored their King, but their delight in the newborn Princess was unsurpassed. The years of the Queen’s rule were prosperous and happy for all.
Brothers, if you look from our monastery grounds, you will see nearly our whole kingdom, nestled in its valley, surrounded by the Great Forest. At the center of the village stands the castle. There above the castle gate are its three grand windows, which reflect the sun by day and glow with the warmth of fire by night. The window on the left is the Royal Chapel. The window on the right is the Assembly Hall. The center window is the king’s Room of Invention.
The people of the village looked often toward the castle and saw the life of the royal family told by the light of these windows. When the left window shone at evening, the people knew the Queen was saying her vesperal prayers. When the right window shone in early morning, the people knew the Wise were at council, debating law and policy for the good of the land. And when the center window glowed by night, often in bright flashes or steady colors of flame, the people knew the King was in his laboratory, studying the secrets of Nature.
All was well in the kingdom, alas!, for only a brief time as ages are counted. When the Princess was eight years old, the queen announced that she was to have another child. Prayers and rites and celebrations animated the whole kingdom for many months. But as her time drew near, the Queen sensed something amiss. Premonition turned to foreboding, and in her heart, she knew her life was near its end.
The Queen took every remedy and followed every command of the royal doctors. During her last days, she retired to her bed and drank only blessed water mixed with herbs and ate the simplest foods. The King was beside himself with grief. Perhaps it is true that his heart had very little room for love, but he gave this love, limited though it was, completely to the Queen. They spent many hours talking alone, and for the last month of her pregnancy, all the windows of the castle remained dark and empty.
Not long before she died, the Queen summoned the Princess to her bedside. “Your father studies the secrets of Nature,” she said. “He sees from outside, trying to look within. I have never known anyone as focused or penetrating, as determined or as intense. I fear that when I am gone, his intensity will possess him completely and overthrow his heart.”
The Queen looked deeply into the Princess’s eyes, to see if the Princess could bear what she was about to reveal. I believe the Queen was looking for a specific trait: the capacity to love, and to love even what is ugly and evil and broken, without judgement or fear.
Brothers, I can tell you that the Queen did, indeed, see in the Princess the kind of generous love she was looking for, and it comforted her in her final clinging to life for the sake of her unborn child. Listen to what our wise Queen said to the Princess in that sad, dark hour:
“There are many worlds in which the soul lives. Some are above us and some beside us and some within us. I will not speak of the worlds below. Most of them are not our concern, only God’s and those He has made to live there. Above us are the worlds of the angels and saints, where holy souls rest after they die to this world. That is where I am going soon.
“Beside us, the world of the fairies and elves, the spirits of flowers and streams, carry on their business and seldom interact with us. Of course, some see this world more clearly than others, and some have even travelled there.” The Queen smiled as she said this, and the Princess wondered if her mother was among those who had visited the Fairyland.
“But as I said, there are worlds within us. Two of these are the worlds of hope and fear. Shadowy places, not real or unreal, part true and part imaginary. These worlds bend into each other, and are like two cities in one valley, closely connected.
“My child, entering fully into hope and fear is very dangerous except by one means: you may enter without consequence only through prayer. If you enter by prayer, you will not become lost in those dark and difficult spaces. I am telling you this, because you must know that, just as each citizen has his own house yet lives in the same kingdom, in the same way each of us has private hopes and fears that yet join with all of the hope and fear around us.
“Because hope and fear are within us, we are more or less present there at different times. Perhaps the closest we come to fully standing in those worlds is in our dreams—both our daydreams and our dreams by night. So these places of hope and fear are often called simply The World of Dreams. Have you not found yourself, sometimes, so close to the world of dreams that you seemed to have left this world behind? Even while here, you travelled to that other place and saw your hopes or fears as if real and accomplished before you?
“I am not being clear, my beautiful child. Hope and fear are like another village alongside and within the village you know, and the World of Dreams closely resembles the waking world—as if made of pieces, reassembled. Someday you may need to find your way to the World of Dreams, and you may need to find your way home again. Be careful. While nothing there is yet real, what we bring back with us may have consequences holy or tragic.”
Brothers, this speech the Queen gave to the Princess, and I have often in my life seen the wisdom of her words. The Princess did not understand the full importance of her mother’s advice, but she believed that her mother would not have taken such pains to speak except in great urgency. By the grace of God, none of the Queen’s words were spoken vainly; the Princess kept all of them in her memory and tested them against the trouble soon to come.
I am tired now, and we have reached the time of our evening service. Permit me to pause and continue the tale tomorrow. Brothers, forgive me.
My dear ones, for many years I have been privileged to stand before you in our common service to the Lord, to hear your confessions and offer you the Lord’s forgiveness. I have lived with you as one who is the least and the servant, and never have taken my work as Abbot to be a rulership or a dominion over you. Each has his work from the Lord; from Abbot to the latest novice to enter the monastery, each receives the same reward for faithful completion of the task given to him.
Last night I related the speech which the Queen gave to the Princess, and we must continue the tale from there.
Her speech tired the Queen greatly, and after she kissed the hand of the Princess and gave a blessing, she did not speak again—though many said that her lips continued to move silently, as if deep in conversation with an unknown Companion, right until her last breath.
Not many hours later, the Queen’s labor pains came suddenly, and she gave birth to a whole and healthy child—a boy. The attendants laid the child beside her, and she seemed to smile as she let go her spirit and died.
The King did not appear to weep or mourn, though he dutifully attended the royal funeral and stood by her grave at the burial. Many remember that from then onward, a terrible change came over him. He immersed himself again in his studies. He gave the Princess completely to the care of maidservants and left the raising of his son to the nurses.
Chiefly, the villagers noticed the left and right windows of the castle remained dark, the central window—the King’s Inventing Room—once again flashed and glowed with strange lights, sometimes from dusk until early dawn.
And they said, too, that the King had begun to haunt their dreams.
A strange tale spread among the people during the months after the Queen’s death. First one or two people, in a pub or tavern, laughed to discover that they had had the same dream. Or a husband and wife waking up suddenly and relaying to each other what they had both seen in their sleep. Always it was the same: in the middle of a dream—perhaps of hope for fortune or love, perhaps of fear for loss or difficulty—the shadowy image of the King would appear, present and watchful, as if standing at the edge of the mind, sharing their dreams with them.
It seemed too fantastical to be believed. Yet the more the people of the kingdom discussed it, the more convinced they became. Perhaps we are suffering from the grief of losing the Queen, they wondered. Or we fear that the King is suffering, and so we dream of him? But they could not, in the end, deny that the face of the King was not sad or grieved, but uncanny and even menacing.
As the villagers began cautiously to share with one another these strange and fearful encounters, another change in the life of the kingdom took place which was equally as alarming. Having dismissed his counselors and wise men, the king himself began to summon villagers to his judgement hall, accusing them of things they had done in secret or had only thought of doing.
A baker was accused of stealing grain from the royal storehouse. A smith was fined for lessening the amount of iron used in making soldiers’ shields. Many others were brought to court for questioning or judgement.
When the king made these judgements, he claimed he had the testimony of an absolutely reliable witness. But the baker said he had always taken extra grain by permission of the Queen to bake loaves for the poor. And the smith said he could only make swords and shields with the iron available to him, and there was less this year than last. The king did not relent, and he did not reveal his mystery witness.
It chanced that the smith and the baker were waiting for trial the same day, under guard in an anteroom of the king’s judgement hall. There, they related to each other their fear of trial and their worry that someone in the village was spying on the people to gain the king’s favor. Yet they could not imagine who such a person could be. The villagers had always been kind and generous to one another.
“One thing seems very strange in all this,” said the baker. “The Queen herself gave permission for me to take a separate portion of grain and bake bread for the poorest families of the village. I have always taken this portion once a month, and usually at night when my other duties were completed. The night before my summons, I dreamed about this. I dreamed that I went to the storehouse and took the grain when no one was around. No one, that is, except the king. In my dream, I put the grain into a sack, and when I turned to leave, the king seemed to be standing in a shadow, watching me in my dream!”
The smith’s eyes widened with surprise, and he said, “I too dreamed that I was weighing iron for making supplies for the army, lamenting that I would have less than the usual amount for the shields. While removing iron from the scale, I noticed the king standing in the corner of my workshop. In my dream, I wondered what the king might think of how I was portioning the iron.”
The men were silent for a moment, each wondering what this could possibly mean.
My brothers, years of increasing terror descended on our peaceful village. No one knew what to do or who to trust. No secret seemed safe from the king’s watchful eye. The people were afraid of each other, afraid to be generous or kind, and afraid to sleep—in case, they revealed something incriminating in their dreams. There were robberies and hunger in those days. Money lenders charged high rates of interest and the price of simple goods increased tenfold. Education was neglected, libraries were closed. Each tried to get the better of his neighbor, because work and resources were scarce. Trade and friendly relations with the surrounding kingdoms ceased altogether.
Yet, as it often happens, dark times coincide with the small spark of light that will one day defeat the darkness. The lowest point of the pendulum’s swing signals the upward turning. This terrible moment in our history was no exception. At this time of deepest tumult and confusion, two unlikely events occurred which later, by chance and by design, brought about the return of peace to the kingdom.
The first was, quite literally, a small return of light. Under the care of her wise nurses, and nourished by the memory of her beautiful mother, the Princess had grown into a bright and happy young woman, full of joy and compassion for her people. And one evening, the people saw the castle widow on the right, the Royal Chapel, again lit for the holy services.
The Princess herself had taken over the care of the Chapel. She cleaned and restored it from years of neglect, and hired a wise old priest to begin once again offering the holy services there. Frequently, the Princess would stay up late into the night in prayer and reading.
The people marked, too, that this renovation of the Royal Chapel brought a coinciding change in their dreams. A little girl woke one morning and told her mother that she had dreamed she was playing in the field, and was suddenly frightened by the form of the king hiding nearby to watch her. When she cried out for help, she heard a lovely voice and she saw that the Princess had come to the field, too. The little girl said that the Princess stayed all day and played games with her while the king disappeared.
Others recounted similar stories, and the whole village wondered what these images might mean and how they were connected with the lives of the royal family, with the fate of their King and their Princess.
But as I said, brothers, a second event, too, restored the kingdom, an adventure beginning far outside our little valley. During the same years that our village was held by terror, the youngest Prince of a large kingdom to the east of us sought an audience with his own father, the lord of that land.
“Father,” said the Prince, “your rule is secure, and my oldest brother will be king after you. I have learned from you everything a young man must know to be a good leader, to fear God and to act justly. Yet I have no experience of other lands, other rulers, other peoples. Please give me your blessing to disguise myself as a wanderer and to travel for a year and a day outside our country into the wide world beyond our borders.”
The lord replied to his son that this request was not without precedent, and that it was once common for princes to crown their formal education with travel to foreign lands and to experience unknown customs. “You have my blessing. May your journey be a benefit to you and to those you may meet along the way.”
In these two events—one very small and one very far away—were already the seeds of restoration. The piety of our own Princess and the courage of the foreign Prince brought about an end to our suffering and great fortune for us.
But once again, brothers, I must retire for the evening. Tomorrow I will continue my story, and you will see how Providence smiled on us after such a time of difficulty and how the faith and fortunes of the people were restored by God’s blessing. Who can understand the meaning of what the story reveals? Who can bear to hear of the evil done by the King? Who would not be moved deeply by the power of the Princess?
Brothers, forgive me.
Brothers, our plans are ours, but our lives are in the hands of God, and He orders everything for our growth and our good. When we offer our plans to Him, He honors them and weaves them into the greater plan He has for His whole creation. If we withhold our plans from Him, out of compassion for us He allows us to succeed in some small way and then falter, thus receiving the lesson of our own smallness and need for vision. The highest blessing, though, comes when we make no plans at all except to do good for others’ sake, and to live simply from day to day.
We left our story with the first turns of fortune which brought the kingdom out of its darkest days: the restoration of the Royal Chapel by the young Princess, and the arrival of the foreign Prince.
The Prince left his kingdom the very hour he received his father’s blessing. He dressed in plain clothes, taking nothing but a few provisions and some copper coins. He had many adventures which I am not able to recount now, but it chanced that his travels brought him within a day’s journey of our own land, into the great western forest. The Prince spent the night in a grove of pine trees, where dense branches provided some concealment and shelter from the cold wind.
But he was not the only traveler in the forest at that time. Near midnight, he woke to the sound of voices and the crackling of a campfire quite nearby.
A band of robbers was also passing through, making their way to a land where life was very troubled and the people disturbed by unrest. “When life is difficult for others, that’s when it’s easy for us!” they laughed. The robbers heard a rumour that the people of a certain village no longer trusted each other or their king, and they planned to pose as carpenters and offer to build more secure houses and storerooms and barns for the people’s possessions. “And when we’ve finished building, we’ll have keys to every lock in the whole valley!”
Hidden nearby, the Prince saw their faces and heard this entire conversation. It seemed that these robbers already had help from inside the kingdom—the situation had become so bad there that a few of the villagers were willing to cooperate with the robbers for a share in their stolen goods.
The Prince considered that he had planned not to stop in our village, but for the sake of innocent people, he vowed instead to warn the local inhabitants of their danger. He was also interested to know what had so disturbed these people that they no longer trusted one another or their ruler. So long before the robbers were awake, the Prince set off for the village. He arrived at dusk and took a room at the local inn, planning to seek an audience with the king early the next morning.
But that night he had a very strange dream. Knocking on the door of a castle with three windows—the one he had seen as he entered the village—he was approached by a stranger who asked him why he was disturbing the royal household. Having nothing to fear, the Prince told the stranger about the conversation he had overheard in the forest. “I must warn their king,” the Prince said to the stranger.
When the Price awoke, he went at once to the castle to complete his errand. To his surprise, the guards sprang to attention, and opened to admit him. The Prince’s astonishment increased when he recognized the face of the king as that of the strange man from his dream. However, the Prince was used to adventures, and said nothing to the king except to tell him of the plot being devised against his people.
The king listened intently, then said, “Thank you for bringing us this warning. I will seek out these men and, if what you have said of them proves true, you will be well rewarded.”
“I need no reward but the honor of having done a good deed,” replied the Prince.
“Nevertheless,” said the King, “an apartment has been prepared for you here in the castle, and I will call on you to verify the appearance of the robbers if and when they are discovered.”
The Prince expected that the robbers would be caught quite soon, but it chanced that they were waiting to enter the village until they had gathered lumber and tools enough to more easily pass themselves off as tradesmen.
Meanwhile, the Prince was escorted to his rooms and given a tour of the castle and its grounds. There was much to see, but the Prince was especially intrigued by three rooms on the same floor as his own. The first was certainly a Council Chamber. Accustomed to such places in his own palace, the Price was quick to observe that the room had a musty smell and an unused look about it. “Does this king take no counsel from his advisors?” the Prince wondered.
In contrast to the Council Chamber, the Prince was pleased with the look of another room, the Royal Chapel, with its fragrance of soft incense, walls decorated with sacred images and beautiful books gathered on its shelves.
“The king must frequent this room,” the Prince said to the servant who had been assigned to him.
“I have never known the King to enter here,” said the servant, “but the Princess, the King’s daughter, spends many hours here in prayer for herself and for the people.”
When the Prince asked about a third, heavily locked door between the Council Chamber and the Royal Chapel, he was told that this door led to the King’s private laboratory, where he was most often to be found. “He spends whole nights there,” whispered the servant, “and until these last few days, no one else goes in or out.” It seemed to the Prince that the servant was afraid, and he asked the reason for this.
“I wouldn’t want to besmirch the King’s good name,” said the servant, “but I will say that there are rumors of strange things. And I myself have heard noises like the cries of ghosts, and many speak of unpleasant smells—of burnt hair, and of blood.”
“Who are the others you spoke of, who also go into that room?” the prince inquired.
“Lately, the king takes his young son around the castle, and they enter that room as well.”
The Prince pressed for details, but the servant would say no more. After his acquaintance with the three rooms, the Prince eagerly desired to meet the Princess. However, being a stranger and having hidden his royal identity, he did not know how it would be possible. “Perhaps I could meet her in the Chapel for prayers,” he thought.
That evening, the Prince asked his attendant if he could be permitted to join the vespers services.
“The Princess is very gracious with strangers, and I’m certain you would be welcome. I will call on you when the service is to begin.”
While he waited, the Prince considered everything that he had seen in the Castle. What most intrigued him was the appearance of the king. “He looked different today than when I saw him in my dream,” mused the Prince to himself. “In the dream he was tall and robust—a man to respect and even fear. But when brought before him, he seemed pale and shrunken, almost as if recovering from a long illness. I wonder what could explain this difference?”
Deep bells rang out and candles were lit in the Royal Chapel. Then, the Prince was summoned to join the worshippers for the Vespers service. The officiating priest called many in attendance to read the evening hymns, and among them was a beautiful young woman the Prince guessed at once as the Princess. He was drawn immediately to her elegance and modesty, and she read her Psalm with the confident manner of one who had long known it by heart.
The Prince knew he must speak to her, and after the service he asked his attendant to arrange a brief audience. The attendant inquired, and the Princess was pleased to meet with him. She had been told of the stranger who came to warn the kingdom of a potential threat.
“Dear Princess,” said the Prince after the other worshippers had left the Chapel, “may I have permission to speak to you very candidly about what I have seen on my brief journey to your country?”
The Prince’s earnest tone caught her attention at once, and she could see that he was both troubled and quite sincere. “Of course,” she replied, “you may unburden your heart without any fear. What is unspoken seems to weigh heavily within you.”
The Prince was startled by these words, and looking into her eyes, he realized that though the Princess appeared youthful, she had wisdom beyond her years, and was acquainted with an older woman’s hopes and fears. He decided to risk telling her everything he had seen or suspected since coming into her kingdom.
“Princess, you have heard that as I travelled through the forest, I happened upon a band of thieves who planned mischief in a land which, they said, was deeply in turmoil. I changed course in order to warn the king of that land—your father—of the danger.
“But on the night of my arrival, I dreamed a strange dream. A royal person unknown to me appeared and asked my business in his country, and it being a dream, I told him the whole of my intention. Then I woke the next morning, I forgot about the dream and went early to deliver news of the robbers.
“Imagine my surprise when I saw that the King, your father, was the same as that man in my dream, and it seemed to me that he only let me recount my tale to compare it with something he already knew, and to confirm that I held nothing back. However, the man in my dream and the King before me had this important difference: the dream showed someone tall and strong, while your father appeared to be frail and sickly.
“To these things, let me add that I have seen how your royal Council Chamber is left unused, and I have heard disturbing stories of the mysterious locked laboratory where your father spends his nights. When I laid my hand on the handle of that door, the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and my heart warned me not to enter.
“All of this, Princess, suggests to me something gravely amiss in this castle and in your kingdom. I do not know what to suspect, but now that I have seen and spoken with you, I am certain that you have no part in it. I am not, as you see me, a traveling peasant, but… here, the Prince hesitated …I am a soldier in disguise. I offer you my help and advice, if you should want or be willing to accept them.”
The Princess did not need to consider her reply. The forthright words of the Prince were enough to convince her of his sincerity, and confirmed much that she already suspected.
“Dear friend,” she said, “allow me to be as candid with you as you have been with me.” The Princess began with the story of her mother’s death and last words, and then related to the Prince the following:
“Left with the care of my infant brother, I saw less and less of my father as the years passed. At the beginning, he spent long hours alone in his Room of Inventions, but later, as now, he would spend whole nights and days. Years ago, he would come to visit me or invite me along on some errand. He seemed content and untroubled, but it was the kind of happiness due not to an inner peace, but more a kind of fierce pride—as of a soldier victorious at war or an artist finishing a great work.
“Of late, I seldom see him at all. He has dismissed his advisors and sent the wise men of the court away on errands in other lands. This is why the Council Room appears neglected. Over time, I saw in my father the same change in him which you described: his appearance has become pale and weak, his skin discolored and his eyes clouded.
“I long suspected this transformation in connection with the Invention Room. My suspicions were confirmed one morning when, unknown to my father, I saw him emerging from that door with the sleeves of his robes rolled up, revealing fresh cuts and scars along the inside of his arms. He locked the door and quickly pulled down his sleeves to cover the wounds.”
“Your servants have said they often smell blood and burning hair coming from that room,” said the Prince.
“Yes,” said the Princess. “And I will tell you everything I know or intuit about what is happening in our land. Perhaps you will be able to help devise a plan. I feel unable to bear the burden alone. The most disturbing news has only just reached me.
“In my prayers, I often sense the grief and bewilderment of the people, and I ask God to bring them comfort. Some have told me they see my face in their dreams—often in the darkest—and it brought them comfort. But if my mother’s words were true, then I have come safely into this world of dreams, into hope and fear, and was present there in some way unknown by me.
“Could it be, however, that my father has devised a way to deliberately enter that world apart from prayer? That he can bring himself, awake, into the World of Dreams and even spy out what the people of our kingdom dream? The people have begun to fear him. He seems to know what they have only said in secret or never said at all.
“But this is not even the worst of what I suspect. It happened that, only weeks ago, my father came to my apartments in the castle where my dear brother also lives. My brother is not five years old, yet already has a wise and gentle nature, a marvelous innocence that almost seems itself a constant state of prayerfulness.
“My father asked to see his son, which he has not done except for festival days or formal audiences. He said that he would begin to take the teaching of his son more closely in hand. On several nights, but with no regularity that I could discern, the king came and took my brother away for many hours before returning him quietly to his room.
“My heart was disquieted by this change. It did not seem motivated by compassion. But my brother was happy, and said only that father had taken him to places in the castle he had never before seen. This is quite possible, since children are rarely allowed in the armoury or the kitchens or the jails. And my brother did not seem harmed or anxious in any way.
“Not in any way, that is, until yesterday morning, when he could not get out of bed for weakness, and said that he did not feel well enough to play. My brother has rarely been sick, so this turn was all the more alarming.”
“Royal Princess,” the Prince suddenly spoke in earnest, “forgive my interruption, but it seems imperative that we speak to your brother and see if he can tell us about the last audience he had with the king. We might learn something to our advantage.”
The Princess nodded, and they rose immediately to put the Prince’s words into action. Their eyes met and they paused briefly, each thinking the thought of the other: though they had only just met, their mutual trust was complete. And they both inwardly thanked God, who had brought them together, they did not doubt, at just such a crucial moment.
Now, my brothers, I will leave the story here for another night. You will soon understand how important was this meeting between the Princess and the wandering Prince. Indeed, it saved our kingdom.
Remember, too, my brothers, how their trust in God enabled them to trust each other. Do we not have this same trust here in our humble hermitage? Those who speak often with God need not waste much time when speaking to others. Language itself becomes rich and heavy with meaning, and few words suffice to communicate much understanding.
Brothers, forgive me.
My dear brothers, we continue the story where we left it last night, with the fortunate meeting of our Princess with the young man she believed to be a wandering soldier. After revealing to each other their concerns for the wellbeing of the kingdom, they agreed they must work together to uncover the mystery of the King’s business in his Room of Inventions.
We would do well, my brothers to consider how simple is our life and how grace-filled, when once the land in which we dwell was so very troubled and out of balance. Never forget that peace and silence and balance are hard-won—they can be lost through neglect or taken through lack of vigilance.
The Princess dismissed the Chapel attendants, and left quickly with the Prince to make their way to the room where her young brother slept. It being late, the passages of the castle were deserted, and their journey took them from the Chapel past the heavy, dark door of the Inventing Room.
“Listen,” said the Princess, leaning close. Muffled by the thickness of the door, they heard strange, unnatural noises from within: the heavy dripping of viscous fluids, the harsh clang of metal against metal, and the unmistakable groan of a slow, rhythmic pump, drawing air in and out—of what, they could not imagine.
“It is always like that now,” said the Princess. “Even when the King is not in the room.His machines move by fire and steam and magic, and those sounds continue, unresting, with other noises besides.”
“Is the King there now?” asked the Prince.
The Princess listened for a moment. “I don’t think so. Earlier, I was told that the King is at the judgment hall tonight, and I hear only soulless, mechanical sounds behind the door.”
They continued through the castle until they came to the young prince’s nursery and quietly entered. The boy had been dosing, but woke when he heard the sound of his sister’s voice.
“Sister, I am frightened,” he said, even before they had asked him a question.
“Tell me what frightened you,” she replied. The older Prince noted the tender affection in the Princess’s voice and knew how devoted she was to her brother.
“Father came today, but I did not want to go with him. Yesterday, when we went to his room, he gave me something very sweet to eat, but afterward I did not feel well. And today, I told him I was sick, but he carried me out. He brought me into his Inventing Room, and gave me the sweet thing again. I didn’t want to eat it, but he said I must, and more than before. So I ate it, and then I couldn’t feel my arms or legs. Father said he needed to check my arm, and he brought a bowl and a knife and cut my skin.”
The Princess gasped, but the Prince knelt by the boy and gently said, “I am a friend of your sister’s, and though you don’t know me yet, I will ask for your friendship as well. I am here to help you.”
The two princes looked deeply at one another for a moment, and then the young prince smiled. “I think you will help me,” he said.
“Will you show us your arm?” asked the older Prince.
The boy slowly pulled his arm from under the bedclothes and lifted the sleeve of his nightgown. There, in the crook of his elbow were several deep cuts. They seemed fresh and tender, though some thick ointment which smelled of herbs had been smeared over them to stop the bleeding.
At that moment, the room echoed with a loud knock. Knowing that his presence would raise suspicion, the Prince stepped quickly behind a wardrobe as the Princess rose to open the door.
One of the king’s guard stood in the hallway. He bowed to Princess and inquired about the health of the young prince. “His illness will pass quickly,” she replied.
“I am happy to hear it,” said the guard, kindly. “I have come with a message from the throne room. A group of men posing as carpenters have been apprehended as they entered the village, and I have orders to summon the stranger who first told us of their plot. I have not been able to find him, and this matter seems urgent.”
“The stranger was with us for the evening Vespers,” said the Princess, “and I will send my attendant to find him and escort him to the King.”
“Very well,” the guard replied with a bow and left. The Prince stepped out from his hiding place, and he and the Princess discussed what they might do next.
It seemed to them that, for the moment, the young Prince was safe and that the older Prince must go to the throne room to meet the King there. “I will stay with my brother a little longer then I will come down to see what judgement the King will pass against the robbers,” said the Princess.
Leaving the Princess’s apartments, the older Prince considered that the King could see into the dreams of those in his realm and would already know the thieves—so why bring the Prince as a witness? It must be either for the sake of making a show of proper courtroom proceedings or for some other plan the King had in mind.
The Prince was wary as he entered the main hall of the castle where the King sat for judgement with his scribes and record-keepers around him. In the middle of the room, a group of men in iron chains was surrounded by armed soldiers. There was much shouting and pleading of innocence.
When the Prince entered, the King motioned for him to approach the judgment seat. “Are these the men you encountered in the forest, who planned to deceive my people?”
The Prince bowed and turned to consider the prisoners. “Your Majesty, in all honesty, I must remind you that I saw their faces only dimly in the firelight. But I saw four men—like these four—and indeed their voices as they discussed their plot were the same voices I heard just now as I entered the chamber. I believe these are the men who intended you harm.”
“You also told me that they had help from some of my own people,” said the King. “Is this true?”
“Yes, your Majesty,” said the Prince, “but they gave no names or information about their accomplices.”
“No matter,” replied the King. “The whole village now knows I have apprehended the robbers, and those who helped them will now fear for their lives. I have the power to find them by their fear, and they will all be discovered by morning.
“Hear me,” continued the King to all assembled, “and make it a proclamation to the whole realm. The days when my own people might deceive me are over. I will find everyone who defrauds me or breaks my law. My kingdom will be known far and wide as flawless and clean, as productive and scheduled as a well-tended machine.
“Everyone will have enough to eat; everyone will have work and leisure; everyone will do the part assigned to him to strengthen and extend my kingdom into the forests and beyond. Let my people both fear me and hope for the glory yet to come by serving me faithfully.
“But I will root out all the deceivers and the liars among my people, and I will begin this very night!” he concluded, with a horrible fierceness that made all the people tremble.
The King dismissed his recorders and ordered the soldiers to return the prisoners to their jail cells. As he stood, he said quietly to the Prince, “You are a stranger, but you have proved your honesty and goodwill toward my crown. I offer you a choice. You may leave tomorrow, richly rewarded, to return to your own people. Or, you may stay and serve me as one of my spies and guards.
“If you stay, know that you will soon be the general of a mighty empire. I have recently perfected a great Power which will allow me to conquer all those around me—the Power of Hope and Fear. Tonight the final piece is in place, and I will be ruler not only of kingdoms that can be seen, but kingdoms that cannot be seen. One final sacrifice, and I will possess that Power completely…”
The Prince shuddered. He knew what sacrifice the King was going to make.
Brothers, this tale is nearly finished. More secrets than the King dreamed of are yet to be revealed. The King mistakenly thought that “secret” was something to be solved like a puzzle or discovered and claimed, like an island. No, my brothers. The King was standing unaware before a great Mystery. And Mystery is not a thing or a fact that can be possessed. Mystery is something we enter. It is not simply known or unknown. Mystery is that which we can never come to the end of knowing.
Those who lack humility and gratitude will be swallowed up by the Mystery they think to grasp and control. Only through humility can we become great enough to enter the vast, sacred chamber of Mystery.
Until tomorrow, my dear ones. Forgive me.
Brothers, when we left our tale, the King had fully disclosed his plan for the expansion of the Kingdom by force, and had offered the wandering Prince a position in the court. Our story is nearly complete. Perhaps we will tell a little tonight, and finish tomorrow. Remember the chief guard and the old priest in your prayers tonight. They were great-souled men, fierce and gentle, and it was through many more like them, unnamed, that our Kingdom was preserved until the time appointed for the overthrow of the King’s evil.
When the Prince found himself alone in the judgement room, he knew he must return to the Princess immediately and help her ensure the safety of her brother. He wondered if the young Prince was well enough to be smuggled out of the castle, and if a way could be found to hide him without the King discovering where he was.
The Prince considered all that he had seen and heard. The King had a great power—an evil magic it seemed—to which his own health was connected and to which he had recently attached the health of the young Prince. Images of pagan priests and diabolical rituals came into his mind. However, the King seemed to be acting alone, unaided by his courtiers or attendants.
“Exactly what has the King been doing in his Room of Inventions…?” the Prince suddenly thought. An urgent desire to look carefully into the Room seized him.
At that moment, the Princess appeared, out of breath, with a look of deep concern on her face. Before the Prince could ask, she gasped out, “my father has taken my brother under guard and gone into the Inventing Room with him and locked the door. As soon as they were inside, the sound of machines and the smell of chemicals reached into the hallway. I fear for my brother’s life—the look on my father’s face when he came to take him away was inhuman.”
“Then we have no time to lose,” said the Prince. “Can we get inside the Room?”
“The chief guard has keys to all the rooms of the castle. He was my mother’s friend and he has long been devoted to myself and my brother. He will open the Inventing Room for me if I ask.”
“Go to him now,” the Prince urged her, “and I will meet you at the door.”
They both rushed from the hall, the Princess to find the chief guard and the Prince to fetch his sword and shield from his own chamber. Up every staircase and around every corner, they felt that they had very little time and that the life of the young Prince depended on their speed.
The Princess did not have to search for long. The chief guard was waiting at her rooms.
“Princess!” he said with relief as he saw her approaching, “I am so relieved to have found you. The king was muttering under his breath when he came to take your brother away. I fear that if he continues with his experiments, he will fully lose his mind. Perhaps your father will pass beyond your help tonight into madness, but you can still save your brother. Indeed, you are the only one who can save him. Here are the keys to the Room of Inventions. Be prepared to see terrible things when you enter.”
The guard knelt on one knee and gave the key to the Princess and kissed her hand. “For your dear mother, the Queen,” he whispered. The Princess took the key and ran from the room, past hallways and stairs and windows. Just before she reached the evil Room, however, she heard a quiet but urgent voice call her name. It was the old priest, standing outside the Royal Chapel.
“Father, I must hurry,” said the Princess.
“Yes, my dear one,” said the Priest, “but what you are going to do tonight will put you in great danger.” The priest laid his hand on her forehead and gave the Princess a blessing of strong protection. “And take this as well,” the priest added, pressing a small golden Cross into her hand. “It is not by force but by prayer that we conquer the unseen…”
“Thank you, father,” the Princess said, suddenly tearful. Just then, the Prince came into the hall bearing his great silver sword and bronze shield. He knelt before the Priest and asked for a blessing as well. “May body subdue body and soul overcome soul,” said the Priest, “go now and save our Kingdom.”
The Prince and Princess stood for a moment before the door of the Inventing Room. The sounds from within were loud and ominous. Small puffs of acrid smoke emerged from the keyhole and around the hinges as the Princess fitted the key into the door and turned it with a soft click…
Brothers, the Prince and Princess did not know what they might see when they entered the Room of Inventions.The chief guard had once looked in and was terrified of ever doing so again, and the old priest had long fought the evil of the Room during his nightly prayers. Perhaps the King was unaware to what he had joined himself? Perhaps years of slow regress into his science had numbed him to the harm he nightly caused himself and his subjects?
Apart from the King, only one other had ever lingered in that dreaded Room, though he will spare you a full description of its evil. Tonight, however we must retire early. I am tired, and these memories are difficult to recall—not because they are too dim, but because they are too clear, even sharp in their painful clarity.
One more evening will suffice to complete the Tale. Until then, my brothers, forgive me. May God forgive us all.
To Be Continued…