A New Fairy Tale
Joshua Alan Sturgill
Awake in the World of Dreams
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.
To Be Continued…
All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2020 by Joshua Alan Sturgill. All Rights Reserved.
Back to Thin Places