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