A Fairy Tale
Joshua Alan Sturgill
Once Upon a Time…
…a wise King who ruled over a prosperous City called Centermost. The King was powerful and far-sighted, and he had a Great Secret, a wise magic passed down to him from his fathers.
But with the vision given to him by wisdom, the King knew that though his people were good, they had become proud of their prosperity, and were neither as clever nor vigilant as they had once been.
So in order to protect the future prosperity of the City, the King arranged a massive project of fortifying the city walls with huge stones cut from a nearby mountainside.
On each stone, the king decreed that the name of a hero, sage or notable citizen would be carved, so that the people would always remember the great men and women of their past.
But the king had another intention for this project as well. While the construction of the walls was ongoing, the king took his Great Secret and hid it inside a stone.
He carved a name on this stone, but not one of the family names of his people, and he set the stone deep in the wall, so it wouldn’t be seen when the walls were completed.
Then, the king took aside his eldest son who would be king after him, and said “My child, remember this name that I am going to whisper to you now. Remember it and pass it on to your own children. This is the name you must look for if the city is ever overcome by an enemy.”
Generations passed, and the nearby towns and villages also became large and prosperous because of the wealth and beneficence of the Centermost. And the kings were faithful to remember the hidden name and to tell their children.
All was well for the City and its people for many years. They became so used to their culture and trade that they stopped posting guards on the City walls. The gates of the City were rusty, its soldiers untrained and its weapons left to dull.
The citizens of Centermost were taken by surprise when a sudden conflict arose with one of their newly powerful and ambitious neighbors: the Town of Ephemera.
The war between City and Town lasted only a few days, because the people of Centermost had long become unskilled in battle, while the people of Ephemera were clever and proud.
The City walls were torn down, and the people of Ephemera marched in, killing and taking captives. The King, too, was captured with all his court and forced into labor for the new rulers.
The leader of Ephemera set himself on the King’s throne and forced his prisoners to work rebuilding what had been destroyed in the war.
The people of Centermost and their King wept as they left their homes. They remembered its former prosperity and considered the reasons why it had been lost so suddenly.
They set up their camp as exiles among the stones of the wall that bore the names of their noblest ancestors. They built simple huts and gardens for shelter and food, and commenced the work of restoring the walls for their new rulers, the people of Ephemera.
The King worked alongside his people, humbling himself, and the people continued to honor him as their leader—though he was now a leader of slaves.
As they worked among the stones bearing the names of their heroes and wise men, they revived all the old stories of their history. They told tales long into the nights, and their courage was revived when they remembered past greatness—a greatness which was more than money or power, but beauty and wisdom, magic and law.
However, one stone bore a name no one could remember.
The people came to the King and asked about the stone with the mysterious inscription. It wasn’t a family name; it wasn’t in any record of great deeds or writing or philosophy. They told him the name: Metanya.
The King was astonished when he heard it. It was the name passed down through the succession of kings, the name to be remembered if the city was ever defeated.
“Take me to the stone with that Name,” said the king. The people brought him to the stone, and the king examined it closely. He saw that the stone was of a different shape and color from the other stones of the wall.
“We must break the stone apart,” the King advised, “but we must do it very carefully, and during the day so that our enemy will not notice. It will appear that we are merely clearing some rubble.”
The next day, the stonecutters set to work, carefully carving away pieces of the stone and carting them off, as if to use them in other parts of the wall. The stone with the name shrank and shrank, and after many hours of work, a final crack split the stone in two pieces. There in the hollow, something glittered in the evening light.
It was an ancient iron chest, cast with beautiful designs and bearing the crest of the City. The King was astounded, and the people gathered around to see what was inside.
When the king opened the chest, at last the Great Secret of his forefathers was revealed: three treasures—which had only been remembered in legends and fairytales of the city’s earliest days—were now open for all the people to see.
In the midst of war and defeat, when all hope was lost, their own ancient past came back to them!
These were the three treasures of the Great Secret:
A book of wise sayings which had the power to teach the reader how find wisdom.
A sword which had the power to lead anyone who carried it to victory over an enemy—but the sword was enchanted. It would only wound, never kill or destroy.
Finally, a beautifully crafted cup of gold with copper and silver designs. When it was filled with water, the one who drank from it had health restored; when it was filled with wine, sorrow and grief were lessened and courage was restored.
The king and the people wept when they saw the Great Secret revealed. They wept for joy because they knew they would, even quickly, regain their lost City of Centermost. But they wept for sadness, too, because they saw how their own pride and comfort had lead to the loss of their former wisdom and their defeat by the harsh enemy, Ephemera.
The people vowed to retake their City, but to be merciful to those who had harmed them.
Early the next day, taking the people of the Town completely by surprise, the king attacked. With the wisdom given by the Book, his generals out-maneuvered the enemy. The King himself succeeded at every conflict with the power of his sword. And the wounds of battle—on both sides—were healed by the power of the cup.
The King and his people had the victory, and they soon became happy and prosperous once more.
But they rebuilt their city differently from what it had been before. They treated their former enemies with kindness and sent them back to their Town with many gifts.
And they elected not to rebuild the city wall.
Wisdom, they decided, would be their defense. They used the stones of the former wall to construct a great park and gardens in a circle around the city, and they invited wise men and gardeners from the surrounding towns and villages to come and share their beauty.
And the people of Centermost lived in peace and wisdom, happily ever after.
The Lost City, A Fairy Tale: copyright 2020 by Joshua Alan Sturgill
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