Story: Christmas Morning.
In the middle ages when cities could be planted by brave men with strong resolve, a particular city grew up where a river valley met a mountain. Although this was not ideal for military defense, pregnant air fronts settled here for days at a time, making the weather temperate and bringing frequent rain that watered the rich soil and brought them abundant crops.
This dependable supply of rain helped the city reach a sort of renaissance long before its neighbors. This renaissance also came quickly to them because for generations the city’s brave royalty had consistently sought wisdom and righteousness instead of riches. And the trust that spawned from this type of leadership encouraged security and security gave freedom which let beauty and brilliance flourish. Love and law were like two instruments making harmony here. The city thrived and grew like a sagely-tended garden.
But there was a concern that steadily spread among the whispering women and the opinionated men of the city; the current king was getting old, had not married, and had no likely prospects. This was because the king, being the last in a rich, righteous heritage, refused to bring into his lineage a woman whose heart was not pure.
And though there were many pure-hearted women, at least by the common folk’s standards, not a one was fashioned as straight and true as the king was determined to wait for. The king, whose name was Claybold, always responded, “I will not settle for less than the right. Fate will favor us if we give it the children it asks for.”
He had a brother, however, and it was often suggested that the brother would be the substitute heir in the case the king died without one. But this was quickly rebutted by those from the older generations who remembered that this brother was not only lame in the hips, but also happened to be adopted.
And people did not even mention bringing other outsiders into the royal heritage simply because of two, little round reasons: the king’s eyes.
Whether it was from ancient migration, or a fluke of nature, among a nation of dark skinned, dark haired, and naturally dark eyed people, the royal line, no matter who they married with, dark skinned or not, had always produced one child with silver-blue eyes. It had been proven over a dozen consecutive generations which built it into legend among the people and made many conclude it was divine direction. The kings claimed that it was a signal that they indeed had found a woman truly pure in heart. That was why there was such high stakes.
The current king was now bordering four decades of age with no next of kin and it was in this inflating fear, and in a few splintery veins of jealousy that one of the king’s cabinet members came to him one evening on the roof of the palace, just after supper. He was overcome, quite convincingly, with woe.
His name was Treenon. “Sire, a very worrisome matter has been laid bare before us. A matter hidden from us for much time . . . until now.”
The king turned from the view of his city on the stone balcony, to the troubled Treenon. The fires in the torches flicked orange light on their faces.
“Treenon.” The king prompted him to continue.
“Yes, Sire,” He looked down at the tight pattern of the big stones on the floor. “The matter concerns your brother.” He looked up briefly and saw the king’s stern reaction, “It has been found that much of the royal treasure has been stolen and sold. And it is thought he has sold it to foreign nations.”
King Claybold was as close to his adopted brother as if he were a full brother. The adopted brother was just as noble as Claybold for they had both been raised by the same man. Somehow the news traveled fast in the palace and when King Claybold finally found his brother, alone to talk to him, conviction and punishment were already on the lips of everyone in the palace.
“Brother,” King Claybold grabbed the thin, hunched shoulders of the adopted brother. “Why would you take the riches of the crown? They have been yours and mine this whole time.”
“Claybold, I have done nothing but honor our fathers. You do not hear what I hear, who I hear. People do not heed my presence when they talk of secret matters. And I have heard many of them planning to take your throne. I did not want to dishonor any of them before you before they had actually done anything wrong. But I only thought it wise to save little by little, pieces from the treasury that they are planning to take from us. So they could not take it and overthrow us by wealth.”
“Brother, that is theft. The treasure is ours to enjoy, but not ours to take and sell.”
“I have sold none of it, dear Claybold. I have hidden it, before others could steal it. It is the wealth of our fathers.”
Claybold shook his head slowly. Sadly. “Brother, if my enemies are searching for a gap in my righteousness to topple this honorable throne, I’m afraid you have given them the arrow. They now cannot trust this family.”
And it was not a week before the adopted brother was tried in the courts demanding justice. But it was not a typical trial. The king stood beside his lame-since-birth, adopted, dark-eyed brother, thinking that his influence would sway the courts to be lenient. And as they asked him questions, Claybold answered them as a representative of both of them, and on behalf of the generational crown.
Claybold could have let his brother take the fall but he had decided that if nothing had been actually sold, it could be returned, and when it was time for the truth to come out, they would show that they had hidden the treasure as a measure to protect the kingdom, not steal from it.
But this did not work in his favor because the circumstances had crumbled the faith of many in the court, and they had taken it upon themselves to correct the matter by giving the crown to someone they could trust more. They reasoned that if he still waited on fate to give him a child when the likelihood of a child was so low and the stakes were so high, he could not be trusted anymore. They thought that a level-headed senate would be safer. On top of that, now the king seemed to be siding with someone stealing of the kingdom’s ancient wealth.
The king had gambled that he still had enough clout and comrades in the kingdom that his eyes would speak for the legacy that so many held to in their hearts. But as it turned out, as he looked across the courtroom and saw the hunger in each man’s vying eyes, he realized they were not driven by faith at all anymore, and his eyes were the very thing they took from him. That, and his proverbial crown.
The real crown, however, which was one of the things that had disappeared from the treasury, could not be found.
King Claybold’s eyes were gouged from his sockets as punishment for positioning himself as complicit to the theft. And they did it to him as their symbolic overthrow. The judge ruled that for taking the city’s crowning jewels, the city would take his. They thought that was punishment enough for both of them, and Claybold and his adopted brother were banished to the streets. Within a few months they had quietly dissolved into the folds of the city.
King Claybold, however continued his search for the pure-hearted woman, now among even the common people of the city.
* * *
It was harder to rule a city than most of them had expected. The fissures of the independent visions in the senate were quickly revealed and the divisions began to float apart. Less than ideal compromises were constantly made for the purpose of agreeing on anything. And riches quickly became the only measure of success they could all agree on.
So when there was a neighboring nation who requested to trade a much more expensive supply of its abundant livestock for a few years of the city’s valley of crops, they agreed. They quickly realized that the reason the neighbors needed to get rid of the livestock was because they did not have the crops to feed them. And now neither did they.
And because of this greedy mistake, did fate punish them. With a shortage of crops that they could eat and an abundance of hungry animals, their obvious option was to eat the animals. And they had such abundance of livestock that they were often half-eaten and left wasted in the gutters of the streets that had been beautiful and spotless just a few years before.
The first problem was the stench and the next quickly on its heels were the flies. The city’s resulting solution created the next problem. They burned all the meat, the hides and the organs, until not only were they edible or incinerated, the resulting smoke filled the sky more thickly and at a faster rate than the stench of organic decay.
And the nature of their low valley, which made it such a humid haven for growing crops, also meant that the thick, sooty smoke settled above them like a thickening blanket and did not move.
Day by day the skies got darker, and the people became more disenchanted with their new leadership. The resulting distrust spread through the city. If their leaders were not taking care of them, they would each have to take care of themselves before all others. The thickening darkness was not only in the air, but in the vulnerable hearts of the city.
There was, however, a boy who was unaffected by the darkening sky. As he begged in the streets, he wore a band of white cloth wrapped around his head, as many who were blind did as they begged for their survival. This boy sat at the palace gates each day, his eyes covered and his ears cocked keenly at the footsteps passing him.
He would call out to each of those passing in and out of the palace, “Bread for a poor beggar?” And as each person either shunned or gave to him, he gained a keen awareness for kindness in voices as an indicator of the true hearts of men. When you cannot see, it becomes far easier to really see.
The boy was 18 when rumor passed through the desperate city that the old Kind Claybold had actually birthed an heir. And perhaps he could take the city back from this failing senate. Excitement and hope spread through the people but just as quickly the fearful government sent people among them to stamp it out. They conducted a census. Many of the questions on the census were optional, but the one entirely required of every individual surveyed was to observe the color of their eyes.
The very first day that the census rolled forth from gates of the palace, the dirty, skinny young man by the gates with the white band over his eyes offered to be the first to comply. The men commissioned by the government knew the purpose of the survey and just laughed as they turned down the boy.
This happened quite often with the boy, being slighted by people. But not all the time. He was smart and knew by voice many of the people in the city. He knew them because it was necessary for each family to present themselves to the palace for food rations a couple times each month. And the boy was always there at the gates reaching out to those who passed through it. One of the ones who had a kind, recognizable voice was an old man with a limp. He pedaled small trinkets and old, worthless jewels in a cart that he leaned into as he dragged himself along. This was the old adopted brother of king Claybold, now well along his way toward life’s end. But there was a strange reverence that he held when talking to the boy.
For he knew who the boy really was.
Slowly, and cautiously, chosen by the heart he could see behind each person’s voice, the boy shared who he really was with certain ones of them.
“Fate will bring what fate each one is due. I am my father’s son. Do you recognize my voice?”
And those who did, would then ask him something like, “How may I usher it in and serve your kingdom?”
And the boy would always say, “Not yet can it come. But you can come to it.”
The boy did not sleep in the city. At least not under the dark cloud which covered most of it. Each night he would gather in the fresh air, under the bright stars with his multitude of secret friends, whoever could come. And he would teach them what his kingdom would be like when he was in power again. He would once again reinstate the balance of kindness and justice. He honed each day the sensitive nuances of love that builds trust and bettered his people. And each morning, after the sun rose on them, and they breathed their last breath of fresh air for the day, he commissioned them to live in the city, beneath the burden of smoke, but in a way that looked like his kingdom had already come.
And this boy with the white band over his eyes moved through the streets with a near miraculous talent.
Because he had not seen with his eyes for his whole life, he had become adept at living without sight, moving in and around the city in the dark with almost more quickness than those who could have seen in the light. And light had been what was steadily decreasing in the city, even as much as to make it like night. He had also, in his absence of sight, become able to hear and recognize pain and deceit even in the smallest of voices. And as he moved through the city each day, and in his silent, near invisible way, he got to know the majority of the people in the city. And when he did not know a certain family or lonely widow, he knew someone who had learned to listen enough like him, who did know them.
And the fated day came, when fate reached in and took sweet justice like a ripened fruit. The boy was now a man of three decades and three months, and his followers were many. It was violent and quick. He and his men stormed the palace, as it was dark in the middle of the day. He was the only one who was just as comfortable in the light as in the apparent night and he quickly moved toward the throne room, leaving now helpless, men in his wake. They were often the same ones that had carried out injustice on his father. The difference of what he did to them, was that this was justice.
And then it was done.
Quickly the new throne was established and the people of the kingdom learned of the new reign. The first order of business was for the people to move out from under the smoke, move higher into the mountains, forsake the meat many still raised as food, and once again plant the seeds that would bring new harvest. No one was to cook meat from now on. And no one could burn torches, at least not until the smoke was gone from the valley.
Many people were resistant to all of these commands. The new king was firm with the people and patient with the land. He knew it would be a long process and anyone who resisted had either the choice to change, or leave his kingdom. If they didn’t want to trust him and do it his way, they could not be with him in his kingdom.
And slowly the land healed and the sky cleared up. And after working so long under his advice in the dark, people no longer needed to see with light in order to perceive the most important things of people's hearts. They got good at hearing in a voice who was kind and who was in need.
And as the smoke eventually dissipated they soon began to be able to see the city with their eyes again. But by then, no one in the kingdom doubted who he was when they removed the white band from his head and they could see the sweet, kind, silver-blue eyes of the young king, in the very act of restoring the kingdom of his fathers to the beautiful renaissance once again unmatched in the rest of the surrounding lands.
* * *
The man’s scarred, 45 year old eye lids stayed always shut over his broken eyes. A door creaked closed in the room above them and the wall shuttered with it’s shutting. The man whispered to her, I’m just sorry it had to be here. His bride, who had made it to 25 as pure in heart as if she were newly born, had given new birth recently herself. She rested on her side, the baby coddled against her, dark pink, small, wrinkled, asleep. She replied, with the sweetest, pure-hearted tone. “It does not matter, my lord where he rests. Fate has chosen this place and I trust fate knows further than you or I what is right and just. It only asks of me my love.”
The man reached for her healthy and humble shoulder and said, “I striven hard to keep my heart pure, but I have truly found one more pure-hearted than I. You trust that fate is good, even when it leads us to the dirtiest of rooms on the most forgotten edge of this dark city, in the middle of the night.
Just then a consistent creaking could be heard nearing the curtained doorway. A goat bleated and trotted in, and then a smaller one followed it. The animals stopped when they smelled childbirth and neared the child to examine him. The baby's mother cooed and pet them.
Then the old peddler whispered through the curtain. My lord, may I come in? I have a humble gift to bring.
The man with scarred eyelids spoke so kindly and softly. “Yes, my brother. Come quickly in. He is here.”
The old hunched man drew the curtain aside and limped slowly in. His eyes locked on the boy and he dropped to his knees. “He is really here. The only hope for this nation has come. Fate is faithful to those who trust and obey it.”
As the old man crawled toward the baby on his hands and knees he let the cloth covering something in his hands fall away. By the time he reached the mother and child he had produced a glistening halo of gold, embedded with jewels glistening with every bit of scarce light in the room. He placed the cold metal softly on the bare arm of the baby. But the baby did not rouse from the crown .
Then the bigger goat drew its snout carefully nearer, silently smelling the newborn cheeks. But even before it could touch the baby's skin the he opened his eyes, saw the goat, and smiled. The eyes were a glistening silver blue, filled with every bit of light that the jewels in the crown held. Upon seeing them the goat threw its head back and trotted around the other goat and around the room.
The mother cooed again and said, “He has your eyes, my love.” And she ripped a small strip of fabric from her fraying robe and wrapped it lightly over the baby’s eyes as she said, “You must not show these eyes to the world, until fate asks you for them. Then open them, and save us all.”
Raw Spoon, 12-19-2012