Sometimes, a fable is the best way to convey all aspects of a message. So, I’ve written this fable this morning, for Valentine’s Day, to help bring clarity to those who are struggling with loss or betrayal — Enjoy!
The Cliff Shepherd and the King
An original fable by Danielle Egnew © 2012
Once upon a time, on a high mountain path, there lived a young man and his wife. He was a simple man, and his goal was to tend his flock of sheep on the side of the hill until he could sell the wool in the spring. Once he filled his purse with silver, he would move both he and his wife down the mountain, to inhabit land closer to the river, so that his wife would not have to struggle with heavy water buckets up the rocky and unsafe Cliffside. For several seasons, this young man sheered his sheep and saved his silver. It would be this season where his bag would be full enough to purchase the small mossy patch by the river beneath the trees – the spot just big enough to place their thatched roof shack.
One day a man came walking up the path with several servants at his side. He was a grand man, with colorful robes and gold adorning his fingers and neck. The cloth in his robes was made of the most striking purple the young man had ever seen, and his hair was combed a long red, with an azure blue bow holding his thick locks neatly behind his ears.
The grand man approached, and the young man came down the hillside. “Excuse me, good sir,” said the young man, “but I’ve never seen you before on this path. Do you need direction?”
The grand man smiled. “I do not, but thank you, kind son. This is my kingdom.”
The young man was taken aback, realizing that he was in the presence of his King. He dropped to one knee. “Sire, I’m so very sorry. I am but a poor shepherd, and I do not know the face of my king.”
The grand man continued with his benevolent smile, “All is well, my son. Please, stand and talk. Why do you work so hard above the clouds?”
“Your Highness, my only desire is to earn the silver from the backs of my sheep, so that I may buy the small parcel of land below for my wife.”
“I see,” said the King. “And which parcel would that be?”
“There,” the young man pointed.
The King squinted through the mist to see a large oak tree below, and a clearing beneath it. “I see,” he said. “And why do you wish to have this parcel, of all the parcels you could own?”
“Well, Sire, if you look at how the river bends there, you’ll notice it feeds the tree. That is because there is a small spring under the trees roots. If I build a cottage there, my beautiful wife will not have to scar her hands any longer to fetch the water. She will merely need to kneel.”
“I see,” said the King. “And how did you find this spring? I cannot see it from here.”
“I was born on this land,” the young man answered, “and every inch I have explored.”
“And there is no other parcel anywhere by the river that you would wish to own more than the one below, even though all of your years have given you glances at every mile of river?”
“That’s correct, Sire,” the young man answered. “I have worked my whole life to move my beautiful wife down to the river, on that perfect parcel of land.”
“And who owns this land?” the King asked.
“The old woman in the valley, with the black cows, owns the title to the land. It belonged to her husband,” answered the young man.
“I see,” said the King. The grand man stood in repose for a moment, looking through the cool mist below at the tiny mossy plot beneath the tree. The king clapped his hand. “Servant!”
“Yes, Sire?” the servant bowed deeply forward.
“Find the old woman with the black cows and buy that mossy parcel of land, under the tree. I shall build my spring home there.”
“Yes, Sire,” answered the servant, who promptly lifted the top off of a small jewel-inlaid chest and removed a bag, heavy with clinking gold.
The young man was devastated. He fell to his knees in despair, clutching the ankles of the king. “Your Majesty, I beg you! Please, of all the land in all of your kingdom, please do not take my parcel below! It is everything I have worked for!”
The King snapped his fingers and his servants removed the young man from the King’s feet. “It is not your parcel of land. If it were, I would not be able to buy it.”
“But Sire,” the young man cried, “you have such a grand palace! Why ever would you want such a small mossy plot to rest your royal head?”
“Because you have said it is the perfect parcel, on all the river. You have already told me of its benefits, and I agree that they are many. I would not have even known of that parcel of land had you not pointed me to it. But now that I have seen it, I wish to own it. You have already wanted it greatly, so why would not I?”
“But your highness,” the young man begged, “I have worked so hard to own the parcel this spring!”
“Yes, my son,” he replied, “yet I am able to own it today.”
With that, the King and his servants turned and headed back down the Cliffside from which they came. The young man sat on his knees sobbing, unable to stand as he watched the grand man and his valets laugh and tell stories as they disappeared into the mist below.
The young man felt his heart break inside of him. He did not know how to tell his wife that they would not be moving down the Cliffside to the glorious mossy patch that they had dreamed of.
The day wore on, and the young man was unable to stand on his feet as he sobbed into the rocky dirt below. As the sun crested high and began to sink behind the mountains, another man came over the hill, this time, on a horse. This man was dressed in a plain weaved robe of the common brown color that prevailed in the county. A heavy hood hung over his face. The young man was blocking the horse’s path, and the traveler and his horse came to a halt.
“Hello, good sir,” said the traveler. “Are you hurt?”
The young man could barely form words through his tears, his head hung to his chest. “I am not hurt of the body, good traveler, but my heart is broken.”
The traveler slid off his horse and knelt beside the young man, “And such a big heart it is, by the look of your pain. Who would do such a thing?”
The young man could barely whisper, “My King.”
The traveler seemed quite surprised. “Your King?”
“Yes, kind sir,” the young man continued. “The King and his servants were on a walk, and asked me why I worked so hard here above the clouds on the Cliffside. When I told them I spent my life raising my sheep so that I could purchase the mossy parcel of land below once the spring comes, so that my wife does not have to bruise her hands fetching our water, the King sent his servant to purchase the land today.”
The traveler put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Kind sir, please raise your eyes.”
“I cannot,” said the young man, who continued to weep. “How will I tell my wife that everything I have hoped for is now gone?”
“Young man,” the traveler said gently, “I have just come from the valley, where my good aunt resides on a farm of black cows. She told me a story of a grand man who arrived in robes of purple, demanding to purchase the mossy parcel beneath the oak tree, upon the bend of the river. When she told him of the cost, his servant pulled a bag from a chest covered in bits of glass, and opened it to pour tin chips onto the table.”
The young man raised his head slowly, “But that cannot be. It was a chest of jewels, and in it, a bag of gold. I witnessed it with my own eyes.”
“My child,” said the traveler, “have you ever seen a true jewel, living so high up on the Cliffside?”
“Well,” thought the young man, “…no. But I have heard stories that they catch the light as does the sun.”
“Yes, as does sand when great heat forges it into the colored glass that lights the cathedral at Notre Dame,” the traveler replied.
The confused young man wiped his eyes. “But what of the bag of gold? I saw the bag with my own eyes!”
“Yes,” answered to traveler, “yet did you see the glistening gold within?”
“Well,” thought the young man, “…no. But I heard the heavy bag rustling heavy with the pieces.”
“Yes, as does tin when it is chipped and lying in a bag,” answered the traveler.
The young man was sitting straight up now. He was dumbfounded. “But kind sir, even with tin and glass, it was my King who wishes to have my land. I met him and touched him with my own hands, and he told me with his own mouth that he was my King.”
“Young man,” answered the traveler, “have you ever laid eyes on your King?”
“Well,” thought the young man, “…no.”
“Now you have.” The traveler removed the hood from his head to show brilliant blonde hair and a perfectly clipped blonde beard, with shining, kind blue eyes. “I am your King.”
The young man froze. He was wary of this stranger, and was fearful he would be punished for treason upon the King’s return to claim his land below. “Pardon me, sir, but you do not appear to be a king. Your clothes are common, as are mine. This man — he was dressed as I would think a king dresses, in robes of purple.”
“Yes, as does also the group of thespians at the Saturday market, who put on plays of royalty to fancy the vendors,” answered the traveler.
The young man was still baffled. “But you have no servants. The King had servants fawning on his every gesture. You have nothing but a horse.”
The traveler smiled. “My son, it does not take a king to subjugate others, only the heart of a tyrant. And my horse,” he gestured with his palm open to the animal, “has a fine saddle.”
For the first time, the young man looked at the beast. It was not a farm horse, but a tall well-kept steed, whose coat had been culled to a glistening black. On his hooves were colorful red silk runners, and upon his back was a golden-gilded saddle. The young man squinted against the sunset bursting off of the golden horn, atop which a white diamond exploded like a miniature sun with prisms dancing onto the grass. On the saddle was emblazoned the royal seal of the county, a seal that all children learned at birth: An eagle talon, the same eagle talon that was pressed into an enormous but simple glistening gold ring that sat on the index finger of the traveler, whose hand was extended toward the majestic animal.
The young man fell to his face at the feet of the traveler. “My King!”
The King chuckled, “Raise your eyes, kind sir.”
The young man was trembling. “My King, please forgive my insults in calling another man your station. I know not what I have done!”
“No, child,” the King said, standing and helping the young man from the mud, “the man who has impersonated me knows not what he was done. The fault is his.” The King brushed dirt off of the young man’s clothes as he continued to speak. “My son, this man fancies himself a king. He adorns an actor’s costume and takes to the countryside, deceiving those who would be none the wiser. It was your belief that made him a king.”
“Will he be punished?” asked the young man, fearing for the grand man’s life.
“He has already received punishment. For you see, this grand man fell prey to his own folly, and introduced himself as the King to the king’s true aunt. By county law, anyone impersonating the King is sentenced to death. Had you not told this man where to find the farm with the black cows, he would have never come upon my aunt, and would have never introduced himself as the King, committing treason. Had it not been for you, this grand man would have continued to deceive many. It is because of his own greed, to become a king he was not, and to own the dreams of another man, that lead him to his demise.”
The young man could barely believe what he was hearing. “But what of his servants?”
The King laughed, “They ran to the forest in fear when the royal guard came for this grand man at the market.”
“They did not protect him?” the young man asked, dumbfounded.
“My child,” the king continued, “those men were not servants, but actors playing a part. Those who play at serving others for only their own sense of purpose will be the first to abandon the purpose for their own self.”
The young man stared off into the distance at the parcel of land below. “Thank you, Sire, for your compassion, and your wisdom.”
The King could not help but notice the saddened look on the young man’s face as he stared at the mossy parcel below. “What troubles your heart?” he asked.
“Your Majesty, in my woe, weeping into the rocky ground, I have wasted the best market day of the season,” the young man answered. “Today was the day I was to take my wool to market, to sell to the vendors from across the water before the travel back across the seas at dawn, and to finally earn the rest of the silver pieces that I need. I was to take this money and purchase the mossy parcel for my wife. Yet because I was deceived, I have lost the parcel.”
“No, child,” the King said, “it is because you were deceived that you have gained the parcel.”
The King reached into his common brown robe and pulled out a scroll. “This is the deed to the mossy plot below. The grand man told my aunt of the young man’s plans to make a home for his family, and how he came to know of the parcel. Now it is yours, from my family to yours, in thanks.”
The young man burst into tears, his hand shaking as he took the scroll. “Thank you! Oh, thank you, your Majesty! Forgive me, yet I do not know how I have earned this!”
“Your honesty has earned this land,” answered the king. “Your honest work on this rocky Cliffside season after season has already claimed that mossy parcel as your own. And your honest heart has claimed the love of your King.”
With that, the majestic King took to his horse in one leap, and for the first time, the young man could see the glistening armor, hidden beneath the common robe. As the king rode down the rocky cliff through the mist, the young man realized it was time to feed his sheep. And what a story he would have for his dear wife.
The moral of the story is: Things are never as they appear when those pretending to be kings attempt to take away what is meant for those on whom The King has already bestowed.