The Wandering King
In days gone by, which still continue now, there was, of course, a king. A king with just one eye. His other eye he had given up during his long departed youth in return for the gifts a good king ought to have. Thanks to that sacrifice his thoughts turned into words, his words turned into poetry, and his poetry turned into songs. Those songs had the power to rewrite lives. His two ravens flew all over the world for him and upon their return they told the king where things were going wrong. After all, the world isn't perfect and not everything that happened was meant to happen. Sometimes things simply...went wrong. Then the king would send his two horses, who ran faster than time, to the place where things had turned in a wrong direction to bring his songs so that they could repair the damage. Therefore, the king was a much loved man.
There was just one problem. The king saw nothing for himself, and could change nothing for himself. In his youth that hadn't particularly bothered him, back then he thought things would sort themselves out in time. In those days he had tried out a few women as well, to see whether he could find a good queen, but he soon found that those women only saw their own story and nothing else. The king soon became bored with them and had sent them back to their generous, not very intelligent families, where they lived happily ever after.
But the king wasn't happy. His servants saw him, his friends and family saw him, his subjects saw him, but no one saw his story. And without a tale of his own he was just half a man, a wandering king. He possessed a lovely castle, but no home. All the beautiful things he saw and the wonderful events he could sing into being always only reminded him of something. They never became real to him, remaining like a memory of something that had never happened. The way children expect more from a toy than the life their imagination can impart to it, which is why they always want more.
The king felt worse and worse. His ravens didn't fly as often as they used to, his horses wandered around aimlessly, and each time the king sighed, the wind cried. He wandered through his forest, sighing till the branches fell around him, only to become irritated by all that wind so that it began to blow even harder and started to rain. Without the king's songs to solve it, his subjects lost the plot more and more often, and they, too, were annoyed by the storm so that even more went wrong.
Still no one saw the king's tale, and therefore he started to become invisible. As with age, the problem began with his hands. His colour began to fade, his outlines became hazy and his eyes paled. His servants, his friends and relations, and his no longer so very loyal subjects didn't mention it, since people rather ignore problems.
That silence soon made the king completely invisible. His servants still brought him his tea in bed, whether he was there or not, his hunt master still preached to him, whether he was there or not, and his subjects still waved at his carriage, whether he was in it or not. One day, the king decided that he had had enough. If everyone let his invisibility pass without saying a word, he didn't want to see anyone or help anyone. Figuratively speaking, he was down, and so he decided he might as well go down quite literally. His horses could quietly live on his estate, his ravens could live their own lives, and apart from them there was probably no one who would even notice his absence. Except of course his dog, but that couldn't be helped. He could hardly take the poor animal down with him.
He put on his warmest cloak and his thickest scarf, got on his horse and commanded the animal to bring him to a dry well. Faster than time the horse rode through cities, forests, across the sea and through another city, until he stopped in the middle of a large forest. The king dismounted and saw his well in the middle of a small clearing. He thanked his horse and sent the animal home. When he stood next to the well, the king looked around for the last time. It was only September, but because of his sighs the trees were already bare. It was very quiet, the forest floor was painted gold by the autumn leaves and ghosts hid like mist between the grey trunks of the silent trees. Then the king climbed down into the well. Having reached its dry bottom, he sat down, closed his eyes and fell asleep. And he slept, and slept, and slept for years. The wind never blew again.
Around the same time there lived, of course, a princess. Her family belonged to the Fallen Gentry, which meant that there were no servants, it was easy to stay slim, and the princes could go where she liked as long as she could walk there. And indeed she did walk across the entire city, where she saw the stories of people, animals, and some old and very wise trees.
She wrote down all those stories. She wrote at the café, she wrote in the park, she wrote at home. She kept her stories under her bed, stored in an empty Louboutin shoebox. Not that she had ever had a pair of Louboutin shoes, but an acquaintance with a somewhat twisted sense of humour had given the box to her once and she had thought she might as well use the thing. But her tales served no purpose. The princess couldn't find anyone who could make her words come true, and she couldn't change a thing.
The constant wind, which people now called 'The King's Sigh', was gone, but the princess felt the sky was too high, the sun too bright and the crowded city too bare. And her stories remained useless. She wrote less and less, didn't walk as much as she used to, and eventually stopped writing altogether. She could almost feel the presence of the useless shoebox under her bed.
One night in October the princess had a strange dream. She was in a room that resembled a filmset. All the walls were white and at a touch they moved away, as if they were standing on wheels. Here and there people sat around laughing and there was music playing. But then she realised the music was being ridiculed and that the people were laughing in mockery. They were laughing at the invisible king's songs, but the princess didn't know that.
The following day she decided to leave in search of a well. She felt down and considered that she might as well go down and disappear. She put on her warmest coat and her thickest scarf and left. She walked through and out of the city, into the woods. Eventually she arrived at a small clearing where she saw the edge of a well
She looked around one more time, saw the cold trees, the partly hidden ghosts of the mist and the two ravens which had seemed to lead her here and sighed. Then she climbed over the edge and down.
When she reached the bottom of the well, it took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to the deep darkness. Then she saw the vague outlines of the sleeping king.
'Oh no,' she sighed desperately. Did she really walk all that way to climb down a well in the middle of nowhere to get away from people and their stories only to find there was someone here, too? She looked carefully at the king. And of course she saw his story: it hung around him like an unfinished thought. And...the princess soon realized that she actually liked the king's story. After she had observed him for a few minutes, she thought that it might not be such a disaster to find another person here, after all. For she could see the king’s entire story and now knew how he came to be here. Perhaps this meeting was what those two ravens had intended? She could see the invisible king, she could see his story, and he...he could make words come true.
She grabbed the king by his shoulder and, none too gently, began to shake him. After having slept for nine years, it took a while for him to wake up. Eventually he sighed, so that a tree above ground, no longer used to the wind, fell down.
'Hem, ha, hem, er, what?', he muttered. The princess explained what had happened as clearly as she could, in the meantime praying that he hadn't given up all hope. Or that she at least could give him new hope. After all, she could see him, the invisible king and his story? Surely that meant something? When her words finally got through to him, the king jumped up.
'You can see me, see my story! And I can make words come true... So I can make your words come true... I'll have to think them first, but if you write them down that will be easy enough. I hope you won't think it strange if I ask whether it might not be a good idea to stay together?'
Of course the princess didn't think it was strange. They built a new castle, that did turn into a home, in the clearing where the well had been. The horses and ravens also preferred that place to the former estate. The now visible king again sang everything right and therefore his subjects were happy once more.
From that day on, the wind only blew early in the morning, before the king had had his first cup of tea, and sometimes when he thought the princess, who was now a queen, spent too much time on her writing. But then it was only a breeze and people no longer called it the King's Sigh. They're still living there, contentedly ever after, but they can only be found by those who can see stories and make their words come true.
© 2018 Eva Weggelaar