The treasured gifts
At a time long ago, in a land far away, there ruled a gentle king. His subjects worked hard but were contented, because the gentle king was generous in his givings, and fair at their trials. Thus his people held great respect for him, for his queen and for his little princess. For many years peace reigned in the land ‒ until one fateful day ‒ a fierce army from far away invaded the kingdom. The marauding soldiers devastated the country side, looting the cottages, stealing the livestock, and burning the fields. They chained the young men of the village to become their slaves along the route of their conquering journey. And, they shackled the gentle king as their prisoner, leaving behind a deposed general to rule in his stead.
Spring turned to summer, and summer to autumn as the endless march continued. The invaders had long ago confiscated the gentle king’s embroidered waist coat and his fine leather boots. When autumn turned to winter the soldiers guarding the gentle man decided to leave him behind because they saw no further use for him as example to others of their power and brutality. In the very next village there happened to be a dilapidated structure with bars on the single window that served as the gaol, overlooking the main road that lead far off into another country.
No one in the village was in charge of the gaol, except to bring meager suppers to the few prisoners. But the new general of the invading army left behind one of his least loyal soldiers to look after the state of affairs there. The prison cell had only a raised stone bed and a thread bare cloth for a blanket. A small hole in the dirt floor served as a fire pit, if there was any wood to be had. And there were two buckets: one to hold water the other for a toilet. It was mid-winter and very cold. The gentle man was now at the mercy of more strangers. They did not know who he was or why he had been captured, only that they had to guard and feed him.
Each day, it was the job of a young boy to bring one meal and water for one bucket, and to empty the other. He was bothered that now he had yet another person to look after, which meant the meal had to be shared even further. But as winter turned to spring, the young boy became fonder of the gentle man who told him stories of a distant land, and of a lady wife and a little daughter who was his own age. The gentle man also told of his dream of returning one day to his homeland. And he spoke of how, after all these years, he longed to bring a small gift to each of his loved ones.
As the weeks turned to months and to seasons, the young boy began to bring a few extras for the gentle man. In the summer, he would gather red and purple berries as special treats for his charge. Now and again, he would capture a pigeon which made a fine feast by the fire. The young boy noticed that the gentle man’s shirt was in bad need of repair, and so a thread and needle were presented. And when winter came, he brought some bits of rags to bind his bare feet. Throughout the months that past, the lazy guard, who really didn’t have much of a job to perform noticed that the gentle man was always busy making something. But when he tried to find out what that was, there was never any evidence that he could detect.
Seven years had passed. The gaol guard had long ago deserted his post. The young boy had grown to near manhood and confided in the gentle man that he planned to leave the village to seek his own fortune. He also told the gentle man that no one really remembered why he was locked away, or cared if he simply left. So one fine day, the young man came with a very worn winter coat and boots that had seen much better days. He said they had belonged to his late father, but were still much too large for him to wear. In this bitter winter weather, these humble offerings would be useful when he made the long trek back to his homeland.
The gentle man was grateful to the young man, who had shown him much kindness over the years and particularly now. The prison door was unlocked and he was set free. Then as a token of gratitude, the gentle man wanted to share his special secret. He took from a hiding place two tiny gifts that he had prepared over the years for his wife and daughter.
The young man was in awe of the beauty of these gifts: two tiny books. He asked how could he have possibly made them? And so the gentle man explained. He had used bits of cloth, wood shavings, bones and feathers from the pigeons, thread and needle, soot from the fire pit and colour from the berries to create his gifts. The two items were so small that when the guard tried to find them, the gentle man had carefully tucked them inside his mouth.
And with that revelation, he placed the treasured gifts into his pocket and the two friends bid each other a safe journey as they headed off in opposite directions to seek their destiny.
from “Echoes of Footsteps” – Marlie Stories