Friday, November 4, 2011

Bedtime Story - The King

Once upon a time there was a king who didn’t know whether he was the protagonist or not. This was particularly unfortunate, for he was twenty-four, and beautiful, with a house full of servants and a decade of wars yet to fight. And of course, he had yet to find a queen.

What most stories don’t tell you is that war fighting and queen gathering is difficult, even impossible to accomplish if you haven’t yet settled whether or not you are the protagonist. For peripheral characters realize they must – by their very nature - swing back and forth out of the plot with all of their wants and needs forever secondary, threads dropped, loves unfulfilled, museless, boastless, privy to neither mortal sin, nor rising action, nor an arc. Not even a journey to the underworld are they given, nor a spiritual guide, nor a magic frog.

How devastating to be the undefined king! The very title tempts one into grand delusions. Sitting on a throne with slave-hammered gold bearing the weight of your white, regal rump day after day, one begins to grow strong and soft in all the wrong places. Thus ego, and id, and such, and soforth screwed themselves into a royal mess so grand that all the king's horses, and all the king's men, and his counselors, and his diviners, and even the king mother herself (who suffered from a genetic propensity toward run-on sentences but was otherwise correct about all manner of things) could not arouse him from his funk.

Having a natural tendency toward melancholy compounded by the aforementioned lack of identity, the king found himself wandering despondently one evening in the lower, outer castle among the servants. He was dragging a satin toe across the rocks on the cold granite floor, thinking to himself what a comfort it would be if only a strange old vagrant had appeared on the night of his birth and whispered some sort of prophecy through a black rain at midnight. Any sort of prophecy would do. As it was, he had been born on a bright May morning with a wail and a smack, and that was that.

He was not imaginative by nature, however, he had read in a book once that a king hiding behind a thick curtain in a lower quarter had found the shape and purpose of himself by watching a peasant family, meek and lowly, chopping cabbages among the periphery of a story. And so, he decided to try it.

A heavy curtain not being available in his lower quarters, he chose the next best thing. There was a pantry in one of the kitchen rooms used for keeping the winter collection of root vegetables. It stood opposite a large wooden table where meat was cleaved from wild game by a mammoth of a man named Surly who was wrought steel-chested and ice-browed. His shoulders turned the like cogs of a war machine, the sinews of his arms flexed as a battle horse hot with fury. As he separated the socket of a great boar hip, there was no upward turn in the left hand corner of his mouth. There was no sweat gleaned from satisfaction or resolve. Surly had no such questions to answer. He worked as one accustomed to dividing flesh.

The young king crept into a space between the onions and turnips. The pantry smelled sweet like the earth that gathers about roots, though the king knew little of such things. He could only find adjectives like “musty,” to describe his unfortunate situation to himself. For you see, this was the greatest inconvenience the king had ever experienced, and as he felt the sharper end of a yam poking up into his left royal cheek, he had to stifle a groan.

“So these, THESE are the wounds of the common people!” he marveled. And he determined quite bravely to stay exactly where he was and not shift himself, to say, a seat upon sack of red potatoes. For if he was ever going to be a protagonist, he must endure such things. They would hone and define him, and oh the stories he would have to tell while wooing a queen!

There the king sat for a good four-and-a-half minutes.

Surly never appeared. I’m not sure why, because I realize that his showing up would probably make this story far more interesting. It just didn’t happen that way. The king simply sat on a yam for nearly five minutes, decided he had learned all from the peasant world there was to learn, dusted the earth off his royal britches, and walked back to the throne room trying to decide if this had been the climax he needed or not.

The End.

(Painting; "Reading Girl" by Gustav Adolph Hennig (German, 1797-1869))

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