The Lonely King
There was once an ancient king who had ruled over his kingdom for so long nobody could remember when it all had started. His people were very happy with his wise rule: generation after generation applauded his sense of justice and his generosity. Once
in a while, there was a plague or a war, but people knew the king could not be held responsible. So, all in all, they were pretty happy.
The king, though, survived all of his family: his sons died when they were old, honourable princes, his first wife died in childbirth. So he remarried several times, albeit reluctantly, and the same fate befell him and his family again and again.
No wonder he was dejected and felt very lonely, in spite of his people’s loyalty.
“I must be cursed,” he wondered. “What if I die suddenly with no child to take on the burden of ruling the kingdom? Certainly it would be a disaster.”
Then, at night, an even more terrifying thought took hold of him: “What if I go on living forever? On and on, all alone, watching my people grow old and die, be born and grow up, as I become older and older, and yet staying healthy?”
As odd as it may seem, our king was afraid of loneliness more than anything else, and what another man would have paid to have, eternal life, he loathed with a passion.
One day he had three soothsayers tell him what he could do about his plight and how he could ensure a worthy successor to his throne.
“Marry again!” – said the first.
“Adopt a child.” – said the second.
The king grew impatient with them, and his guards threw them out of his court.
“What about you? What have you got to say?” The king stared at the last soothsayer.
The latter stepped forward and said: “Give me your kingdom and you will be free.”
The king was taken aback by such forwardness, and took his time to ponder.
The morning after he received the soothsayer again.
“What is your decision?” – said the soothsayer.
“I accept,” said the king.
Soon after, the king left with a small retinue of servants, horses and a few caskets and trucks of provisions. He was excited that he could leave his palace and his kingdom after years of drudgery and responsibilities.
When they arrived at the Forest of Knives, his servants trembled with fear: it was rumoured that nobody ever returned from the thick of the forest, sharp knives grew on tree branches and hit who ever dared to pass through. But the king was a stubborn man: “On we go!” – he said. And one after one, all his servants died, stabbed to death by the fateful knives, and his horses were dispersed. He was alone, and still alive.
“How incredible!” – he thought – “the knives won’t stab me.”
Once he had crossed the whole forest, he came to a barren cliff. There was nowhere to go. He looked down at the gurgling water and thought he had come all the way to die. The thought did not scare him one bit. So he closed his eyes and jumped.
The water held him afloat and he did not die. He swam across the river for a long, long time.
When he came to the river bank, he lay down to sleep and never woke up again.
A girl living nearby found the king snoring aloud and with her elder brothers took him to their hut.
As life and centuries roll on, he is still sleeping, dreaming out this world – with all its pain and all its joy – where his self-appointed lieutenants succeed one another.
Sometimes, if we pay attention, we can listen to his rare words spoken up in his dreams.