Once upon a time, in an utterly unimportant country, there ruled a most important King. The country was unimportant because it was small and poor. It was small because it always lost any wars it got involved in. It was poor because the other large countries on its borders kept it that way. The King was important because it suited the other countries all around that one person, and one person only, in that small land should be powerful and wealthy and that he should always know to whom he owed that honour. Maintaining this wealth and power was the King’s sole concern and unique occupation until the day he was granted a fine young princess from across the border to be his Queen and she bore him a fine young son. Thereafter, the King’s preoccupations became the satisfaction of his pretty young wife, who needed all manner of things, and the growth and good health of his fine young son, who needed very little.
As the fine young son grew up, he still seemed to need very little. He could not be persuaded by his father to dress in rich clothes, nor did he hanker after the usual paraphernalia of the wealthy, neither was he the least interested in the politics of power or the coercive arts of diplomacy. Nonetheless he was a prince of legendary handsomeness and about as big and strong a boy as the country was small and weak. His mother and father doted on him and hoped that one day he would become more conscious of his noble station and be a credit to both of them. However, their hopes proved in vain.
For the prince preferred to live rough. He would disappear for days on end and come home reeking of the stables, or with mountain flowers in his buttonhole, his cheeks flushed and his hair in a tangle. His friends were ruffians and jesters, poets and bohemians. His ways were those of the street, not the boulevard, his behaviour that of the courtyard, not the court. The King, who understood that powerful potentates have powerful responsibilities and must comport themselves accordingly, was understandably anxious. His son was not only failing in his own right, he was also undermining the monarchy’s importance with his light-hearted behaviour. People would never respect him, and disrespecting the son would lead to disrespect of the father, of that the King was certain. And so he decided that before his son came of age, the boy would have to spend a year in one of the rich neighbouring courts, to see how truly powerful princes lived. The King hoped that such impressive, living examples would be a better school than his own advice had so far proved.
But when the Prince heard of his father’s plan he was furious. He raged at the King for plotting to make him leave his friends and at the Queen for intending to see him dressed in silly clothes with hundreds of pearl buttons and layers of lace. He said he would never leave the country of his own volition. They’d have to take him over the river by force. His parents, who loved him after their own fashion, were shocked at this outburst. The King came up to his apartments later on and sat on his son’s bed trying to calm him down and explain his reasoning. Finally the prince said: “I’ll go if you go”. The King asked him what he meant by that. The prince replied: “If you go out into the world for a year, dressed as a normal citizen, the way I have been doing, day after day, night after night, then yes, I’ll go abroad and live like a proper prince and study the ways of courtiers and learn politics and diplomacy. But those are the only conditions under which I agree to leave”.
And so it came about one bright spring morning, that the Prince, resplendent in newly tailored finery, said goodbye to his mother at the eastern, riverside gate of the palace, while his father the King, dressed as a man of simple means, bearing a staff and accompanied by a tiny donkey carrying his bedroll and a few items of clothing, passed under the western gate and set off down the broad avenue that ran right through the country’s modest capital and out the other side.
To be continued ... >
© Edwin Drood
, May 2012