Sleep was impossible on a night like this. After all, tomorrow would be his coronation day. And that wasn’t the type of day that you ever forgot; or for that matter, was ever repeated.
The castle was quiet and cold. He wandered through its halls, happy to able to move freely for one last time, unencumbered by bodyguards or an entourage. Slowly he made his way to the Great Hall. It was here that he would be crowned King of the Realm. The thought sent mixed emotions swirling through him. He had been taught to be a ruler throughout his entire life. He had always known that one day this responsibility would be his, but now that the day was at last here, he was afraid that he wouldn’t be up to the task.
He was to be king, but would he be a good king? Would he be a peaceful ruler or a military leader? What did he want for his people and want did his people want of him? All of these questions circled endlessly in his mind. Walking into the throne room, he simply stopped and one thought rose above all the rest; can I do this?
Standing in the shadowy entrance, staring at the throne that would be his, it took him a moment before he noticed that he wasn’t alone. An old woman who he recognized as a kitchen maid was down on her hands and knees scrubbing gently at the pure white carpet that ran throughout the hall and up to the dais upon which the throne sat.
Sliding back even deeper into the shadows, he said to the old woman,
“It is after three in the morning, why are you in here? What are you scrubbing at?”
“There is a stain here on the carpet and tomorrow a new king shall be crowned. It would not due for his carpet to be stained while the entire country is watching.”
“Stained? With what? Who caused this? Shouldn’t they be the one to clean up this mess?”
“It was a young boy who works in the kitchen. He is working to support his mother and sisters. His father died almost a year ago and they have no money. So the boy was sent here to work. He was helping with the clean-up from dinner and he took a short cut through here to see the throne of the new king. He accidentally spilt some of the red wine that was in one of the goblets that he was carrying. Poor thing, he was almost frantic with fear. He is afraid that the new king will be so angry with him that he will have the boy’s head cut off. Then his family would starve. He was sent off to bed without his supper as a punishment, though I think his fear will be more than enough punishment as it is. However that is why I am here, scrubbing the red stain out of the white carpet. Why are you awake at this hour, good sir?”
Never once did the old woman look up as she had related her tale; nor did she do so now. She doesn’t know to whom she is speaking, he thought. Now he would have some of the answers to his questions.
“Do you think that the new king would do such a thing as execute a child, all for the crime of staining the royal carpet? Is that the type of king you think the people expect?”
“I can’t pretend to know what all the people in the kingdom think, but for myself I know that is not the type of king I am hoping for. And I don’t believe that that is the type of king that we will get. I’ve watched this prince grow up, you know. I have seen him mature into a man and I believe that he will make a great king.”
“How would you define a “great” king?”
“A great king, is one who is compassionate, understanding, strong, intelligent and above all else, the type of man who puts others before himself. He is man proud of his people and who demands as much from himself as he demands from them. He should not be quick to anger, nor of the vengeful sort. He should be determined to do what is right.”
“And how is he to know what is right?”
“Knowing what is right is simple. All you have to do is determine what path is the hardest to take and that is the path you chose.”
“And you think that the man who is to be crowned tomorrow is that sort of man?”
“No. I know that he is that sort of man. I have no doubt that this king will be a good man and an even better king.”
“Well, I hope you are right.”
Turning to leave, he stopped and turned back. This old kitchen maid had silenced all of his fears. Her simple belief in him was the most precious gift he had ever received.
“Good night, ma’am.”
Without turning, she raised her head and looking directly at the throne she replied,
“Good night, your majesty.”
He smiled and went back to bed. Tomorrow was his coronation day after all.
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