Once upon a time there was a sad King, sitting on a very cold and uncomfortable throne, in a dark chamber closed off from the light. He was all alone. Someone had boarded up the windows and taken his cushions away. He moped. The King’s chamber was dusty and musty and there was no fire lit in the hearth. Outside he could hear the sound of crowds cheering and he knew the ambassador had them in the palm of his hand, supposedly in the Kings name, whilst the King sat locked away in this forgotten room.
He patted his rapidly shrinking tummy, feeling quite appreciative of his former girth, for surely by now, with only 1 golden pear given him daily for food, he might have wasted away to nothing had he been any slimmer to begin with. The crowds were silent now. He wondered what the ambassador was doing with his kingdom and whether his family had forgotten him. Rising suddenly with his fists clenched, the King felt he could no longer bear to be sequestered in this stone prison any longer. He longer to see the sunshine and hear the birds singing once again. He longed to be free.
Looking around him he studied possible escape routes for the millionth time. Even if he could somehow get through the barred doors and windows, he knew there were guards posted outside who would not hesitate to shoot him on sight. He studied the floor, trying to remember his grandfathers maps of old hidden tunnels and his own childhood explorations of the castle and its many secrets. But no, he had already moved every piece of furniture and lifted every rug. The only trapdoor he had found led into a cellar filled with old wines.
Sighing, he lay on the floor and studied the ceiling, his eyes meandering over the intricate patterns of light and shadow. Some of the patterns created shapes, shapes that reminded him of another home, another place, another family he had known before he had been made King. They were faint memories, stirring in the breeze of his discontent, memories that made his belly ache and his tongue feel even more parched with thirst.
One of the patterns looked like a dragon with a pointy tail. As he studied the tail he realised there was another tail sitting about a metre away the first. Eyes roaming along the length of the tail, he was rather delighted to find a second dragon, which made him wonder if there might be more. With a little more study, turning his head, this way and that, he found two more dragons. Their tails were all in the centre of the dragon mandala, their heads around the outer rim. Now that he had found them, he could see them very clearly and the empty space framed by the tips of their pointy tails, seemed to light up as though it were glowing slightly. The King rubbed his eyes, wondering if perhaps he needed a sleep, but when he opened them again, the glow was still there, and the dragons tails were moving slightly, like quivering arrows that had hit their mark.
Puzzled, the King looked around for something to stand on so he could reach the ceiling. An old wooden chair by the wall caught his attention and he dragged it over, positioning it carefully under the glow. Climbing up onto the chair, his trembling fingers tentatively touched the glowing section of ceiling and a shivering tingle of pleasure ran through his body. Which was probably a lucky thing because if he hadn’t felt so relaxed in that very moment he might have fallen off the chair because he could swear one of those dragons winked at him!
Shaking his head with wonder at his own imagination, he took a moment to ponder the possibility that he might be going mad, but there didn’t seem to be much point worrying about that. He either was or he wasn’t and he might as well get on with having this adventure because there wasn’t much else to do. A spider-web thin line of light appeared on the ceiling above him. Running his fingers over this section of ceiling he felt more warmth, and a tiny hairline crack. Gathering his weight beneath him he pushed upwards with flat palms and felt the ceiling shift. Old dust danced about in the shaft of light that momentarily blinded him, and he closed his eyes reflexively. He took deep breaths to steady his nerves and waited for his vision to clear.
Above him was a trapdoor in the ceiling, slightly ajar. He turned his head to one side to protect his eyes and pushed a little harder this time, making the space large enough for him to put his head through, if he could only reach. His arm muscles weren’t strong enough for him to haul himself up into this space and he dared not try to climb through anyhow, until he had a good look at what was up there. Looking hurriedly about the room he spied the sideboard table. The perfect height!
After he dragged it over and climbed on board, he hardly dared breath with excitement and fear that his hopes might come to nothing. He had to take a moment to calm himself down before popping his head through the opening. My goodness, so that’s where Granny kept her stash, he thought. The room was filled with dolls of all shapes and sizes, all covered in dust and cobwebs. Granny May, or so the legend was told, had a penchant for dolls and was forever ‘losing’ them and demanding a replacement, only to have the lost dolls mysteriously reappear months later. It was said that her father repeatedly had the grounds searched high and low without ever discovering her hiding place and May’s tantrums were so legendary that he always gave in and had a new one made for her.
For a while he rested, simply taking it all in; the way the light came in through the dirty attic windows, the wooden floorboards, the strange floral smell and the growing awareness that this was quite an unusually shaped room. It was very narrow and seemed to stretch on forever in both directions. After a while, his mind was made up. This hole in the ceiling was definitely worth climbing through because Granny May must have had another entrance; there was no way she could have used this trapdoor because it was too high for a child and the Kings chamber always had people in it. Except for now of course. Now it was just him with his shrinking belly, his threadbare robes and a dented crown he had long since discarded. There was nothing here for him anymore.
By the time he climbed back down to search for something to put on the table to make it higher so he could climb through, he realised what time it was. The bells in the distance rang clear and footsteps could be heard outside the hall. Panicked, he looked up at the opening in the ceiling, praying that it not be discovered and hurried to the door, just in time block the guard’s view of the room as he opened the small hatch carved into the door. He guard looked at him with bared veiled contempt and grunted something incomprehensible. The King remained silent, his heart beating loudly, willing his trembling fingers to steadiness as he reached up to take his food tray from the guard.
The hatch slid closed again and he breathed a sigh of relief. He put the tray down before he dropped it and calmed his noisy heart, making himself drink the water, and use the chamber pot before stuffing the pear in his pocket and dumping his robes on the floor. He stretched a little to lumber up and then lifted the footstool onto the sideboard table and carefully climbed on top, hoisting himself awkwardly up into Granny May’s dusty old dolls room.
For a while he lay breathless on the floor, from exertion, excitement and fear. He would most likely be killed if caught. Sighing he shoved himself upright and took a bite of pear. The ceiling was quite low and he had to stand slightly stooped. He looked first left and then right, wondering which way to go.