by Hector of the Black Height
Not so long ago, when the land was as old as old, and the wisdom of the North whispered in the winds, the Prince and Princess of Ealdormere decided to host a great banquet, and all the heroes and nobles of the land were invited to attend. It was but a short time since the happy day of their Enthronement, and they, and their people, wished to celebrate.
On the great day of the feast, the chivalry, nobility and roll of heroes of Ealdormere pressed into the great hall of the Prince and Princess, nigh the shore of the Inland Sea. The Prince's guards stood at the doors, admitting the guests. Many wished to enter, but even that great hall could hold them all, and many stood outside in bitter disappointment.
Amongst the many stood a poor man, dressed in rags, who asked the guard for admittance into the hall. He was refused with a sharp word, and pushed aside by a Duke bearing a casket of jewels for the new Regents.
The poor man tried again to enter the hall, and was sent reeling from the door by a kick, falling into the mud as a Baron passed by, bearing an jar of precious perfumes for the Princess.
The poor man tried a third time, and was about to be struck by the guard's staff when a shout rang out above the din at the door. The Prince's Chamberlain, a gentle of true virtue, bade the guard stay his hand, and asked the poor man his business.
The poor man replied, "I would give my Prince three gifts he cannot lift, cannot grasp, and cannot take." The Chamberlain thought on these gifts, and saw the poor man's hands clenched into two tight fists. Puzzled by the riddle of these gifts, he gave the poor man entrance, and ushered the man before Their Highnesses.
The Prince and Princess sat at the high table, surrounded by gold and furs and treasures of a hundred sorts. The poor man ignored the piles of treasures, keeping his fists tightly clenched. "Here," said the Chamberlain beside him, "is one who would give Your Highness three gifts you cannot lift, cannot grasp, and cannot take."
"These must be special things indeed," crowed a Count, "as our Prince is the mightiest man in the Northlands!" And the hall howled with laughter. Yet the poor man clenched his fists. The Prince saw this, and hushed the hall with a glance. Nodding to the man before him, the Prince awaited his gifts.
"Highness," the poor man began, "I am a digger of ditches by trade. I can but offer you the best of my works." And he held up his left fist, and opened it, revealing nothing. "I give you a hole, for the greater my work, the less I can give you, and ever there is nothing you can lift. Still, it is a fine hole, and by my word it is yours, at your command."
"Highness," the poor man continued, "I have little luxury in my life, but I have a tiny treasure. I can but offer you it." And he held up his right fist, and opened it, revealing nothing. "I am a singer of songs, which are gone before they have reached the rafters. The sooner I sing it, the sooner it is flown, and ever there is nothing you can grasp. Still, it is a fine song, and by my word it is yours, at your command."
"Highness," the poor man continued, "I have given you the fruit of my labour, and of my joy. I have one other thing to give you. I would offer you my heart, but you can take that, with the sword. I would offer you my hand, but you can take that with your own hand. No, I can but offer you my loyalty, a gift you cannot take, but must be given, a gift you cannot hold, but ever must earn. Still, it is to me a fine thing, and by my word it is yours, at your command."
The Prince rose, and his Princess beside. They bade their Chamberlain take away the gaudy trinkets of a dozen treasuries. Instead, they opened their doors as wide as their hearts to all their people, and they celebrated, for that day the Prince and Princess were given a thousand gifts, all as fine and rare as those three precious gifts that the poor man gave.
This story first was published in The Book of the Reign of David And Tangwystl. As Ealdormere plans the Coronation of its first King and Queen and people ponder gifts worthy for such a day, it's a story worth re-reading.
Copyright A. McLean 1991, 1998. All rights reserved.
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