A story for modern times.

05/12/2021

A fairy tale that is very appropriate for this time, at least for the perceptive reader! It seems easier to fight external enemies, but those who are really wise know that you are always your own worst enemy.

Once upon a time there was a very shy little prince. He was so shy you had to make an effort to notice him. He preferred to curl up close to his mother, the queen, and then you could just see a few curls and one big anxious eye coming out from under her skirts. His father, a strict and great king, had great difficulty with this. He did not yet know that true strength does not arise from the roll of muscles and that contact with one's own vulnerability is not a weakness but a condition for real strength. In his view, a king should not be a sissy and weeping was for the weak, among whom he naturally also included women.

The prince was such a sensitive soul. He cried when he saw a dead bird and was completely upset when he saw the gardener light-heartedly destroy an entire ant nest. He felt for the dying walnut tree in the palace garden, and his heart went out to the maid whose husband was crippled after falling from his horse. He secretly fed an old mangy hunting dog who sometimes hid in the straw of the horse stable. He couldn't stand injustice and carried the suffering of the whole world on his shoulders. Because he was misunderstood and his father raised him harshly, assuming that this would make him stronger, he withdrew more and more into himself. He spoke little and became increasingly anxious. No one could teach him how to deal with his sensitivity, for no one knew how to deal with his own sensitivity.

But one good and observant soul in the palace would change that. In the kitchen lived a small, strong woman with a heart of gold. Without her, life in the palace would be a lot less good, though few were aware of the extent of her influence. She therefore tried to camouflage her golden heart as best as possible by occasionally swinging a rolling pin or making a splendor of a tirade. Her target was usually one of the skinny stable boys, who were trying to steal treats from her stash. In fact, it was more of a game and she made sure she always missed when swinging her pin. It kept her alert and the stableboys fast and nimble. For example, she would especially place a few apple pies by the window and pretend it would be a disaster if they disappeared. She complained about the disrespectful youth, but always made sure there were leftovers for them and sometimes she gave them a sweater or warm scarf, which was no longer good enough for a noble one, but still functionally patched up. She made elderberry juice for the coughing gardener and comforted chambermaids with heartbreak. She bandaged the sore leg of the palace guard's head and picked herbs for soothing compresses. The stable boys, in turn, picked bunches of dandelions and daisies for the kitchen table or made funny drawings with charcoal and hung them on the kitchen wall. The gardener gave the cook a very beautiful wooden ladle, with a handle full of self-carved flowers and frills. And the captain of the palace guard gave her a beautiful velor bag with numerous compartments and pouches to put herbs in. Some of the bags were already filled with cumin from Egypt, black pepper from Morocco and turmeric from India. The captain had bought it especially for her during one of their king's distant diplomatic journeys.

This cook, of course, had already noticed the prince and his sensitivity. But unlike most people, she wasn't afraid that he would become a wimp. She knew what he needed: some sort of externality or mnemonic of the internal power that he wasn't sure yet, but which was surely slumbering within him for which she recognized. And one morning in the early morning market she saw just what the prince needed: a light wooden hobbyhorse with a golden mane and a black bridle. At the bottom of the stick was a wheel that turned when you rode the horse. It was perfect, she was sure of it! Just a shame it was so expensive. The cook took the chance and bought the horse instead of the pheasants and chicory she would have bought for dinner. Then she sent the stable boys out with some sows to look for truffles and asked the gardener to rake chestnuts in the garden and then filled the whole stove with them to puff and purée them. She made applesauce from the apples that were drying in crates in the storeroom. She was busy all day, but luckily no one noticed that dinner had been gathered together, on the contrary!

The next day she had time for her future king. Knowing that the prince loved animals, she lured his mangy dog ​​into the kitchen with a large slice of ham from ham hanging from the kitchen bar. Then she stood and waited for the prince who, moments later, slipped out with a smuggled sandwich up his sleeve. She opened the kitchen door, smiled kindly, beckoned him in, then waited patiently. The prince immediately felt less anxious: someone who had patience with him, that was good, he was not used to that! Shyly, he shuffled inside and took the dog's sandwich from his sleeve. "I have something for you too!" the cook said happily and pointed to the hobbyhorse that was behind the door. It was love at first sight! The prince absolutely loved the horse. Not knowing how to thank the cook, he stammered and blushed and dropped his sandwich on the floor. But that wasn't a bad thing: the cook gave him a resounding kiss on his curls and put him outside with horse and dog and sandwich and all. The prince and his hobbyhorse became inseparable: he took it everywhere with him. At night he put it next to his bed and when he was afraid of the dark, he talked to it. During the day he carried it with him to all princely lessons and at the table he asked for an extra chair for his horse. He pushed his boundaries, his confidence grew, he looked at people when he spoke to them and articulated more clearly. He got to places he wouldn't before, if only his horse could go, and finally found himself wanting to satisfy his curious nature a little more. He asked questions to his teachers that sometimes even made them blush. The cook watched it all from a distance with joyful eyes. She saw him blossom all over.

But the king was not pleased with it. A man that played with a wooden horse?! It didn't matter to him that the prince was only five years old. He was so fearful of his reputation that he became completely fixated on the hobbyhorse. He had nightmares of being run over by a hobbyhorse during his annual speech and waging wars against long-forgotten enemies who flew through the sky on hobbyhorses. Whenever he wanted to make love to his wife, she would suddenly turn into a hobbyhorse after he deftly unbuttoned her blouse, and sometimes he even dreamed that he was turning into a hobbyhorse himself and had to stand rigid and motionless while everyone laughed and taunted him. The dreams began to take their toll and the king had trouble concentrating. While discussing affairs of state, his mind kept wandering and suddenly he would startle when he thought he heard someone say the word 'hobby horse'.

At his wits' end, he sought out the palace doctor. "It's very simple", he said: "You suffer from hobbyhorse fixation." On hearing the word hobbyhorse, the king flew up. "Don't say that word anymore," he bellowed, then rolled up his sleeves to show his muscles. The palace doctor gave the king 3 valium pills at once, deceiving him that they were anti-fixation tablets. When his Royal Highness was snoring, he called all the councilors together for an emergency meeting. After the doctor explained the problem as well as possible, they quickly agreed, except for a disturbing few: hobbyhorses are a danger to public health and should be banned!! Soon a new law was promulgated, the king awoke and, half groggy, stamped his seal in the wax on all the parchments of the law, and bailiffs were sent to proclaim the new law. Then patrols of soldiers set out to seize and destroy any remaining hobbyhorses throughout the country. And who dared to house a life-threatening hobbyhorse, risked heavy fines and prison sentences.

The king now knew what he had to do: he would finally teach his son how real men overcame their fears, instead of playing with dolls! The prince, who had sensed his ferocious father coming from afar, fled to the kitchen with his hobbyhorse. He instinctively sensed that the cook was the only one who would dare defy the king. And she did so with great devotion: "Aren't you ashamed?!" she asked the king fearlessly. "Taking a little boy's anchor because you can't face your own fears!!" She was promptly and unceremoniously thrown into the dungeon. There was no trace of the prince. He seemed to have gone up in smoke. The following days were the grayest in the castle the castle had ever seen. The queen wailed with red-rimmed eyes between her son's room and her own quarters, the stable-boys and all the servants dejected. There was no food because no one organized the kitchen and even the palace guard was lost. The king sensed what from afar looked like a sense of guilt was in danger of penetrating his consciousness and then decided that he must have the cook executed: he could not allow anyone to question his policy, where would it end if he do that?!!! He had to be clear and fearless, without any doubt and straightforward as a real 'ruler'!

He summoned the captain of the palace guard and a soldier carrying a torch, and together they descended into the dungeons of the castle. In the meantime, who hadn't been sitting still either was the prince: he had snatched the cook's apron along with a loaf of bread from the table and had gone in search of his old hunting dog. He'd let him sniff the apron, and then they'd embarked on a long and dark underground journey, along with his hobbyhorse. The prince was not carrying a torch, but after nearly 2 days in the dark, his eyes were used to it and he could clearly see outlines in the little light that penetrated so deeply. His guide even seemed to have good sight and didn't seem bothered by the darkness. They'd slept between floors on the basement stairs, huddled together to keep warm, the cook's apron pulled over them. They had shared a bit of the bread and caught water droplets in their open mouths dripping from the cellar wall. It was damp down there! At one point they had encountered a collapsed wall and were unable to continue, forcing them to climb back up a whole flight of stairs and make a large detour to finally descend further. As a result, they lost a lot of time. But now they were close, the dog started to run faster. The prince on his horse trotted after it. He called the cook and heard her weak answer! In a damp cell of several square meters, with moss on the walls and lit by a single beam that seeped through a hole in the meter-high ceiling, fitted with heavy bars, the cook was chained to her feet, her hands tied and a gag in front. her mouth leaned against the wall. There was a bucket next to her. That was all. She moaned. The prince broke his heart but he pulled himself together. He put his hobbyhorse backwards through the bars, the head could not go through but the wheel could, and let the cook cut her hands free on the wheel. That took a while but then she quickly took off her gag and was able to lick some drops of water off the wall. She picked some moss and wrung it out in her mouth. Then she gratefully accepted the bread that the prince threw her. After a few minutes of chewing, she felt a little better. "My brave, dear prince!" she smiled at him. The prince saw her white teeth in the dark. "I'm so sorry," he said. Then they heard footsteps. "Run!" the cook hissed, but the prince wanted nothing to do with it. He had finally found her and wouldn't leave her alone now. He spread his arms as wide as possible and stood with his back in front of the bars. His guide fled into a dark hallway, whimpering softly.

For the next few minutes the prince was blinded by the light of the king's torch. Stunned and also a little relieved, but he would never admit the latter, the king stared at the small figure blocking their way. "Get out of the way!" he finally bellowed: "We are here to execute the cook for serious subordination to the royal authority! Captain...!" "He can't do that!" the prince, in turn, shouted to his father. "And why not?" the king asked incredulously of that brave little man who dared to defy his authority. You see now, if one starts, everyone thinks they can be inobedient! They had to put an end to this quickly! The captain of the guard, who looked ashen in the light of the torch and whose forehead was covered with tiny beads of sweat despite the chill of the cellar, knelt before his king. "He's right sire, I can't." He laid his sword at the feet of his monarch and removed his military decorations from his uniform. "I can no longer serve as captain of your watch." "Betrayal! Death penalty! And why not, damn it?" the king roared so loudly that the mice fled from their dens and gravel fell from the walls. "Because I love her, sire." The king stared at his son for several minutes, then at the loyal head of his bodyguard, and finally at the cook. Suddenly he turned on his heels and fled back to civilization with the torchbearer. The captain, knees trembling and hands trembling, searched in his pockets for the key to the dungeon. "I'm so sorry," he said to the cook. "I wanted to come to you earlier, but I couldn't leave. I didn't know you were treated so badly." "Is it true?" the cook just asked quietly. "What is?" "That you love me?" "Ah dear..." said the captain, finally removing the lock and clasping the cook in his arms.

The next day they were sitting in the kitchen together: the dog, the prince, the cook and the captain with his arm wrapped around her shoulders. The hobbyhorse was standing in the corner next to the kitchen door. The cook still looked tattered, but they were all cleanly washed and dressed. A clerk came in with 3 messages. The captain was asked to return to his post and was given an additional award for bravery in exceptional circumstances to pin on his uniform. The cook got a new apron and an increased budget for the kitchen. And the prince was tempted in the council chamber with his father. When the prince had left, the captain pointed to the hobbyhorse that stood obediently next to the kitchen door. But the wise cook already knew that the prince no longer needed his hobbyhorse.

In the council chamber all councilors sat neatly at a large table, the king sat at the head and next to him there was still a chair free. He beckoned his son, and when he sat next to him, he asked him softly: "How on earth did you know that?" "You must look with the eyes of the heart, papa," the prince confided to him. "Teach me," said the king, and then declared the assembly open. The prince looked with all his might. He didn't utter a word but turned on all his sensitive antennae and observed with all his feelers what was happening in the council chamber. He didn't understand nearly everything that was said, but afterwards, when they were alone, the king patiently explained to him everything he wanted to know and in turn the king questioned his son thoroughly about what he had noticed. Because his father took him so seriously, the prince's self-confidence grew steadily. The king, in turn, relaxed: if something was wrong, his son would sense it coming from afar. He himself sometimes tried to look a bit more with his heart, although it still felt very uncomfortable.

The prince became a strong young man, with as much muscle as his father, although he didn't show it very much. He became a fantastic king, with a big heart for all life in his great realm. And whenever any of his subjects was mistreated, he wept bitter tears. But no one took offense because they saw very clearly in their king that vulnerability and strength can coexist.