Out for a walk in the woods one day, I heard a peculiar noise coming from the undergrowth. I made my way towards it, and as I grew closer, it became apparent that it was somebody singing. Eventually I saw its source. Nestled amongst a hedge, lay a King. One had just to look at him to know that, just as certainly was it that he was a King, so too was he mad. I’ll not bore you with details of his appearance, but his beard was overgrown with bits of foliage caught in it, and even the odd twig. His missing crown and sceptre were indisputable evidence to the case that he was indeed a mad king.
“Your majesty,” I said, for a king is still a king, no matter how disturbed, “Your majesty, what throne is this for you?” The monarch ceased his song and fixed his fierce black eyes on mine. So terrible was his stare that I felt forced down on to one knee as if by powerful hands. Knelt in a bow, the king would now deign to address me.
Through his deranged mumblings, he told a tale of usurpation and exile; of mutiny and bloodshed, subterfuge and plot. It seemed he had once been the ruler of a small kingdom, just two stops from King’s Cross on the Northern Line, that was most highly revered for its ancient lineage, and for its philosophers and urbanity it was surpassed by Ancient Greece alone. Long had he been a wise and just king over this kingdom until one day a band of vicious troglodytes, tired of the dank of their humble caves, rose up against the king and his people. The troglodytes came fourth in great numbers, driven by envy and greed. The king’s knights fought valiantly, but being all poets and philosophers, their might was that of lame men, and beneath the furious weight of the troglodytes, they fainted all of them away. Those subjects who were not slain by the troglodytes were forced to flee their homes, the king only narrowly avoiding the wrath of the invaders by escaping his besieged palace via a secret passage to the forest where I found him.
“Sire,” I said, “my allegiance is yours, and I would die many deaths to see you restored to your throne and your noble kingdom re-established. I am no knight, yet gladly would I spill blood for you, both my own and that of your enemies.” This pleased the King mightily, I could see, for he sprang up and put his arm about my neck. I thought this behaviour rather low for a King, but he had endured much and I did not begrudge him his excitement. However, his excitement eventually began to chafe my neck and made it difficult for me to breathe.
“Your majesty,” I said, (for to wheeze would have been disrespectful) “your majesty, I cannot breathe. Would you condescend to release one who stands, beneath your glory, a mere peasant?” After some minutes more of troubled breathing, I am delighted to report that he did condescend, though I really feel I was unworthy of the kindness. I commented that exile could not greatly have diminished his kingly strength and his was the might of many men.
And then, glory of glory, honour of honour, that noble monarch proceeded to knight me. Of course, he had no sword to conduct the ceremony as would have been proper at court but, demonstrating the quick-thinking and innovation that come so naturally to one of his grand station, he took a tree branch and laid it upon my shoulders, dubbing me a knight of his realm. Obviously, this ceremony was one he had once much enjoyed and now missed, for he performed it a number of times upon me with increasing enthusiasm and force. Were it not for the slight bruising he had so jovially adorned my neck with earlier, I should not have been at all aware of any discomfort from this repeated ceremony and would have enjoyed it unreservedly, but I must confess that it did cause me some pain after a while. A true knight, I am sure, and not one such as I, should have felt nothing at all, but I felt inclined to beg him to cease this honour and to draw to a close the proudest moment of my life. Oh impudence! How I regret it now. I, unaccustomed then to the conduct appropriate when conversing with royalty, was to learn the consequences of assuming to criticise the way a king carries out his duties. Profuse was my beating, profuse was my bleeding, yet even more profuse than both of these was my pleading for the forgiveness of that monarch whose retribution for my impertinence fell so heavily and so honourably upon my unworthy head and shoulders (unworthy of his presence that is, not the punishment, which I so sorely deserved). When he deigned my sentence served and cast the tree branch away from him, he began to teach me the customs and traditions of his kingdom. He told me that the place in which I had found him was sacred to him and his kind for the great chestnut tree which we stood beneath was something of a deity. He told me that if I wished to serve him and count myself amongst his people, I must climb that tree, hear its voice and learn of its wisdom. This, of course, I did.
Up amongst its branches, I heard many things and learnt much.
-Trust is the key it said trust your fellow man, yet trust him not.
-Truth is the simplest of all things to find. Your search need take you no further than silence. Listen to what the silence of the world has to say, and there will Truth, in soft melodic tones, speak to you.
-There can be no knowledge but the knowledge of ignorance. Learn only from he who preaches ignorance, for his words contain the only wisdom worth having.
-Observe the squirrel. He buries what he treasures and his path home takes him always upwards.
-The owl opens his eyes only in darkness. What use is vision when all is clear as day?
The tree then fell silent. I could tell that it felt it had taught me all it could that day. I showed my gratitude and respect in the manner which the King showed me, which I would record here but do not feel it would be proper to leave such noble traditions and ceremonies open to the ridicule of the ignorant, to whom they may seem absurd. They may once have seemed absurd to me, but that was before I learnt something of what the wise old Chestnut tree had to teach.
Dusk was beginning to fall upon us, so I thought it best to leave the King to his slumber and return home to my bitch of a mother where she would supply me with my supper. I promised the King I would return the next morning, when I would begin in earnest my service to him. He seemed sad, in his noble, reserved way, that I should leave him, and I too felt the pangs of parting and confess I showed them a lot more openly than he. But through my tears I explained that my mother was truly a bitch and that I had no choice but to return home to her, and took my leave.
As soon as I walked through the door, that bitch began with her false affection. She asked me where I had been that day and I perceived immediately that she was in league with the troglodytes and sought to find out my new master, the King, and run him through as he slept. I resisted her interrogation and reminded her of the vast extent to which she was a bitch, and worse besides. When she asked me what had happened to my jacket and shoes, I created an elaborate story about having been robbed rather than tell her the truth that I had presented them as gifts to the King after he had shown a liking for them. I took my supper in my room with a chair against the door so that the bitch would not watch me with her repulsive eyes and then sat up late into the night planning the campaign to take back the King’s lost land.
Early the next morning, I returned to the sacred grove in which I had met the King. He was not there. I climbed the mighty chestnut tree and implored it to tell me where the King had gone, but now it would nothing say. I realised that the reason the tree, which yesterday had treated me as a friend, was silent was because it was suffering from a broken heart. Its heart was broken, you see, because the troglodytes must have found the King in the night and there, beneath the shadow of the tree he loved so well, they had murdered him. Openly I wept and, amidst the torrents of my grief, I told the tree how I wished that I had not left the King so that I might have died along side him in glorious battle. I begged the tree to strike me down then and there as punishment for my desertion, but it answered me in neither word, nor deed. Evidently it intended me for some greater purpose. However, I could neither bare the trees judgement, nor the site of my sovereign’s demise any longer, and, grieving, skipped away.