The Prince Royal stood and surveyed the sweep of his father’s land. Behind him the ancient walls of the Royal Palace stretched skyward above the countryside and shone like a diamond in the green of the swaying grassland plains. Eventually the green gave way to a low marshland in the east and forest in the west at the limits of the eye, the horizon kissed the shimmering heat of the Golden Sea. The entire kingdom stood high above the earth below its sheer pearl cliffs making the kingdom an impenetrable island to those below. At the foot of the cliffs a huge sprawling city had grown over the years and was now greedily consuming the land around it in every direction. Only limited by the black sluggish metre of the Blackwater river in the west and the Kara desert plains in the east it was now home to over a million souls.
On occasion, when he was young the Prince would silently creep away from his daily duties and travel toward the edge of the kingdom and gaze longingly down toward the city. From his high vantage, he could hear the bustle of life in the Bazaars, the haunting melodies of the street musicians and the smell of aromatic cooking and warm spice drifting upward from the market kitchens. As night came the city was transformed into a sea of dancing lights, caught in the rise of wood smoke and he often wondered what it would be like to live there amongst all those people.
It was on one of these nights, as he stared down toward the city that something moving caught his eye on the smooth white rock face below. Just a dark shape at first, but as his eyes became accustomed to the low light he stifled a gasp. As what he thought were just dark shadows suddenly focused into scores of people inching their way up the smooth vertical rock face trying to get to his Father’s land. Instinctively the young prince crouched down to prevent his silhouette standing out against the night sky and watched intently as the black shapes continued to claw their way up the smooth cliff wall. Without exception, the people appeared to be burdened with large packs and odd trinkets that made what was a difficult climb an impossible climb. Then in horror, the prince was transfixed as each shadowed climber faltered and fell backward into the darkness. This continued until the breaking of dawn and only once did one of the dark shapes get close enough for the young prince to see a glimpse of a white face. A young woman’s or so he thought, then she too was gone gasping in exhaustion and finally falling backward to join the others piled at the foot of the cliff.
The Prince rode home toward the castle in the weak light of early morning his head hung low, eyes red with an ocean of tears. In his chambers although completely exhausted sleep seemed far away, so taking hold of his courage he gently arose and knocked on his Fathers door. A deep voice with the timbre of eternity beckoned him to enter and there as he seen so many times before was his Father sitting deep in thought. The words of a golden book dancing before him like they had life of their own.
“Father I have been to the edge of the kingdom and seen people, scores of them trying climb the cliffs to enter our lands”.
Turning to his with an expression that the young Prince had never seen before his Father quietly said.
“Son I forbade you to go to the edge, there are many dangers there”
Having never disobeyed his Father before the Prince stood awkwardly a deep chasm of silence growing between him and his Father. Some moments later, his Father sighed and broke the silence.
“There are somethings that are difficult to bear and if I could I would keep this pain from you until you were older.”
“But who are they Father.”?
“They are the lost ones that can no longer bear to remain in the captivity of the world below and they would sooner die than stay imprisoned there”.
The young prince was confused.
“But Father, I have seen the city and their world, it looks so exciting, there were no guards or chains, surely it’s not a prison”?
The king put his arm around his young son and gently said.
“Captivity needs no walls, chains and bars, it only requires that the freedom of choice and the light of hope to remain hidden. They are only captive because that is what they believe. They believe there is no choice, that they are forbade entrance and excluded forever. So, in desperation night after night they try and climb the cliffs to escape from their bonds and die in the process.”
The prince said.
“I don’t understand, what is their choice and why were they all carrying such large packs and odd assortments of trinkets and statues”?
Without a further word the King took his son by the hand and ordering horses to be brought, they rode together out toward the edge of the Kingdom. As they approached the foothills that marked the lip of the plateau instead of taking the well-trodden path the King took a turn into an overgrown lane that after some time lead to a ravine that dropped sharply. This ravine was hidden from all sides but at its end was a solid sturdy gate, strong but narrow in construction. The king and the prince dismounted, and walking their horses approached the gate. The prince expecting the gate to be securely bolted and locked took a step backward in surprise as his father gently pushed the unlocked gate open.
Through the gate the ravine widened and the prince could just see the foot of the cliff on the city side. His Father moved aside to let the prince through who quickly ran into the ravine and out into the daylight at the foot of the cliff. The sight that met the prince’s eyes caught the breath in his throat, and choking he stumbled backwards then fell back through the gate and into his Father’s arms.
Father and son were silent on their journey back to the palace, and it wasn’t until evening that the prince quietly entered his Fathers chambers again. Facing eastward toward the city the king’s chambers had a large stain glassed window of a lion and it was here that the prince found his Father sitting staring out, tears cascading down the ancient lines on his face. The prince had never seen his Father cry, he always seemed so strong and positive with a kind answer for every situation. The young prince wanted to in some way comfort his Father, but could find no words big enough, so instead he sat at his side on the huge velvet couch that looked toward the city and grasped his Father’s hand.
Some while later the king asked.
” What was it you saw”?
“I saw bodies Father, as far as I could see they were piled high at the bottom of the cliffs. There were old people, young people and even children. The ones on the top looked normal except they were all twisted and broken, and those below them had begun to decay. But not all of them were dead, some were crying and groaning and some were still trying to climb the cliff although their bodies were broken. What is it Father, can’t we go and help them? Can’t we tell them that there is a choice and a way to escape their captivity. Can’t we show them the open gate and set them free Father? His Father looked as if he was going to say something more but instead the tears began to fall again and he simply said
“I cannot, one day you will understand” and looked away out of the window once again.
Time passed and the young prince grew in statue, but he no longer visited the edge of the Kingdom, in fact he wanted to stay as far away as he could and forget what he had seen all those years earlier. Only no matter how he tried, his sleep was often broken by the picture of the young woman’s face and what he had seen at the foot of the cliffs. Waking, often bathed in sweat he dreamt that he tried to reach out to her, but she looked right through him as if he wasn’t there.
Since that day that he and his Father visited the edge of the Kingdom a sadness seemed to have settled over the palace, it was if the entire kingdom had somehow lost its joy and was holding its breath waiting for something to happen. Often the Prince not wanting to dream forced himself to stay awake by wandering through the palace halls, and it was here in the quite hours of the night that he first heard weeping coming from the lit chamber of his Father the King. The prince blocked his ears to try and deafen himself to his Father’s pain, but not being able to bear it any longer he finally knocked on the door of his Father’s chamber and went in. As before the scene was the same, with his Father sitting on the couch by the window. The it struck him, and he remembered the words that his Father had spoken in what seemed an eternity ago now.
Then the Prince understood. As a man now, he sat down next to the king as he had all the years before and said.
“Let me go father, let me tell them about this place and the open gate.
Let me set them free and save them. I know I must go dressed like they are and will have to leave all this behind.
But I beg you, let me go?”
As before Father and son sat on the couch hands clasped together looking outward toward the city. There were no words only the slight nod of the king to the one that held his heart. So, it was, that the Prince of the kingdom chose to go and heal the broken heart of his Father by showing those lost below that there was a way home and that they had a choice.
On the day of his leaving every subject in the land gathered as one covering the plain in front of the Palace. There were banners flying and trumpets sounding with a deafening song of praise for the Prince. All the way from the palace to the hidden ravine, more crowds lined the route, some reaching out to touch him and bid him farewell, some even running to take his hand or kiss his cheek But as he entered the ravine, the multitude fell silent as one and slowly every subject in the kingdom fell to their knees in reverence for the Prince.
At the narrow gate his Father stood, and fell to one knee as his son approached. Slowly the Prince removed his royal robes, and neatly folding them, placed them on a rock ledge by the door. The last item he removed was the ring around his fourth finger with the royal crest of the lion on it. Embracing his Father one last time the Prince walked naked through the gate and into the world of men.
In the furthest outskirts of the city behind a broken door in a broken barn, the sound of a baby entering the world was heard.