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Your king, your friend

By Alvin Peters

There appeared to be a great divide between the king and his specially invited guests. He had hoped that this would be the beginning of many meetings with his subjects from all over the kingdom.

However, judging from the feelings of discomfort from both sides, this meeting may not turn out as well as he had hoped.

He was dressed as usual, in his regal trappings which included a dark suit with a sash with the royal colours and his crown. Behind him were members of the royal guard and some members of his court.

The children fidgeted as they looked at him and his court nervously. They were probably dressed in their one and only Sunday best, all starched and pressed for the occasion.

Their teachers looked on cautiously, their eyes darting to and fro among the children hoping that their demands for dignified behaviour would be obeyed.

They were surrounded by symbols of majesty and awe. Crests of powerful families, accoutrements of weaponry, portraits of ancestors and paintings of battles adorned its walls.

The banners and drapes fluttered, signalling the solemnity of what they were witnessing. The king wondered if this was the best place for this meeting.

Determined to meet them, he eagerly approached the group. “Children,” he said, his voice boomed in the hall, “it is with…” but the children were startled and made a quick step back.

Their teachers anxiously shushing them to be calm. He stopped midway realising what was happening and thought ruefully, “They have been taught well. An earthly king can arrive with tidings of glory one day and the squalls of disaster the next.”

He searched their faces hoping for an answer. Then he saw a little girl in the front row holding a doll that was dressed somewhat like him. Perhaps this might be the way.

With his arms outstretched and hands open, he slowly walked towards the group. “My friends, welcome,” he said in a softer tone and a smile. The children and teachers were still nervous, but they did not retreat. A good sign.

He went to the girl, went down on one knee, and said, “Excuse me little one,” pointing to the doll, “is that me?” The girl nervously nodded her head.

A teacher was about to urge her to speak but he raised his hand and smiled. “May I take a look at it? I promise I will give it back to you.” The girl cautiously gave it to the king, and he sat down, with legs crossed, next to her and looked at it. He heard some members of his court gasp, but he didn’t care.

“You know,” the king said as he examined the doll, “It looks just like me. Except for the crown of course. This one looks better than mine. See?” He pointed to his crown. She looked and nodded in agreement.

“Did you make this?” the king asked with a broad smile. “Yes, with my mommy,” the girl said softly. “I like it,” he said and gave it back to her.

He told the children to sit around him as he shook hands with some of them and asked for their names. Soon the children relaxed and began asking him questions. That again caused a little stir with the courtiers.

Some of the boys asked about his guards. The king asked a few of them to come forward and introduce themselves. The boys delightfully asked them about their training and what weapons they used. Soon, they were all engaged in pleasant conversation.

Some members of the court looked on in quiet dissatisfaction; others, with mild curiosity. The murmurings of the former became softer and softer, or the friendly chatter and laughter drowned them out.

This king, it seemed, was not interested today in decorum and protocol. The necessary means of declaring one’s place and space in the world. They looked on waiting to see what will happen next.

“Your ‘jesty?” the girl asked timidly, touching the king on his shoulder. He turned and she gingerly touched the crown and said, “Your crown is broken. Can’t you fix it?”

He held the crown in his hands and looked at it. There was a long scratch along one side, and one of jewels had a crack in it. There was indeed a lot of weight for something made with so little material.

He remembered what his father told him long ago, “The crown is not just a symbol of power but a weight on your head to remind you of your duty to the people.” He placed it back on his head and said, “It’s fine the way it is.”

“It’s not like this one,” the girl said holding up the doll. “True,” he said, “but this crown reminds me that I am imperfect and that every day I must learn not to rule but to serve.”

The girl looked at him quizzically. He stood up looked at her and said with gravity and warmth, “In other words, I want to be your king and your friend.” He bowed to the girl and she along with her friends stood up and they bowed in return. Some of the nobles bristled while others smiled.

He asked the attendants along with the royal guards he called earlier to escort them to the garden where he would join them for a party. After the children were some distance away, one of the courtiers came up and said, “Is this a good idea, sire? His majesty should not sit,” he emphasised with disdain the word ‘sit,’ “with the commoners. They may forget their place.”

Just as the king was about to answer, the little girl came running back. She motioned for him to bend down. He did and the courtier closed his eyes in dismay. She gave the king her doll and whispered, “Thank you for the party and I want to be your friend, too.”