Nestled in the heart of a beautiful valley, like a delicate bird snug and warm in its nest, rested the main township of a magnificent Kingdom. ‘What,’ you may ask, ‘is the reason this Kingdom was so astonishing?’ To tell you the truth, it is mainly (if not completely) due to the nature and ways of the King of this Kingdom. I do already begin to digress, however, and I must make sure not to do so too often as I have a terrible habit of waffling. Well, not really waffling so much as talking about one thing and then getting onto something else that makes me excited and then, in next to no time, I’ve forgotten exactly what I was actually talking about, which is a real bother don’t you think and… oh wait… where was I?
Ah, yes. I was explaining why this Kingdom was awesome beyond compare and why its tale needs to be told. You see, dear reader, the events and happenings that took place in this Kingdom are extremely important to us all. And, to be completely honest, they are very important to me. As such, I felt it only right to put quill to paper and tell you the story you are about to read. It took place when this Kingdom was young and as yet untainted by that mysterious phenomenon known as cool…
So, once upon a time, there was a Kingdom. As I have already mentioned, the main township of this Kingdom was situated cosily in a valley. Surrounding this valley were rolling green hills on one side and towering mountains on the other. At the base of the grand mountains the white and pink hued palace of the King was found, the battlements of which reached right out to the border of the town itself. It was a stunning sight to behold. The gentle sandstone walls and spires reached up into typically startling blue skies, whilethe palace grounds and gardens brought pleasure and delight to all who visited. They were adorned with many rose bushes, clumps of daisies, tulips and bluebells and other beautiful flowers, all of which were planted alongside cobbled pathways that passed magnificent fountains and water courses.
The beauties of the palace were not just reserved for the King, I should explain, for all in the Kingdom were welcome to come and spend time in the courtyards and hidden alcoves of the palace estate. To the right of the palace, a lake provided the townsfolk with fish to eat and the opportunity to sail their boats on its shimmering waters. The far side of the lake was only a few paces from a small road that disappeared almost immediately into The Great Forest that sprawled for miles to the west. And it was upon this bank, late in the night, that the great tragedy and treachery occurred. Now I would think you are asking yourself, ‘What tragedy and treachery is he speaking of?’, and I am more than happy to answer your question. To do so, however, we must first go back to a particularly special day in the life of the Kingdom during its most prosperous era, the Age of Wonder!
The day began like many others before it, with King Gerhardt walking through the town spending time with his people. He was going about his usual business of telling and listening to stories and generally making everyone feel welcome and wanted by their King. This was, without a doubt, one of his favourite things to do. On that particular day, however, there was an extra bounce in his step as he was waiting for some exciting news. Lilian, the lovely wife of his closest friend Randolph (who was the Regent of the Kingdom), had fallen pregnant almost nine months earlier and was expecting to give birth any day now. The King was thrilled for his friends, most especially because this was to be their first child. Gerhardt, with his golden beard glistening in the morning sunlight, had just finished talking with the miller and his wife, when the Chief Herald, Stewart, arrived. He was red in the cheeks and out of breath, having run all the way from the cellars of the palace.
‘My King,’ he said, ‘Lilian has just gone into birth pains and is currently resting in the royal nursery with the midwife and her aide. Randolph has also been summoned and should be there even as we speak.’
‘Splendid! I will go with you at once,’ the King replied.
Taking his leave from the miller and his wife, Gerhardt and the Chief Herald took off and without any regard for appearances, ran back to the palace. Now I know this may sound strange and somewhat unlike a King’s typical behaviour but, you see, this is just one of the ways that the King of this Kingdom was different to other rulers and emperors. He wasn’t concerned with being anything else but himself, and did not display the pomp and self-indulgent ceremony employed by other kings or leaders to make themselves feel important. And what is interesting is that rather than causing his subjects to think him less worthy of honour, they respected him all the more because of it! Now, where was I? Ah yes, the King and his Chief Herald running without restraint back to the palace to greet the newest member of the Kingdom!
They both slowed to a trot as they entered the main courtyard of the palace grounds. Gerhardt and the C.H. (the Chief Herald’s nickname) were soon greeted by one of the midwife’s aides. She had been sent to fetch the King and bring him directly to the sitting room adjoining the nursery. When they arrived they heard the sound of Randolph encouraging his wife, who was clearly in the middle of birth pains. The soothing words of the midwife, Eva, could also be heard, making everyone who waited feel much better.
After what felt like hours of eager waiting, the sound of a baby’s crying cut through the air and smiles broke out on the faces of all. Moving towards the door, the King was greeted by Eva, whose eyes were wide and alert. She whispered hurriedly, ‘Not yet,’ and closed the door. The King looked at the C.H. and raised his eyebrows, but knew he could trust Eva’s judgement. He was like that too – always very determined to show his people that he trusted and believed whole-heartedly in them. Well it was not even five minutes later that another cry, different from the first, erupted from the room. Then everyone understood. Lilian had given birth to twins! The King was almost dancing with delight and wanted to congratulate his friends, but restrained himself as he also wished to give the new parents ample time to share the moment together. Chatting quietly with the C.H., the two waited. A few minutes later Eva reappeared, a broad grin on her ruddy complexion. She quietly ushered them in. Lying on the bed, with two babies resting in her arms, one boy (the firstborn) and one girl, Lilian gave a weary but triumphant smile. The King walked over to Randolph, shook his hand and embraced him in an enormous hug. Then, turning, he leant over and kissed first Lilian and then each baby on the forehead. Standing over them all, he spoke a short and simple blessing.
Gerhardt asked, ‘Do you know what you wish to name them?’
Both parents spoke at the same time, Lilian saying, ‘Isabelle!’ and Randolph declaring, ‘Frederic!’
‘Well then,’ said the King, ‘welcome Isabelle, and welcome Frederic.’ The babies’ only response was to nestle closer into the warmth of their mother’s body, as if to say that they did, indeed, feel welcome.
* * * * *
It all began with the miller’s wife they say, when one day a thought crossed her mind unlike any she had ever encountered before. As she stood dressing before her mirror, she found herself feeling less attractive than she cared to feel. In that moment the miller’s wife said within her heart, ‘I may be ugly, but at least my dress is beautiful and my husband a well-to-do man, unlike my poor neighbour the seamstress. Why, for all her skill with the needle, her dress is plain and her husband a rather simple and tedious fellow.’ So shocked at her own thoughts was she that she dropped the gown she had been about to put on and gasped aloud. What was more alarming to her than her thoughts themselves, was the fact that somewhere within herself the miller’s wife felt pleasure and a sense of victory because of them.
Now, you may be wondering why this event was of such great importance. ‘People think in this manner a great deal,’ you might say. The fact was that until that moment, with the exception of the Usurper and his few followers, no one in the Kingdom had ever had such an idea as this. For a reason the people did not comprehend, while their King had been with them they had never felt the need to compare themselves with one another.
Well, the miller’s wife was by no means the only one to start thinking in this new manner. The blacksmith was soon to follow. One day he felt the need to prove that his hammer was more powerful and longer than anyone else’s (quite silly I know). So he set up a competition with all the men in the district to see who had the strongest hammer and arm! It wasn’t long before this strange behaviour began to spread throughout the Kingdom like yeast through baking dough. Certain horses became more prestigious than others, while styles of hats and coats were compared and deemed either “better” or “worse”, rather than simply being helpful pieces of clothing for different types of weather. Those two words, better and worse, along with many others, came into use. Some were used in ways never done so before, while others had simply not been invented at all. One such word was “popular,” a term that meant “liked by the majority of the people.” It soon became essential to the townsfolk that what they wore, whom they spent time with, and what they did were liked by most people. That is to say, that they were considered popular.
It was during these times of great change that Frederic and Isabelle, children of the Regent, and Charlotte, daughter of the Usurper, grew up.