Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Story about Choice and Fate or Destiny -- or choosing one fate for another

The King had been obsessed with fate and death for as long as he could remember. He didn’t know precisely when his intense preoccupation with these intertwined realities had begun, but begun it had, and, gradually, they had come to consume nearly every waking moment.

Some children had a favorite toy which played a central role in their early lives. Other children had an imaginary friend who kept them company through difficult times. As a boy, during adolescence, and into young adulthood, the King’s constant companions had been thoughts of fate and death.

Perhaps, the triggering events which helped precipitate his condition were the many wars that had been fought during his childhood, with so many of the Kingdom’s families losing father’s, sons, and brothers. Or, maybe, the terrible plagues which had swept through the lands, taking the lives of numerous men women and children, somehow had planted a deadly seed of another kind deep within his subconscious.

Undoubtedly, the foregoing sort of factors played contributing roles, but the King suspected that the real source of his anxieties and fears started with the mysterious stranger he had encountered one day in his room. The King had not been sure whether what took place that night was a dream or something else, but the experience had stayed with him.

Whenever he permitted his thoughts to drift in that direction, the whole scene would occupy his consciousness, like an invading force. The experience was just as vivid now as it had been some three decades ago when it first occurred.

As young boys are wont to do, he had been lying in bed, listening to the sounds of the night, thinking about the events of the day, planning what he would do tomorrow, when he heard a noise of some sort – like someone clearing his or her throat. The noise had come from the corner of his room which was always in shadows at night --
even when the full moon shone through his window, as it did that evening.

All his attention was drawn to that portion of the room. He peered into the darkness of the corner, and although he couldn’t see anything, nonetheless, he felt a presence of some sort. He knew, with certainty, he was not alone.

A strange fear descended on him. He became paralyzed.

All he could do was look and listen. Every so often he remembered to breathe.

While, probably, only a few minutes passed, the event seemed to take hours to unfold. Finally, the boy who would be King heard a voice arise out of the shadows.

The voice was neither masculine nor feminine. The words had a quality which penetrated to the very core of his being.

It said:“Prince, if you wish to live forever, then, you must never hear either the complete words or music for...,” and something was whispered softly in the boy’s ear.

What was whispered was unclear. In his mind, he tried to concentrate on re-creating what had been whispered to him, but the words remained indistinct.

The boy managed to summon enough courage to stammer: “Wha...What did you say?”

There was a mocking laughter that softly began echoing in the room. The boy was near tears.

The laughter was replaced by an eerie silence. Then, once again, something was whispered in his ear – this time a little more loudly, yet, still somewhat muffled.

The boy thought he understood what had been whispered, but he wasn’t completely sure. “Please,” said the youngster, “can’t you say the name of the song clearly?”

Only the sound of the wind could be heard. Otherwise, the passage of time was marked by grains of quiet.

The strain of intently trying to listen, for who knows how long, plus the stress brought on by his fear, had completely tired the boy out, and as he was drifting off to sleep, he heard: “If you follow these instructions, you will never die.”

Soon after the eventful night, the boy’s father passed away. The Prince became the new King, and from the moment he ascended the throne, he banned all music and singing in the Kingdom.

Although the boy believed he knew what had been whispered to him that night, he wasn’t quite sure. Therefore, the safest thing to do was to create circumstances that would completely control what might happen in relation to hearing music and singing.

The boy-King’s royal edict had a profound effect on others. The Kingdom which had a long, rich musical history -- with many talented musicians, singers, and writers – was forced into a state of quiescence.

The King dispatched spies throughout the land. Whoever was caught singing or playing music was thrown into prison. The King didn’t want to take a chance that, somehow, inadvertently, he might hear the wrong song in its entirety and, as a result, bring his life to an end.

In addition, all schools were instructed to begin teaching children that music and singing were great evils. Children were given generous rewards for reporting any violations of the King’s proclamation which they might witness in their homes or
neighborhoods. Scholarships were awarded every year to those students who wrote the best essays about the ‘music problem’.

From time to time, of course, people throughout the Kingdom continued to die. However, the King lived on, and, therefore, the purpose was served.

The King became so convinced of the wisdom underlying his ban of music and singing, that he began to engage in high-risk activities, confident that he could cheat death as long as he observed the conditions of that momentous night of his childhood. The King’s boldness and daring deeds became the stuff of epic poems ... which had to be recited in monotones for fear of any hint of musical melody creeping into a recitation.

One day, while traveling in a very remote region of his country, the King met a young woman and fell deeply in love with the maiden. Happily, the woman felt the same way toward him as the King did toward her.

Soon, thereafter, the two were married, and following the honeymoon, they returned to the King’s castle. Although, initially, the King was extremely happy with his wife, events took an ominous turn not too long after they were married.

The King had been walking in the gardens which surrounded the castle, thinking about his Queen, feeling very fortunate for having her as his wife, and enjoying the love he felt for her – a love which was growing with each passing day. Just as he had become ensconced in a very pleasant reverie concerning her, he heard something which
deeply disturbed him.

Singing was drifting down from the window of the Queen’s room. Unmistakably, the voice was that of his wife.

He rushed into the castle and fled up the stairs toward the Queen’s room. He burst into his wife’s room without seeking permission, and angrily roared: “Just because you are Queen, this does not give you the right to break the Royal ban on music and

The Queen was shocked and puzzled – shocked at the King’s behavior and puzzled concerning the ban. She had never heard of such a proclamation since news of, and from, the Kingdom hardly ever reached the distant part of the country where she had been raised.

She explained this to the King. While her explanation helped calm him a little, nonetheless, he remained agitated and upset.

The King had never told anyone about his childhood experience. He did not feel comfortable in doing so now, and, yet, he could not have her singing due to his fear of what he had been told that night many years ago.

He said with great emotion: “Please, if you love me, you will not sing anymore. I beg you not to sing.”

“Is there something wrong with my voice?” she asked.

“No, there is nothing the matter with your voice,” he replied. “You sing beautifully, but, I simply cannot have this sort of thing going on in the castle.

“If I let you sing and do nothing, then, I will become known as a Royal hypocrite. I have thrown many people into prison who have violated my ban on singing and music, so how can I let you sing but not extend the same right to them.”

“Well,” inquired the Queen, “what would be so wrong about permitting people to sing and play music? Why not free the people you have imprisoned and do away with your ban?”

“I can’t explain it,” said the King, “but you don’t know what you are asking of me. All I can say is that if you love me and care for me, you will refrain from singing.”

The Queen’s face registered mixed emotions. “I do love you, she said, and if it means all that much to you, I will stop singing. On the other hand, I think you need to understand that singing is very important to my sense of peace and happiness, and, so, in a way, you don’t know what you are asking of me.

“In fact, I feel very badly for the people of your Kingdom because they are being prevented doing something which has been nurturing their souls for centuries. If you cared at all about your loyal subjects, if you loved them as a King should love those who have been entrusted to him, then, you would reverse your silly and
arbitrary ruling.”

The Queen’s words entered the King’s heart like a bolt of lightning. He could not deny the truth in her words, nor could he overlook how important a role singing and music played in the life of his wife.

If he loved her, how could he possibly deny her this great source of joy and satisfaction in her life? If he loved his subjects, how could he have treated them so cruelly?

How could he permit his own selfishness to adversely shape the lives of so many people? Yet, he loved life dearly, and, furthermore, if he were to die, then, what about the sadness which his wife, whom he knew loved him deeply, would experience in relation to his demise.

The immovable object of his childhood experience was being placed into opposition with the irresistible force of his love concerning his wife. What should he do?

For many days he reflected on this matter. His heart was being torn apart in, seemingly, irreconcilable directions.

Eventually, after struggling with the issue for some time, he realized he loved his wife more than he loved his own life. She was the empress of his heart. She was the ruler of his destiny.

He repealed his earlier edict. He freed from prison those who previously had violated the ban, and, seeking to make amends, he lavished great wealth on those whom he had wronged.

His wife was so pleased with him that she fell in love with him more than ever before. The two were very happy together, and the Kingdom was happy for them, as well.

Despite his change of heart, the King could not stop worrying about the forces which he had set loose with his new Royal proclamation. He became entranced whenever he heard his wife sing, and, yet, there was a sweet sadness which permeated this listening, as if, each time, he might be hearing his own swan song.

The King was nearing his 50th birthday, and in honor of the occasion, the Queen had arranged for a special celebration. She wanted the party to be a surprise, so for months she induced many of the courtiers to become co-conspirators in her secret preparations.

The night of the King’s birthday came, and he was taken to the great banquet hall on a pretext. There, waiting for him, was his beloved wife and many of his adoring subjects who had long since forgiven the King for his earlier ban on music.

A great meal was served. Entertainers entertained before, during, and after the meal.

Toward the end of the celebration, the Queen stood up and announced that to commemorate the occasion, she had commissioned a song to be written. The Queen, herself, would sing the song, and she would be accompanied by a small group of musicians who had been especially assembled for this occasion.

The ensemble came to center stage, the music began, and the Queen sang. Tears came to the eyes of the King, not only because of the great beauty of the melody, words, instrumentation, his wife’s voice, and the festive, joyous atmosphere of those attending the celebration, but because, somehow, he knew in his heart that this was
the song about which he had been warned so many years ago in his childhood. This was what had been whispered into his ears that night.

As he was listening, he tried to feel the fullness of life – its joys and its sorrows. He looked at everything in the hall anew and appreciated it for being part of his life, and he was grateful for having been given as many years as he had and for being opened up to the great love of his life.

As he was surveying the crowd and the musicians, the King noticed that one of the musicians was intently looking at him. The man was playing his instrument wonderfully and as if the King were the only one in the room for whom he were playing.

The King knew whom he was looking at. The King knew that Death had come for him that night.

After the song was finished and the crowd, including the King, gave a standing ovation for a performance which would take its place in the great musical tradition of the Kingdom, and make a legend of the Queen, the musician who had been focusing on the King throughout the performance silently motioned him to meet on the balcony behind the stage. Slowly, the King made his way to the balcony where the two were alone.

Death said: “Why didn’t you listen to the counsel you were given so many years ago? You could have lived for ever. You allowed yourself to be maneuvered into a street from which there is no escape. Things might have been otherwise.”

The King looked at Death. His eyes passed over the land of the Kingdom which was bathed in the light of a full moon. His vison went into the Hall where he could see his wife talking with people, receiving their congratulations for her truly marvelous performance.

He had never loved his wife more than he did at that very moment. Then, his eyes returned to the face of Death.

He said: “Sir, we all seal our own fates. We can’t avoid this.”

His gaze went back to his wife. “I just exchanged one fate for a better one. Now, let us get on with the business at hand.”

1 comment:

Sadiq M. Alam said...


blessings be with your pen and the wholeness of you.