Chapter 01 Chapter 02 Chapter 03    
BY T.F. Mohan
Copyright T.F. Mohan 2008

Chapter 01

In the days of long ago, when kings dwelt in castles, when peasants lived in little hovels and worked long, drudging hours to support their king and his courtiers, when knights wore armour and rode dancing, prancing horses and filled their days with sword fights and jousts, when beautiful golden‑haired ladies in long flowing gowns were a common sight among the rich and noble, there lived a king whose name was Brian. He was a terribly rich man, a terribly fierce man.

The king's castle stood on a knoll and was surrounded on three sides by the rudimentary shelters of the peasants, scattered as if they were built where exhaustion dictated rest rather than from a sense of beauty and order. It was a time‑honoured privilege and custom that peasants live near the castle, if they wished. In this way, they could hurry into the enclosure of the castle in case of a raid or war by a foreign country. The more self‑reliant citizens lived near their crops and away from the horrible overcrowding and the inevitable stench of human waste and garbage that collected in the village surrounding the castle. The king's army camped in the area reserved for them near the front gates of the castle.

The king taxed the peasants unmercifully to support his many castles and his huge army. If he disliked you, and he certainly disliked some of the courtiers and most of the peasant people, you were either marked for death or for a life of jail and beatings so miserable that death seemed a release. It never did take much to provoke him to the heights of his anger and his pledge of revenge. It could be your God‑given looks or the way you stood or sat which provoked the king. It could be that you were late paying your taxes because the crops were late or your children were sick. Whatever vagary of nature, weakness of the flesh or bestial oblivion, Brian brooked no excuses. If he disliked you, you were disliked. He was not a fair man. He never had to be fair. He was king and everyone under him was his subject and he treated them as he wished.

Many times his ferocious voice was heard throughout the country shouting in anger at some servant or a peasant subject. Threats of: "I will hang and quarter you." "Take this man to the dungeon." "Turn this man and his wife and family out of his house and farm." Such threats and warnings would ring out across the countryside striking fear into the hearts of both the humble and the proud.

Brian was more than unpleasant. He was life‑threatening; he was dangerous to man and beast.

It was said by some that Brian's mother died when he was an infant and that he was reared by a wicked old hag who hated everyone, spoke no good of anyone and never smiled or had a happy thought. It was said that she used to pick the flowers in the spring before they bloomed for fear that they would cause delight or pleasure with their colours or pleasant odour.

Brian was never loved and hugged as a baby. He received the bare necessities of life: food and water and no laughter. Whatever the reason for his bad disposition, servants and citizens always remembered him as the child, the boy and the man who had the bad temper. He had no friends. No one dare approach him with love.

Don't ask for understanding from King Brian; don't apologize or beg for his mercy. He hated everyone who would dare approach him thinking they could change his mind or his decision by begging. Factually, many a man who tried, lost not only his plea but also his life.

King Brian was the most hated man and the most feared man in the kingdom. He had neither friend nor counselor. He was the king. His word was law. He ate, slept and walked alone. Friendship or love never entered his life. Success in life was counted in terms of the number of frightened citizens under his control, and the number of jewels, castles and the amount of gold he possessed. He was a hard and unrelenting man.

In Brian's kingdom, to be born peasant meant a life untouched by privilege or mercy. Any amusement or laughter or celebration enjoyed by the citizens took place in secret. Brian never understood the necessity of such frivolity. If he discovered such non‑productive activity, it was one more reason to judge the people too wealthy and another motive for raising taxes.

In the land of king Brian, taxes were high and the hours of work were long and dreary. Every peasant man, woman and child laboured to meet the king's demand for taxes.

If King Brian had any virtue it was that he always kept his word. If he promised a beating, it was delivered. If he promised an increase in taxes, the taxes were always increased. It was a common saying among the peasants that if he ever promised anything good, he would not forget to deliver. He was always true to his word, be it a beating or a new tax.

One day, while riding through the country, the king noticed a young woman working in a field harvesting turnips. Brian couldn't help himself. He stopped his horse and watched this beautiful maiden. He was enraptured. For the first time in his life, he could not explain his feelings or his actions. He had seen other girls thought to be beautiful, this one was different. Her beauty captured his attention. He felt an unusual inner turmoil which disturbed him and yet caused him to sit quietly on his horse.

His interest in the farm maiden surprised Brian himself. The sensation he experienced while looking at the girl was unusual. It was a strange feeling. His first reaction was not to punish for lack of productivity or some imagined slight. Rather, a warm gentle feeling went through his whole body. He couldn't help but stare. He was captivated with the sight of the maiden working. Finally, after watching her for half an hour, he recovered sufficiently to turn his eyes away. He directed his horse toward the castle and spurred the beast to a gallop.

For weeks after the experience, he was different. The old habits of temper and hate gave way to gentleness and consideration. He noticed the flowers growing wild in the fields, he noticed the sky and the birds. Some people who saw him ride home the day he saw the maiden, thought he wore a slight smile as if something had suddenly pleased him.

Of course, there were as many men and women to deny the unusual bearing of the king as there were those who vowed that he had expressed some pleasure.

Bridget, a local farm girl herself, noted for plainness and virtue said, "I saw him ride by me and I swear he had a smile on his face."

John Turnbull, a man of great experience in the political order said, "I know the man well. He is incapable of smiling or showing any pleasure. I remember a similar report concerning the king was given several years ago. Of course, I checked the rumour out thoroughly. As it turned out, some young girls jumped to the conclusion that the king was smiling. In fact, it was only a grimace on his face caused by indigestion. I caution everyone, do not misinterpret a mere look. Let us, the citizens of this realm, learn from the past actions of the king and not attribute inappropriate virtues to the political order where none are required."

But Bridget would not be put off, "I am a plain girl and no one, let alone the king, ever looks at me and smiles. Well, this time he passed me and he noticed me. There was a wonderful look on his face and his eyes sparkled with delight. I believe the man is able to smile and laugh."

A great debate broke out among the people. Is the king capable of laughter? Some even went so far as to ask the question: Do you think he could love another human?"

Others were of the opinion, "Attributing love to him would be an awful judgment to put on the man when the distortion on his face was not pleasure but a visceral pain from some hot mustard or some morsel of undigested food."

The king's looks were the debate of the countryside for many months. A number of noble and morally good citizens who read the Bible regularly and discussed Theology at all their parties saw him going about his work in the castle and said, "The king ‑ he is a changed man. A man who has experienced an unusual happening, a conversion, an insight into life itself.

"Let us give thanks to God who has visited us in the form of the King.

"Whatever it is, let us pray that God chooses the best for all mankind.

"It is true that the king has always been dour. Still, there are some writings by eminent theologians which say that suffering is definitely the way to salvation and it is wicked for people to assume that smiling and happiness is the proper lot of humans in this vale of tears. Give thanks to God for such an ugly tempered king; thank God for salvific suffering. Remember to thank God for an unhappy king."

Expectedly, this opinion, coming from those who claim a special relationship with the creator, was held in great respect by the majority. Loud cheers and declarations of assent based on ancient belief in the essential corruption of man were exclaimed loudly by these good people.

Of course, there were a few dissenters in the crowd who did not show any relish for the theory of corruption, suffering and sadness. They expressed their displeasure in their looks of hostility directed towards the good people and their theological theory.

However, the dissenters were not considered to be among the good people of the kingdom. They were not intellectual. They laughed too much to be taken seriously. The whole populous knew that they met regularly to laugh and sing and imbibe strong drink. As a sign of disrespect, they were referred to as the people of joy.

The good people were more determined than ever to support their theory of divine intervention in the sudden change in the king. As was their wont, they dropped to their knees and offered a prayer that his bad disposition would not change.

The sudden kneeling and the loud prayers of the good people caught the people of joy by surprise. Slowly, their stares changed, as if they had experienced conversion or some beatific joy. They looked at the good people, so confident in their sad prayers, and without words, as if just catching on to the joke, they, at first, smiled and then broke into loud guffaws of derisive laughter.

There was another group standing nearby who cautioned patience concerning the sudden change in the king's disposition. They held for the digestion theory and strongly warned those "do gooders," visionaries and those suspected of imbibing strong drink that all changes in the king would pass when the well water took on a greater amount of sulfur, as it did every now and then.

A roving scientist found himself by chance, in the crowd when the king's new disposition was being discussed. Plucking up his courage and with great humility, he spoke in a cadence and a tone usually associated with lawyers and professors, "Let us not be lead to believe these people who base their opinions on books, voices and prayers. I am as good as any man or woman here present but appeals to goodness do not make me abandon my senses and intellect. Rather, I always call on my intellect to lead me and only involve my goodness when I must. Do not be lead astray. Goodness is intended to be a practical experience to be summoned up for the proper occasion. Believe me, what a confused world this would be if goodness reigned our thoughts every moment of our life."

Follow the life of Maura - next week - we continue the story - see you then. Fr. Tom

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