Once upon a time, there was a Great King, who reigned over the Great Kingdom, lived in a great castle, high on a great hill on the fringe of a great forest. Up the hill was a path, always smooth and steady, so that anyone could travel it to see the King at any time. The path was bordered on both sides by fragrant gardenias and dancing daffodils and splendid azaleas, and blossoming fruit trees that yielded sweet cherries, peaches and plums. Streams of laughing water flowed from the hill as well and brought refreshment and life to the village below. And though the scene was beautiful and the path was accessible and the King was very good, there was a time in the history of the Great Kingdom when the citizens rarely took the journey, and hardly noticed the great castle at all.
Business was prosperous in the village – the streams produced rich soil, which produced healthy crops, which produced bountiful harvests. The people were hard workers, very intelligent and very skilled, so they created products of the most excellent quality to sell and trade. They lived for the business, and were consumed with doing: growing more crops, making better products, gaining more money, and buying more things, to improve on and start the process all over again. After the annual Market Festival, servants were hired to carry a tithe of the wealth to the King’s castle along with letters from the villagers that read something like this:
O Great King, live forever!
This year the business was very good. I harvested more cotton this season than ever before from my fields. I used a machine I invented to spin the cotton into thread, and then I used a machine I bought at a great price to weave it into the delicate fabric you see here before you. I also dyed it into these gorgeous hues that I collected and mixed myself. I hope that when you see the high quality of my handwork, and know of the great sacrifices I’ve made, that you will see my worth and grant my family a place among your royal nobility.
Your most prosperous citizen,
These gifts and notes were sent year after year, but the citizens were always disappointed by the silence and restraint of the Great King.
One day a young man came into the village alone. He had rust-colored ringlets of hair that fell across his forehead and around his ears in a charming way, and freckles across the bridge of his nose. He wore curious foreign clothing, including a long moss-green hooded cloak that only a few of the villagers could recognize as coming from the Elvish colony on the other side of the river. He was certainly not an elf – that was clear from his freckled complexion, rounded ears, and his knobby, angular joints. But there was also the way he moved: he did not glide gracefully and with power, but hobbled along with an Elvish carved crutch of oak tucked under his arm.
“Who is he?… What is he doing here?… What is wrong with him?… What does he want?…” These questions were loudly thought and quietly whispered throughout the village, but no one dared to ask the stranger. Besides, he didn’t appear to be looking for a place to settle down. Without a word and with his eyes fixed straight ahead, he rhythmically moved the crutch and his legs down the main street of the village and out toward that smooth path, that tall hill, that great castle.