For my father, David Eduard Van Dijk, on Father’s Day 2019 with loving gratitude for instilling a love of books in his children:
Once upon a time, in a kingdom not too far away from here, lived a king and queen with their three children.
The king was a thin man with a pointy grey beard who wore thick spectacles and loved to read. The castle was lined with shelves containing books in all shapes, sizes and imaginable colours. It was filled with the musty smell of old paper and ink. King Eruditus was known for his knowledge of many subjects none of which pertained to anything related to human relationships or the Unknown Realm.
To him it did not exist at all. This special Holy Realm. He had no patience with the women who chatted amongst themselves of this other place – one of miracles and magic. Equality, peace and freedom. More a way of being really, than a place, they said, where one could do and be anything one wanted to. Even talk to those who had passed on, it was whispered. Sometimes glimpse the future or receive messages from the Past. A state of timelessness and Grace where the ancestors live and breath and have their being.
Try as he might the King could not prevent the talk. No law or edict or proclamation seemed to have any effect . He found the whole business exceedingly tiresome. To him only facts were real and of any worth. He seldom, if ever, left his reading corner, preferring to even eat his meals alone surrounded by his beloved volumes.
This sorry state of affairs was difficult for those close to him to bear. Not to speak of the inhabitants of Academia who had not so much as glimpsed their monarch in many years. In fact, things had really begun to suffer because their absent ruler hated being disturbed for anything practical. To make matters worse there was a severe drought in the land – had been for years.
If Truth be told, the kingdom was in crisis. There were no cattle or other animals left, very little food and the only water to be found was very high up in the mountains. Work on the pipeline to bring the precious liquid down to the people was slow and laborious and often interrupted by marauding bands of desperate peasants who wanted to save their dying children. Corruption, bribery and violence was rife.
Queen Mercy was the only one who could talk some sense into King Eruditus when she could get up the nerve to face her rather intimidating spouse. She was a gentle woman with raven-coloured hair and doe-like brown eyes . She loved to wear floral gowns shaped like bells that swished when she moved and velvety pumps on her dainty, little feet. She smelt like red roses in full bloom and jasmine in the early spring. She had a loving nature and cared deeply for her three children and also for all the people of Academia.
She, too, had withdrawn of late, unable to bear the sight of hollow-eyed thirsty mothers and listless children trailing behind the parched men who begged at street corners and banged on the castle’s gates at night demanding action. She spent her days and nights praying for a solution and for the strength and wisdom to help her husband and her people. Eventually she could bear it no longer and died of a broken heart.
The king was devastated and in his despair and anguish he ventured out just long enough to see what was happening in the kingdom. He vowed to find a way to save Academia and her people.
He called all the wise men of the land together and asked what should be done. They scoured every conceivable book, deliberated, debated and discussed every possible avenue of action. No-one seemed to know what to do. None of the many scriptures or books of Wisdom seemed to offer any workable solution.
The two princes were sent out on a mission to find remedies to the evils that had befallen the kingdom. Both sent word after a short time that they had found no answers to Academia’s dilemma. They each found a new kingdom, married a lovely lady from that region and settled there. They begged their father to visit them and give up his castle to live with them.
Eruditus was somewhat relieved that his sons had found a way to live a good life , yet he also felt betrayed and determined to stay on in Academia.
Give up his kingdom….never !
Dismayed he surveyed the shriveled land that had once been green and lush. He became more and more reclusive.
Seeing her father’s dilemma, the Princess spoke:
“Father, I have heard of a wise woman who lives in the woods at the foot of Mount Hochmah . They say she is the guardian of the Chalice of Life. Maybe we should ask her for help. “
“A woman ! Indeed ! Where did you read of this woman, daughter?”
“I did not read of her, father. I heard her voice calling me in my dreams . When I awoke a little brightly coloured bird sitting on my sill chirped her name. Sophia, Sophia ,Sophia. Three times I heard him. Later , whilst in the rose garden I heard her calling my name in the wind.”
“What nonsense! Voices in the wind…dreams and speaking birds – you have lost your mind. Go to your room.”
Saddened and shamed the princess ran to her room and lay on the bed too miserable even to cry. She thought of her mother and wished that she were there.
No sooner had she made this wish than Queen Mercy appeared in her room.
“Dear child, it is time for you to do what I could not. You need to follow your heart and be courageous and true. The kingdom and your father and all the good people of Academia, everyone…. is depending on you.”
“What do you mean? What must I do? Mother, don’t leave… What am I to do?” She cried as the apparition disappeared.
She sat in silence on the opulent bed until it grew dark around her. She rose to light a candle and continued her vigil. Waiting for the voice she had heard or her mother’s ghost to reappear. Neither came. Yet somehow she grew calm and sure.
As dawn came and the castle awoke and began to move for the day, she packed a few things and left on a journey to find the one who had called to her in her dreams. She left without word- slipping out of the castle over the field that once had been covered in green grass and yellow daisies.
She spoke to the arid field, the anxious small animals she met along the way. She avoided settlements and people keeping to areas where she could journey unseen. She traveled at night to escape the scorching rays of the sun. Drinking dew in the mornings and lying in ditches and hollows or any other form of shelter she could find during the hottest parts of the day. Eating sparingly from the small pouch she carried tied to her waist that magically seemed to always contain another morsel no matter how many times she dipped into it.
Her favourite purple cloak provided shade from the sun and warmth at night. It became her comfort, her home. It ,too, remained pristine and whole – untouched by passing branches. Clean, despite the dirt she lay on. Unharmed by the elements, as she was.
Whenever she came to crossroads or a fork in the path she asked : “What is in my heart? Which road shall I take?”.
Then, having discerned, she set out once more confident and determined. She traveled for miles and miles over rocky terrain and crossed many sandy, dry river beds.
The moon was her greatest friend lighting the way. When she became despondent or afraid she looked up at the starry night and saw her mother’s face in the bright moon.
Strangely enough, although she heard the jackals call and even once a lion’s roar they never bothered her. The snakes, lizards and spiders she encountered scurried away as if very busy with their own agenda.
After days of traveling she was exhausted and ready to give up the quest.
“If what I seek is not round the next bend I will lie down and die”, she thought.
As she reached the bend in the road, she paused and prayed for help. She spoke to her mother and her other ancestors, her guardian angels, archangels, saints and all her mother had told her of, who lived in the Unknown Realm. She pleaded to be shown the way to help her father and his kingdom.
Rounding the bend, she gasped.
In front of her lay a beautiful green forest and as she stood transfixed by the sight, she was sure she could hear the sound of running water!
As she ran with arms outstretched, delighted and convinced she had reached the end of her journey, she was stopped in her tracks by an enormous silver and green long necked dragon.
The dragon towered over her, its jewel shaped blue third eye pulsating in the centre of its rather small head. She waited with bated breath for the roar of fire . All that came from the beast’s mouth was a feeble spurt of puny flame pale yellow in colour.
The dragon was leashed and was pulling and straining at the chains that held it captive.
At first the princess thought the creature was straining to get to her until she noticed a stone bowl from which a fountain of pure, clear mountain water bubbled. The dragon was desperate to reach the water.
As she watched she thought of the thirst of her own land and it’s people, of the parched road she had followed to reach this place.
With scarcely a moment’s hesitation she reached out and loosened the beaded collar around the monster’s neck.
As she did this, she looked into his eyes and saw all she had seen on her journey.
She saw again her father’s gaunt and haunted face ; the wretched, tired eyes of the woman who had recognized her just after she left the castle, felt again the woman’s pleading tug at the hem of her purple cloak. It was this desperate gesture that had made her set her course through uninhabited land; to travel with the animals at night ; spurred her on when she grew weary and despondent. She heard too, her mother’s voice and saw again, in her mind, the desert land and her people who were depending on her.
The beast heaved itself forward and lunged.
She closed her eyes expecting to be devoured.
When nothing happened, she gingerly opened one eye, then the other, to see the dragon lapping up the water like a puppy dog.
As she ever so gently and carefully approached the drinking dragon, she heard her name being called…in chorus….a lilting chant that beckoned her to enter the forest .
The ferns seemed to greet her, raising their heads as she passed. The moss underfoot was a soft green carpet and the best of all was the clear stream gurgling, inviting her to drink freely. Which she did gratefully, lying face down on the soft grass, hugging and stroking the round, smooth river stones.
When she had had her fill, she ran around wildly, beside herself with joy. She lay on her back on the moss carpet , watching the sunbeams dance through the canopy of trees to tickle her face.
She awoke startled by the dragon licking her face and nudging her to get up.
He was hunched at her side. Looking up she realized he was waiting for her to get onto his back.
He ambled through the wood until he reached a clearing. He bent down and waited patiently for the princess to dismount.
In the centre of the clearing was a clear pool surrounded by large ferns. As she looked into the water she saw a very beautiful, elegant woman wearing an exquisite, dark purple cloak. Her hair was dark and framed her perfectly oval face. Her eyes were kind and a warm brown. They seemed wise…her eyes. And compassionate. There was a light shining from them.. so bright that the princess felt like blinking.
She gazed at the beautiful woman and was so moved and touched by her beauty that she began to cry.
As her tears fell the reflection was disturbed and she glimpsed a fine silver goblet lying lodged amongst the pebbles at the bottom of the pool. It was simple and beautifully crafted with a few brilliant jewels and delicate inscriptions and engravings that filled her with awe and wonder.
She lifted the cup tenderly from the water and studied the markings carefully and reverently for she knew instinctively that this was a holy object.
In the centre of the cup was a simple engraving that mesmerized the princess – a heart with a spiral in it. Under it were the words: “The answers lie within”. Eagerly she turned the cup over to look inside . It was empty.
Disappointed she hugged the cup to her chest. It felt as her heart was breaking.
“Look again. Go within. Look again. Go within,” she heard the angelic choir chant.
So she peered into the cup again and seeing nothing there, she glanced at the pool. The reflection was back. It was the same except for a beautiful heart with a spiral in it forming a vortex as she watched almost too afraid to breathe.
From the vortex words began to dance and as she read them, she felt them in her heart.
Love , Forgiveness, Compassion, Peace, Sharing, Kindness, Joy, Laughter.
The words danced and she began to dance with them and to sing and in her heart she knew.
She cried for joy and as she cried and released all the pain of her journey the heavens opened and it began to rain.
She flew back home to the castle on the dragon’s back, blessing the land as she passed over it. Blessing it with her healing tears. She felt the water on her face and saw the people cry out in joy and relief.
King Eruditus was so happy to see his little princess again. He found her changed though. She was older, wiser and very beautiful. Her bearing was regal and serene and her brown eyes shone with fervour and conviction as she said:
“Books are fun and interesting too. But the answers, dear father, lie within.”
To this day, the crest of the flourishing kingdom of Academia bears these words: “Read, Enjoy, but go within!”
The people and their king learnt the ways of the Heart from their beautiful, courageous Princess, the heir to the throne.
And they all read happily ever after.