[Read part one here.]
That day — when his wife spoke from her heart about the king — was a turning point, not so much for their marriage, but for him. His wife’s words about the king had intrigued him, especially when she insisted, “There is no other king like him, so good and glorious!” He decided, secretly, to find out as much as possible about this legendary person who had so captured his wife’s mind and heart. He wanted to know what was really going on with her, but he didn’t want her to know of his new interest.
Months went by. He read his own books and consulted his own sources, but he also snuck into her room and immersed himself in everything he discovered there.
Despite his initial, vehement resistance, he found himself being affected by what he was learning. For him to embrace change meant to accept that there was room for improvement in his life, and he found such an admission to be painful and demeaning. He was a good, capable man, respected in their land, without the many flaws and weaknesses that plagued his wife. Hers was a life of constant failure, and one obviously in need of a drastic overhaul. But he had always achieved everything he had wanted, and had never strayed from the course he had set out on in his youth. Their unsatisfying marriage was not his fault — if he had been permitted to choose his own wife, he would have married one far better, and his relationship would have been as fulfilling, pleasing, and successful as every other area of his life.
He was not the one who needed changing, he reminded himself. But somehow, he found himself changing anyway. It just happened, subtly at first, a hidden shifting of his interests and desires. Not long after that, he began wanting to change, wanting to become someone worthy of eventually meeting the king who was becoming more and more important to him.
There came a day when he asked his wife, once again, what it was that she really wanted. This time there was fear in his voice. He had discovered, in her room, clothes that he had never seen before, odd clothes carefully packed in a bundle and hidden away, as if waiting, clothes whose purpose he could not understand. He feared she was leaving him. But he also feared she might be staying…or that she might be going somewhere unexpected, or somewhere he no longer wanted to go…in fact, he wasn’t sure what exactly he feared or what it was that he feared most.
He was afraid to mention her clothes. He simply asked her, in a voice that betrayed his anxiety, to tell him what it was that she really wanted, and not to spare his feelings.
Her words shocked him at the same time that they made perfect sense. “I must ride to meet the king,” she said.
“The king will make a way. He has already sent me almost everything I need for the journey, including new clothes. I’m just awaiting his summons, his final provision, and I’m preparing myself.”
“I want to ride with you!” he burst out, but then quickly corrected himself. “I mean — don’t take this the wrong way — I want to ride to the king, whether we ride together or not.” In a rush of words, he confessed what had been going on with him.
She looked at him carefully. “He’s a beautiful king and well worth serving. But it will be a difficult journey. It will cost you everything. We can’t take anything with us except what the king gives us for the journey — everything else has to be left behind.” Her eyes stared into him, as if attempting to scrutinize his deepest, most secret thoughts. He feared what she might see, but he feared avoiding her gaze even more. Finally she spoke, “I don’t want you going with me if there is even the slightest possibility that you might want to turn back.”
“You need to be sure. Really sure. You have to determine that you will give up everything in your life — sell everything you can and give away what you can’t sell — just to meet the king. Being in his service has to be that important to you. He has to be that important to you.”
He nodded again. “He is,” he assured her.
As she shook her head sadly, he found himself looking at her as if for the first time. She had aged over the course of their marriage. Her face was more lined and wrinkled than he had noticed before, her hands more work-worn, and her hair more grey — yet she exuded a vibrancy and strength that he had never seen in her. One might even go so far as to call her beautiful, he thought with wonder. She looked thoughtful as she spoke, “I’m not sure you’re called to the journey. I’ll have to ask the king what to do — if he wants me to change my plans, and take on a traveling companion.”
“You…you talk to the king?”
She chuckled at his astonishment. “All the time. Sometimes he even answers back.” Then she grew somber. “You need to know something else before you decide.” She swallowed and looked away briefly. He could see fear and sorrow on her face but, when she looked back at him, fierce joy shone from her tear-filled eyes. “What you need to know is this: we will die on the journey. But seeing the king — and actually getting to ride with him — will be worth it.”
“I guess I’d kind of figured that out,” he said, unconvincingly. She left him to his thoughts.
A week later, he sent her a message: “Don’t leave without me.” He knew that he wanted to know and follow this beautiful king who had so captivated his wife that she was being transformed before his very eyes. He too wanted to be transformed.
She sent one in reply: “I will wait until the king bids me to come.”
He found her in her room. “I don’t know how to prepare myself for the journey.”
“I already told you. Sell everything you can, and give the rest away. Show the king that you are desperate to meet him, desperate to become his servant, desperate to follow him, and he’ll make sure you have everything you need, and only what you need.” She looked at him fondly, but sadly. “I don’t think you are hungry enough. I think you are way too comfortable.”
Two months later, he climbed the steep trail up to the small hut where she had locked herself away in meditation, and where she often engaged in vigorous exercise. He had lost weight, carried nothing, and was dressed like a pauper. He sat with her in silent meditation, and exercised when she did, neither of them speaking, although she had smiled joyfully when she saw him arrive. He came back the next day, and the next, and the next…until he lost track of the days and grew convinced that his life had never been better.
Early one morning, he thought he heard the voice of the king, calling his name. He threw himself on the floor, face down in fear, awe, and excitement. This has to be the best day of my life, he thought. I heard the king call me by name.
“What is it about us,” he asked his wife later, “that makes us admire the king so? Why did his voice have such a powerful impact on me?”
“It’s not us,” she said. “It’s him. It’s who he is…what he is…” She looked him deep in the eyes and then threw her arms around him. “I’m so glad you love the king and that you’ve heard his voice!”
More days passed. He had never loved his wife more, never admired her more, never respected her more, never enjoyed her friendship more. He also felt more loved by her than ever before — and he finally appreciated what a great gift she was to him.
She was filled with joy, peace, and contentment — yet he sensed she was growing increasingly restless. He finally asked her about it.
“I’m meant for the journey,” she said. “It’s what I have been preparing for, and I am impatient to leave.”
He had almost forgotten.
[Stay tuned next Fiction Friday for part three.]