The Forest King
Once upon a time there was a king who sat on a wooden throne and whispered to the birds that came to crowd and circle round his head. He was not a usual kind of king, like those who ruled with boundaries and whose subjects were the people who lived within. He was the Forest King. And his wooden throne was made from a living tree who desired to grow her shape into a chair to fit him. And when he whispered to the birds, he was speaking to his advisors who flew about the forest as his eyes and ears.
He did not stay on the throne long or often, for his birds could come to him wherever he was. Thus, he could roam the forest himself, and in this way he remained close to those he served.
So it was that one day while he walked about his forest he happened upon a small meadow where two centaurs stood ready to engage in what promised to be an epic battle. Hate bled from their eyes. Anger seethed from their mouths in breaths and curses. And deadly swords shown sharp and bright in the sunlight that poured into the clearing.
‘Hello,’ said the king, quietly so as not to produce sudden movements. His voice was low and deep, and resonated within the chests of the hearers. It was a simple way to make his attention known. And there could be no mistake in recognition of who he was, for the king was as tall as an ox on hind legs, with legs and horns to match, and a man’s torso colored green and draped with ever growing leaves and vines. He was the only one of his kind.
The centaurs’ battle stopped before it began—for nothing stops a precipitant battle like the voice of one who exudes calm and coolness and level-headed authority.
‘I see that you are out for exercise in my wood,’ he said with gravity. And then his tone changed. ‘Is there nothing like the dim coolness of the forest on a Spring day?’
There was a pause.
‘No, majesty,’ said one in a cold, drawn voice.
‘None,’ said the other, equally cold and drawn.
‘I, too, take pleasure in clearings such as this, with its flowers new and vibrant amidst fresh grass and pleasant trees. Is this not a lovely place?’ the king asked.
‘Indeed, it is,’ said the one.
‘Very pleasing, Sire,’ said the other.
‘And,’ the king continued, ‘how great a joy at seeing one’s brother on such a day as this, so alike in stature as though a mirror stood before you. I have no likeness; no peer of myself. It is a great privilege; would you not say?
At this the two were mute.
And so the king grew larger, or perhaps he only seemed that way, and asked the following as he did of all those who lay under his sovereign welfare when the need arose.
‘Tell me, have you enough to eat?’ The question threw the centaurs, for what had food and drink to do with their present troubles? But after a moment one nodded curtly, and then the other.
‘And heat? Are you warm enough when you lay down at night to sleep? Are the trees enough of a bower for you?’
Mumbles of affirmation struggled about their throats.
‘Of your herds, I must know, are they safe? Secure? At rest in the knowledge that they have the abundance of the forest for their home?’
There was a pause, and then came the answer.
‘They have those things, Sire.’
‘I see,’ said the king. ‘This is good news. So it must be that I happen upon a spar, and not a battle. Simply the exercise of two strong beings. How pleasant that I am here to witness the revelry. Please, go ahead,’ the king invited.
The centaurs looked at each other, their eyes matched without the heat of battle in their veins, for it had died with the king’s questions. Both shrugged, and without another word commenced their play, where the swords that fought might only have been those with blunted tips, though the bruises were perhaps real enough. And when both had sweated many rivulets and their energy began to wane, they stepped back to the applause of the king.
As the two centaurs walked away silently, one alongside the other, a thought grew in the king’s mind. How silly our feuds; how quickly peace can always return. He chuckled to himself, as he watched their tails swish into the forest. He had done his duty for the day, and it was time for him to go home to a wooden throne and a flock of birds until he felt the need to wander anew.