Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tales for the journey: Tiny's castle (lack of self confidence)

Once upon a time there was a king, who was very small. He was so small that other people called him Tiny, but he was king nonetheless. King Tiny lived in a palace that wasn’t so bad: there was a good view of the hills far away, and there was plenty of food and drink to be had.  He gathered some friends about him and they played games and laughed a lot.  Sometimes they went off and explored the surrounding area, but they always came back to the same place.

Then one day a war began.  There was noise and terror and nothing seemed certain any more.

Tiny summoned a band of men to build him a wall around the palace.  They stopped laughing and playing games and spent all their time building.  At first there was just a wooden palisade, but the noise went on, so they made bricks and dug up stones from the ground nearby.  Sometimes stones were thrown over the wall they were building, but they did not have to be afraid - they just used them to make the walls thicker and higher.

Tiny was proud of his wall.  He was sure it was the best wall in the world. “If we build it just a bit thicker and higher we won’t be able to hear any noise at all!” he cried.

But that didn’t work, so they decided to make their own noise.  They shouted and screamed and jumped until they couldn’t hear anything except their own noise.  This was good!  When there was lots of noise inside as well as out, they could feel safe, but at night there was no sound in the castle Tiny could hear the enemy moving around outside.  He imagined all the ways the enemy might get in, so he decided to make a castle keep, with a thick wall and tiny windows.

He worked so hard on building the castle keep that he sometimes forgot about the war raging outside, and he liked that. 

When the keep was built the ground was bare and rutted because of the stones they had dug up.  The clearing was not the beautiful lawn it had once been and Tiny often dreamed of how the lawn had once looked and how soft it had been to lie on.  So he made cushions and he built a warm fire and he and his men sat around the fire telling stories.  When they did that, they couldn’t hear the noise of the war outside.

 For a long time it worked very well: whenever stones came over the wall, Tiny laughed to show he wasn’t afraid, and used the stones to make his castle stronger and stronger.  He was king of his own castle and he was invincible! One day, cannon balls came flying as the soldiers outside tried to batter down the walls.  He summoned his men and made a long speech about courage and endurance.  He felt very strong.  There was nothing the enemy could do to get into his castle. It was impregnable and mighty; the biggest and best castle in the world!

Then Tiny decided to wear a crown which made him feel special and to play all kinds of games with his men -which he won, of course, because he had made up all the rules.  “I am cleverer and mightier than anyone!” he said, proudly.

The cannon balls kept on coming and Tiny had to admit he was feeling a bit afraid.  He decided to mount a guard at the gate.  He told his soldiers to be there night and day to keep the castle safe.

One day the baker came to him and said: “We need some more men to make bread.”
“No!” said Tiny. “We need to keep the guard by the gate in case the enemy breaks in.”
So the baker managed somehow, and anyway Tiny knew he could manage without bread.

Then the jester came to him and said:  “We need some more men to make up the team games.  There can be no games if there aren’t enough men.”
“No!” said Tiny. “We must keep up the guard.  Anyway, games are a waste of time; we must keep working if we are to make this castle truly safe.”


And so it went on: the guard at the gate got bigger and bigger until half the work force was on guard duty.  Everyone was getting tired, but Tiny was good at making speeches, and he pranced and danced, telling his men how well they were doing. “If we can survive this, we can survive anything! In fact, one day, when we get it just right, we may win the war!”  Tiny shouted, in his most courageous voice.

Tiny felt safe as long as he was making speeches, or prancing about or making his men laugh.  But there was an uneasy feeling inside him that was asking to be expressed.  He wondered: would they be able to keep the enemy away?  Would they really have enough strength to resist if the enemy broke through?  But he dared not admit this, because he knew that if his men felt frightened they wouldn’t be able to do the work.

Then Tim, one of the children in the castle, came to him and said, “Please your majesty, the men are afraid.”
“What, afraid? What nonsense!” said Tiny at once, and he rushed out and reassured his men harder than ever.

Tim was waiting for him in his room that night.  “Please your majesty, the men are angry.  They want to decide what to do about the enemy.”

King Tiny was very, very angry. He said, “How can I run this castle properly if there are people who disagree with me?”  And he doubled the guard at the gate and got the others to polish up the dungeons.

 Then Tim came to him and said, “The guards want to look over the wall.”
“No!” said Tiny. “We can’t have that, for if they show their faces they will be shot. Tell them to keep their heads down!”
But Tim persisted. “It has been many months now since any stones have come over the wall, and our keep needs repairing on the outside.  What shall we do?”
The King was irritated by Tim’s lack of respect for his authority, but he knew in his inner heart that he was right.  “Just use what you have,” he said gruffly, “for it is essential that we keep the walls thick and strong.”

So the men took bits from here and there to repair the walls of the keep but gradually they began to crumble, and Tiny noticed this.
“Never mind,” thought Tiny to himself, “the outer wall is thick enough.  We can stay safe inside the castle yard.”

The soldiers on guard at the outer gate were getting old and tired.  When King Tiny came out one day he found some of them asleep. “Wake up!” he cried. “Don’t sleep on the job!  The enemy might come!”
Something had to be done.  “It is time for new guards!” cried Tiny, and he set about changing the guard.  He replaced the old tired guards with bright new ones, who stood to attention at their posts and did not sleep.  But they weren’t like the old guards.  They questioned why they had to stand there at attention all the time.  They wanted to do shorter shifts.

King Tiny got very worried, but Tim, who had by this time become a firm friend, said, “Let’s try it and see.  Let’s see if the enemy makes any more noise if we have fewer guards on duty.”
     Tiny listened and listened.  The enemy was quiet.  It seemed all right for the moment.  So he kept his guards on alert but let them work shorter hours.
Then Tim said to King Tiny one day, “Why don’t we look over the wall and see what the enemy is doing?”
King Tiny was very frightened. “If we do that they will shoot us down!” he cried.  But is seemed like a good idea, so he said, “Let’s get prepared to take a look.  Let’s be ready with our tin helmets on and our guns loaded!”

Tim and King Tiny went into the meeting room in the depths of the castle and made detailed plans for what they would do when they looked over the wall.  King Tiny tried to plan for every eventuality: what to do if the enemy soldiers were right under the walls, waiting in silence to pounce; what to do if they had guns trained on the walls, just waiting for someone to show up.  The planning went on for a long time.

Then the day came when King Tiny decided it was time to look over the wall.  He climbed up almost to the top of the wall several times, but when he got closer he was sure he heard the enemy waiting below, and so he shouted and danced to scare them away, and decided to stay hidden.

One day he was wandering about near the outer wall when he saw with dismay that there was a small hole where the stones had crumbled away, and daylight was shining through the wall.  He put his nose close to the hole and peered through.  He saw the plain stretching to the far distance. It looked peaceful, and inviting.  Just for a moment something in his heart opened, and a deep longing feeling erupted in his chest.  He turned away, angry and sorrowful that he could not go out there.  He was trapped inside the castle and could not get out.

After that day things changed.  Tiny became obsessed with getting out of the castle.  He dreamed about the day when he could step out and be free.  Tim was the friend he needed, for he listened carefully, and stood by Tiny when he was feeling angry or sad.
Then one day Tim said, “I have seen over the wall.”
     The King was very fearful then. “You have?”
     “Yes. I looked over the wall, and I am going to look again now. Coming?” and Tiny followed Tim to the upper battlements and watched from a lower step while Tim stood in the sun and gazed into the distance.  Tiny ducked, waiting for the shot.  None came.
“Come and look!” cried Tim.
     “Maybe another time,” whispered the king, feeling suddenly very small and weak.  Then he summoned the guards one by one. “When you feel ready,” he said, “please go and check over the wall to see if it safe.”

And they did.  One by one they risked looking out and they remained alive.  There was no shot.
“They are obviously waiting for me,” thought Tiny. “Unless I too look out over the wall, I cannot declare the castle safe.”

So he took another look though the hole, and found another, larger hole to look through.  The endless plain was still there, calling him.  It seemed safe, so he climbed the ladder with Tim beside him and quickly took a glimpse. The plain lay before him, a wide expanse of green, brown and blue.  In the distance, mountains lay, inviting and unexplored. For a terrible minute Tiny thought his heart would explode with longing and regret. He ducked down again, unable to stand it any longer.

But the next day he was back.  Now he had learned to look out, he wanted it more and more.  The guards came up with him and they all looked out for a long time.
“It seems safe,” said one of the soldiers, hesitantly. “Maybe we could go outside.”
“ Maybe”, said Tiny.
    Again Tim led the way, and he opened the gate and stood back.  The guards stood either side of their king.

 Pulling himself up to his full height Tiny stepped forward gingerly and the guards flanked him on each side as he walked.  The gate loomed over them and they eventually stepped out into the green meadow beyond the walls.

There was no one there. No noise, not a soul about.  They walked around for a while and then came back joyfully, but locked the gate against the enemy in the night. They went out each day, and the guards were taken off the walls and came with their king to protect him.  The enemy soldiers were nowhere to be seen and everything was quiet.

One day Tiny stood among the flowers in the meadow and looked back at the walls that he and his men had built.  “I don’t like those high walls!” he said. “I can’t see this meadow from my window, so let’s knock them down!”

The guards knocked down the walls and the castle keep was revealed, and they made a big window in the wall so that the king could see out onto the plain. Then the guards made little houses for themselves out of the broken stones, for the king had little need of them now. He was busy exploring the land all around, and really, it wasn’t too bad at all.

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