Next morning the splendid Serendipian sunrise crept in its usual path to the king’s elegant bed chamber, but it did not find the king snoring pleasantly as was his usual custom. No, for today the king sat, hunched on the edge of his handsome bed, as he had been most of the night. When the sun’s fair rays struck the fine crystal prism hanging in the king’s east window it scattered flecks of rainbow on the walls, linins, and on the kings himself, as it did every morning from May ninth to November sixteenth. This being May twelfth, was no exception. But these rainbows, which were there for the express purpose of wishing the king a cheerful morning, failed to cheer today. When, at last, a rainbow on the floor caught his eye the colorful specter surprised him greatly. He had been so consumed by his thoughts that he had hardly noticed the passing hours. Finally drawing a deep breath the king stood to begin his morning routine.
“It must be done.” he said aloud, knowing it was all there was to say.
As he did his calisthenics he thought carefully about the day Admir was born, and found he hadn’t the strength for his usual number of leg raises.
As he dressed he remembered the time Saud and he had lost their way during a fishing trip, and how they had walked and talked for hours. If later that day anyone noticed the king’s miss-matched stockings, they never mentioned it
As he blew on his steamy bowl of porridge with honey he imagined the details of young Zaki’s face, and thought how they reminded him of his dear wife’s, the late queen. Mrs. Soup knew something was very wrong when the king rose from the table having eaten only a few half-hearted spoonfuls.
All too soon the king found himself in his formal throne room, a very grandiose and stately room that he liked to avoid at almost any cost. He sat dully on his fine throne, wearing his fine crown, and surrounded by his very fine court. It was necessary that they, being the dozens of advisors, senators, and other officials of Serendip, should be there to witness whatever might happen during this morning’s events.
And Prince Admir was there.
Like you my Darling, the prince had no clear idea what was going on. Only a handful of times in his life had he been summoned to the throne room, and even fewer times with the court present. Like his father he disliked the formality of the room, and to have the court there, and all eyes on him was incredibly awkward. But he trusted his father, and knew he had done nothing deserving of punishment, so he stood before the throne as patiently and calmly as possible.
And he stood.
You see, Dearest, courts and throne rooms have a great many rules. And in these rules, that were ever so old and unquestionable, it was clearly stated that no one in the room should speak until asked a question by the king. So although if they had been in the kitchen, the library, or even on the street, and his father had been looking at him so peculiarly Admir certainly would have burst out asking what on earth could be wrong, here in the throne room all he could do was wait.
So he waited.
At long last, the king drew in a deep breath and spoke.
Admir bowed to his father, still not permitted to speak.
“The time had come for you to assume the throne of Serendip.”
Admir, who was still bowed-down looking toward the floor, thought carefully. He would have made up his mind that he had heard wrong were it not for the collective and loud murmur that ran through the court. He raised his head and looked at his father. I should have said, ‘looked his father in the eye,’ only, the king was looking very hard at the wall just to the left and beyond Admir’s head. Admir still was unable to speak.
“I am old, My Son. And I wish to spend the remainder of my life in quiet contemplation. You are young. Your education is complete. You are good in body, heart, and mind; and you shall wear the crown from this day forward.”
Admir was now quite desperate to speak, but still his father had asked no question. He watched amazedly as his father stood and came toward him. He took his simple but weighty crown from off his head and held it before him, as if offering it to Admir. Admir did not reach for the crown, however because, just as there was a rule against speaking until being asked a question, there was a rule against taking anything without being asked to take it.
As Admir continued to look at his father something strange caught his eye.
“Prince Admir, my firstborn son, will you bear the crown of Serendip?” The king asked loudly, taking another step toward Admir.
After a long moment Admir said, “My Lord, I dare not.” And he cast his eyes to the ground again.
At these words the mummers around the throne room grew louder, nearly to shouts.
“Prince Admir speaks well!” said an elderly woman, “He is too young.”
“Will the Prince disobey his father the King?” said another younger man.
“He should offer it to me!” joked one. His words were the last of all, and they hung embarrassingly loud and lonely in the air.
Then there were a few moments of silence while everyone wondered what would come next. Finally the king spoke.
“Prince Admir, Why do you ‘dare not’ to take the crown? Speak.”
At that Prince Admir raised his eyes to his father, was now held the crown rather limply in one hand. Though their eyes still did not meet, Admir thought he saw some emotion flash across the king’s face. Was it pleasure?
“My King and My Father,” Admir addressed him formally as he began his reply, “The crown of Serendip may one day come to me. And as you have taught me, I hope that in that day I shall be worthy to bear it well and serve my people. But, that day is not this day. In the hands that offered the crown to me I saw a steady and firm grip. Those are hands that yet have work to do for this great land. All my life I have seen those hands, your hands, toiling diligently day by day for the peace and prosperity that bless this land. And while your hands are strong, mine can only offer support.” He paused, stood up straight and tall, and finished, “I will not rule.”
The words had been spoken in a voice for all to hear, and to understand that his mind was made up. The whole court had witnessed Admir’s decision, and there could be no going back. Moments before beginning this speech there were some in the court who believed the prince too young to rule, but after hearing his wise and decided reply Admir was unanimously known as a man, and one to be taken at his word.
The truth was that for all his lovely speech and steady voice Prince Admir was furious. He had been shocked by what the king had done to him. Only rarely had his father spoken to him about a time when he would hand over the crown. Most of these occasions had been in jest. What Admir had spoken was true, he knew and hoped one day he would he would be a good king to the people of Serendip, but he would never have imagined that his father would make this utterly unexpected request of him without any discussion, warning, and in the presence of the formal court! Admir’s mind raced as he tried to think what could have brought this on. And then there was the matter of what he had seen.
The gracious ears of the courtiers had likely understood Admir’s words about his father’s hands to be figurative, but there was more than that. When the king had held out the crown to his son, the prince had seen something that he could not ignore. His father’s hands were clutching the crown as if it were more than just gold and jewels, as if it were more than life itself. Admir saw those strong hands were white with strain and shaking every so slightly. Admir’s eyes had moved rapidly from the white fingertips, up the ridged wrist and arms, through the tense shoulders, and again to his father’s own eyes. And stranger than the fingers, wrists, or shoulders was that the king’s eyes would not meet his own. It took a great deal of restraint for Admir to not, in that moment, turn his head to see what it was behind him that his father was so intent on looking at. Admir also knew that the court, who were seated on either side of him, would not realize that his father was not looking directly in his eye unless Admir turned, giving them an obvious clue. It was as if his father was winking at him, daring him to take the crown without really offering it. Mocking him. It deeply troubled the prince that his father had said one thing for the court to hear, but said just the opposite to him.
For the crux—which is a really wonderful word meaning, most important or crucial point—of what Admir had just said and done was this, oh my Dearest Darling: he had disobeyed an order of the king.
I have recently explained something of the rules of the court to you,
1. Do not speak until asked a question.
2. Do not take anything without it being offered.
But what I did not tell you was the most important rule
3. If commanded, obey.
When the king said, “You shall wear the crown from this day forward.” He had not posed a question, he had not offered casually, he had commanded. And when Admir said, “I will not rule.” he had broken this most important law of Serendip.
As you know, my Darling, rules are not rules unless they have consequences, and the consequences for breaking this rules, that was ever so old and unquestionable, was most serious. Admir knew this, and yet he disobeyed.
After Admir spoke those fateful words, and as I have been explaining all of this to you, Dearest, no one in the throne room had made a sound, or hardly drawn breath. The king closed his eyes.
“My Son, do you disobey me?”
“My King and My Father, I do.”
“My Son,” his eyes were still closed, “do you know the consequence of this disobedience?”
“My Lord, I do.”
As he spoke Admir stared hard at his father, and could only think, “Let this not be happening. Let this not be happening. Let this not be happening.” But it was.
Every other eye in the court was also fixed on the king, and all but a cruel few had those same words running through their minds.
Suddenly the king’s eyes opened and fixed on his son.
‘Let this not be happening. Let this not be happening. Let this not be happening.’
“You have disobeyed my command to rule this land, and are hereby banished from Serendip.” The king’s voice was firm and clear, yet there were tears in his eyes. “This banishment is hereby in force until such a time as you can prove you are a true and loyal subject to your father the king, prepared to rule and glorify this land.”
We will leave this scene now, Dearest, that I might not have to describe the horror that ran through the court, the utter collapse of the noble prince, and the broken heart of the king, it was all much, much too sad.
It would be even worse if I had to describe to you the full extent of the tragedy that befell the kingdom that morning, my Darling. Imagine that poor king’s heart being fully broken three times in one day. Imagine each good prince rushing out of that horrid room, or in young Zaki’s case, having to be led out by the guard, too stunned to move his own feet. The king was satisfied, the court had witnessed, and the three princes had passed their final exam.