by Lawrence J. J. Leonard
The Forest Guardian
Once upon a time there was an old woman who lived by a creek.
She loved and collected the many little polished stones that tumbled down stream.
Early one morning there came a peddler who asked if she had anything she wanted to trade.
She said, “Well, I have little in this small cabin. I am more in need of repairs.”
“What about the colorful stones on your porch?,” asked the peddler.
“They give me a lot of pleasure, admiring their glistening on sunny days. I could part with one or two,” the old woman confessed.
So, the peddler and the old woman struck a bargain that for every small stone the peddler chose, a chore would be the price. Many weeks passed and the woman’s cabin slowly was renovated by the peddler’s work. One by one the little stones began to weigh down his cart so that it was more and more difficult to move. The day came when the peddler decided it was time for him to move on, and make his way to the fairgrounds and perhaps sell some of his wares or even some of the stones. The old woman bid him farewell and for a bonus, she wrapped a highly prized jewel in a torn cloth and handed it to him.
“Take this gift, sir. It will keep you from starving, though you are quite skilled with your hands. This token of my gratitude will guide you in your new life.”
The peddler, not paying attention because he was so focused on the fair, took the gift and put it in his pocket. He then bid the old woman farewell. As he was approaching the fair, he recalled the many tasks he performed for the woman.
“And she graced me with a lumpy old cloth,” he said aloud. “Maybe it is a magic kerchief?” The peddler shrugged off the memory and headed into the fairgrounds.
So many people from far and wide arrived at the fairgrounds that day. The peddler was sure to strike it rich. He spread out a blanket and set up his wares. No one took notice of the odds and ends he had tinkered with, not even the oil lamps he had traded for from the Silk Road merchants.
The greatest attraction, the delight of the crowd, were the sparkling little stones he had displayed. More and more people started asking, then buying, then bidding each other out of competition for the little stones. One by one all the stones he had received in trade for his work were sold. He had had a prosperous day and tucked in his wares after a small meal by the fire.
As he was departing early the next morning from the fairgrounds, two of the King’s castle guards approached and informed him that the King himself had requested his presence. The peddler quickly complied and within a few moments, the King arrived and held court with the peddler.
“So, you say, these stones that my Princess Veronica has purchased from you, are from a woman living near a creek? “inquired His Majesty curiously.
“It is true, Your Majesty. I worked very hard to make repairs on her cabin, and in exchange, the woman who lived there gave me one stone for each service, nothing more.”
“It is good that you are hard working and did not take advantage of one of my subjects. I will need you to show us where this woman lives.”
“My honor is to do what you wish, Your Majesty.
The peddler was given his belongings and began to walk back toward the old woman’s cabin with his cart in hand. Behind him were the King’s guards, some of the lords and ladies who had purchased the stones, and the King himself. As they approached the creek, the peddler could see the cabin in the distance.
“It is there, Your Majesty,” exclaimed the peddler, pointing to the structure high above the creek bank.
The procession of horses and people arrived at the cabin. It was just as he had left it. The peddler’s repairs were in good order. The cabin looking improved.
“I have seen such here in my kingdom, but where?” declared the King as he dismounted his steed and ran to the front of the house. “I remember no one who has ever been in this wood. Except . . .”
The old woman opened the door, “What is all this?” she asked. And there stood before her the King with a look of amazement.
“Who are you, Lady, and have we not met before today?” asked the King.
“I have lived here all my life, Your Majesty. Honored am I that you grace my humble abode.”
The King was puzzled to say the least. He could barely speak as the memory of shiny lustrous pebbles in his childhood came flooding back.
“You are the Guardian of this forest, my Lady? Is it you after all?”
“The very same, Your Majesty. Tell me, do you still have the small gift I entrusted to you those many years ago in your youth?”
The King produced a wretchedly tattered cloth, and within it was a beautiful red jewel with a jagged edge.
“Here it is, my Lady. I keep it with me all my days. it has been a comfort knowing your kindness to me all this time.”
The old woman pointed to the peddler saying, “There is another here who is in need of your good counsel.”
Suddenly, the peddler began searching his pockets for the gift he had received. He pulled out a clump of an old worn cloth. Within it was a precious jewel with a ragged edge, the mirror opposite of the King’s jewel.
“I have one as well, Your Majesty.”
And the peddler showed his shiny stone to the King. The crowd moved in closer to see
the jewel. The King approached the peddler, and placed the two stones together. They fit into a perfect sphere.
“Your Majesty,” said the woman, “Here is your brother. Taken from you by your father’s consort and spirited away to live a life of hardship and labor. Now, see the man he has become, shrewd as a salesman, skillful of his handiwork, and strong as he is wise.”
“Can this be?” asked the King. “The stories I have been told were of his desire to leave the realm and seek his own fortune.”
“We were deceived, all of us, by this tale, Your Majesty. Today, meet your only remaining family, who knows this land almost as well as you.”
“Brother!” cried the King as he embraced the man.”
“There are no words, Your Majesty, for my joy!”
And the two men shared their knowledge and ruled the kingdom with justice and fairness.
Copyright © 1960-2015 Lawrence J. J. Leonard All rights reserved