Henares River (Madrid)
A long long time ago and far far away, a very beautiful woman named Thgil lived in the realm of Dnim—I spelled the names and even wrote them down on a piece of paper, so that Mario could take a look at them.
One day, Em knocked at her door. Em was the Prince of Dnim, and was looking for someone to play with. Thgil knew many games, and fairy tales with lots of princes, princesses and dragons. The Prince enjoyed the visit so much that he kept on coming.
But, as Em grew older, his visits became less frequent, until he stopped coming altogether.
Twenty years passed since the last time they met.
“Who are you?” asked the Prince Em when Thgil opened the door of her house. “You look familiar, but I cannot remember…”
“When you were a child you often visited me. Now I’m just a hazy memory from your childhood. However, I still watched how you grew up.”
“It’s surprising that you could do that from a house covered with brambles and vines. I have had to fight my way to the entrance!”
A long silence ensued before the Prince spoke again, “Your words and manners are so serene… They elicit a strange feeling in me.”
“Perhaps that’s what brought you back.”
They stare at each other.
“I have to go!” shouted the Prince as if coming out of a trance, and briskly turned around.
“Farewell,” Thgil whispered with tears in her eyes.
Alicia came in on tiptoe. After apologizing for the interruption, she said, looking at me, “What if Uncle Joe picks you up after school tomorrow?”—I nodded.
Mario probably thought that a walk with his uncle couldn’t be worse than the boring daily routine with his mom. Alicia gave him one of those hugs that only vocational teachers like her know how to give, and I shook his hand as if he were a grown man. As I went I shouted back to him, “Remember, search in the names!”
“See you tomorrow, Uncle Joe!”
We lived in a nearby town. Early next morning I returned by car. I parked by Mario’s home, about one mile from his school. The road was a quiet one, flanked by old sycamore trees that were fast losing their large yellow leaves.
I walked slowly to the school. With Japanese punctuality, the doors of the main building opened wide, disgorging a multicolored swarm of vociferous children with backpacks, with Mario buzzing among the firsts. He dashed to me and, without preamble, he shouted, “The Prince is me, and the beautiful woman is a light!”
I said nothing. I took his hand and began walking back home. I stopped suddenly, leaned closed to his face and asked, “And the kingdom of Dnim?”
“The mind!” he replied without hesitation. “Every name is spelled back to front!”
I stood up straight, genuinely impressed by his answer. Then I said grinning, “Congratulations, you cracked the code. I am proud of you.”
We continued walking.
“Please, continue the story,” Mario asked, shaking my hand.
“All right. You deserve that. Pay close attention…”
Ten years passed since the last time Prince Em visited the beautiful Thgil. But Em is no longer the Prince, now he’s the King himself!
“Still here!” exclaimed the King. “Nothing about you has changed since the last time we met, and that was ten years ago. You aren’t a which, are you?
“Your Majesty, it is the other way about, you have grown old. Your wrinkles prove you have worried too much.”
The King lowers his voice to say, “It wasn’t easy to find your house… but I just had to see you again… have you bewitched me?”
“Are you afraid of death?” Thgil asked bluntly. “Do you deny to accept that kings also die?”
The King is visibly surprised by her words.
“You are bold addressing your King in that way!… but I’ll give you an answer: Yes, I have fear of dying, of losing my kingdom, of losing my wealth, and even of losing control over my subjects.”
“Although I have lived here by myself all these years, I am aware of how much the kingdom has deteriorated since your crowning.”
“Hold your tongue!” shouted the King, now plainly annoyed. “I can order you to be executed. Your life depends on my smallest gesture.”
“You can ignore me, you can forget me, you can cut me off from the world, but you know as well as I do that you cannot kill me. You haven’t, you never had, and you never will have that power over me. I’ll always be here in your kingdom.”
“Isn’t it too taxing?” Alicia asked after listening to my proposal to continue to pick Mario up after school each day.
“On the contrary,” I replied as I spread strawberry jam on a toast. “I actually enjoy those walks.”
Alicia explained that Mario had told her exactly the same during one of her regular stops by her sister’s place to chat, do each other favors, and especially to play with Mario and Catalina. Alicia loved children, but she had decided not to have any of her own. Her work as a teacher, and her wider family were enough for her to feel maternally satisfied. As for me, I never had the urge. Even when my life was about to end, I didn’t regret that I had no children.
On time as I always like to be, I waited, listening to the conversations of the people gathered outside the school for the same reason as me. They created a cloud of small complaints, gossips and comments about everyday life, but, instead of rejection, I felt great empathy. “We are all in the same boat,” I thought. The proximity of death was not moving me away from everyday concerns; paradoxically, I felt more aware and more present, filled from within with a deeper capacity to appreciate life.
After the stampede through the gates, Mario thrust his hand into mine swiftly and began to walk as if he were in an inordinate rush to get home, although the real hurry was to share his insight with me, “There is a light which is good and knows everything about me because she belongs to my mind. That light is very wise, but whilst growing up the ‘me’ forgets to play with her and doesn’t want to accede to the inner light.”
I was amazed. It took me a while to bring my sight back from a sky painted azure and rose by the sunset. I finally managed to articulate, “Very well, I think you’re ready for the next chapter…”
The King Em asked Thgil directly, “Who are you?”
“Now I’m only a dim light, but in the future I’ll be the sun and the moon that illuminate your kingdom.”
“So that is your plan!… Now I understand my feelings towards you. You want to usurp the throne!”
“No! No! Rest assured, all I seek is peace. But, certainly, your government must change.”
“What could you know about governing!… Besides, I already have my own ministers.”
“I’m not talking about a sudden change. We can achieve a peaceful transition if we act tactfully and with a great deal of patience.”
The King pondered her words for a long time. Finally, with a resigned shrug he confessed, “The truth is, yes, the situation cannot continue as it is…”
“Well, you have already taken the first step, and that was in the right direction: you remembered me. I can help you, but I need your help.”
“Would you like to move to the castle? I could introduce you as a visitor from another kingdom.”
“There is no lie in that. I also belong to another realm, one you may call either Lla or Gnihton.
“Is that yes?”
“Yes. I accept your offer. My presence in the castle will allow us to get to know each other better, and for me to meet your ministers.”
“Let’s set off straight away!”
(To be continued…)