The Keeper's Question
In our heart of hearts, where we let few people enter, at some point we’ve all wished someone dead.
Does it sound harsh to say this? I suppose some might consider it outrageous. Because to wish someone dead would mean we’ve gone past the point of revenge and simply want that person gone so our own pain can end. It also means we’ve lived through every level of that pain first, hoping things would change, wishing it away. Wishing someone dead means you have nothing left, that your soul is empty and your heart will never be the same.
I’m something of an expert on that.
All of us have experienced the searing pain of betrayal by someone we once trusted. A friend who knew our deepest secrets. A guardian who vowed to nurture us. A love who promised us the sky above the sun and the dust between the stars.
The betrayal I experienced was the last kind. Vincent, the prince of Linden, was impatient to take his throne. He believed the power I possessed would help him, so he leaned close and whispered promises in my ear. He told me I meant more to him than everything, including the kingdom. He lied.
When I discovered his dishonesty, the cut ran so deep I lost my heart and haven’t regained it since.
But this story isn’t just mine. This story belongs to all of us whom Vincent betrayed. Because he did go on to become king, and he ruled Linden with spite and distrust of anyone who questioned him. He married for political gain and had a child so Linden would stay within the family. Then he betrayed his son.
He belittled his son, Christopher, telling him he would never have the courage, the strength, the heart to rule Linden with any significance. He set himself on a pedestal so high that when the boy tilted his head back to look up, he fell and landed in a large hole of self-doubt.
When Christopher came of age, Vincent died in an accident. He should have had that accident much sooner. Not for my sake, you understand. I no longer had my heart; what did it matter to me what happened to Vincent? But I did wish that those under his rule would have gained their freedom from his tyranny sooner.
Christopher took the throne, and for the beginning of his reign the people of Linden held their breaths. Would the new king also work them beyond the state of exhaustion? Demand more in taxes than they could give? Would King Christopher taunt and disparage those under him as his father had done before?
He did not. Many Lindeners suspected he had suffered as they had, albeit as the heir to the throne. In quiet dinners together or crossing through the wood, when the people of the kingdom thought they were alone—even though I could hear them—they confessed how much they pitied Christopher. He must have endured worse than they did.
The new king didn’t have much experience at court, but he knew how his father led. When the senior-most councilor placed the crown on his head, Christopher chose in that moment to lead his people in stark contrast. Where Vincent showed anger, Christopher showed kindness. Where Vincent extracted a person’s life blood, Christopher requested his people’s hard work. In every way, he endeavored to be nothing like his father.
This included the woman he married. When Christopher’s mother was alive, she didn’t voice her opinion about how the evil king ruled kingdom and castle. She wasted away, sick in heart and health, until she died.
Christopher treated his wife with a courtesy his father had not extended his mother, and the new queen became more than a figurehead to rule by his side. She became a trusted confidante. A friend. She gave back to Christopher every ounce of self-assurance the evil king had stripped from him.
She believed in him without any hesitation.
It took time for him to learn to trust, but Christopher returned the love tenfold, a hundredfold, to his new queen. People rarely saw one without the other. Under Vincent, he cowered like a plant left too long in the sun; with his wife, Christopher unfurled like a nourished tree to stand tall. I watched all of this from afar. It was too late for me to find my heart, but Christopher found the light of his and would do right by Linden and its people.
This is the power of love. It moves us to do things greater than we could imagine and redeems us. When Christopher needed someone, desperately, to believe he could rule a kingdom that had grown suspicious of its monarch, the new queen stood by his side to show the people—and him—that she supported him. The people regained their trust in the king and the queen, in the monarchy’s ability to keep them safe and fed. The story seemed destined for a “happily ever after.”
And yet…and yet.
Something has changed. I can sense it in the way the trees have slowed their growth. I am the Keeper of the Linden Wood, it is true, but my power will only last as long as I do.
This last fact—the revelation of it—makes me wonder whether I should have gone looking for my heart after all.