He handed me the crown and walked away with his head down. Wearing rags, not meeting anyone’s eyes, he proceeded forth along the short aisle and then onto the dirt road. Only one person watched to see him leave besides me and that was the regent who made sure that he left the kingdom.
The ceremony was very short and not well attended because most of the people in the kingdom worked all day and most of the night in order to meet their tax obligations. Even the friends of the court that had been doing well in life before his rule were now working like serfs in order to meet their share of the tax burden.
The man that turned his crown over to me was not my father, he was my grand uncle. The closer relatives had all been executed because he did not want to turn over his power to anyone.
I had lived in a different kingdom altogether and only heard of this one very rarely. Whenever I did, it was in the most derogatory manner possible. My grand uncle had taken over the rule of the kingdom when he was eighteen and destroyed this prosperous land by grabbing all the wealth for himself.
The kingdom had been the envy of the other ten kingdoms on this continent. It was a rich, prosperous country with land that encompassed and included a mountain. The people had been cheerful and productive. Most of the land was used for farming. The crops included herbs, spices, fruit, grains and vegetables. There was plenty for the people of the kingdom and plenty for exchanging with other kingdoms.
The best export of the land had been its entertainment. Troupes of dancers traveled with musicians, actors, fine artists and storytellers to bring interesting exhibits and performances wherever they went. The performances and the art brought cheer and happiness to the lands.
The happiness, creativity and prosperity all ended under my grand uncle’s rule. He thought that people should not be happy or creative. He believed that people should toil day in and day out, but not have the fruits of their labor. He even believed that people were not valuable, that it was okay to torture, harm and betray his citizens. After-all, citizens were only play things for a king being as unreal to him as the men on a chess board.
On this warm spring day, I stood with a small crowd of people, the new bearer of the crown. It was the first time a female became queen over this particular kingdom, so it was an historic day that not only ended the cruel rule that had its grips on the land for nearly fifty years, but also gave the crown to a woman, the only descendant left in the royal line.
Two weeks ago, when the regent found me at my cottage house clear across the continent in a different land and told me that I was to be queen, I laughed. Now, here I stood, in front of a few faithful people of the kingdom that over-turned the reign that destroyed the country. I just turned twenty-three and, up till now only knew a peaceful countryside type-of-life.
I really didn’t think that I was capable of leading these starving, unschooled and desperate people out of the mess that my grand uncle created. I didn’t give much thought to how I wound up being the only living relative in the long line as that was too gruesome to ponder upon. How the secret was kept of my whereabouts, I don’t know. I really had no idea that anyone would be interested in finding me, to tell you the truth, as I was so far removed from the line of the royal crown that I never even thought about it. I may have been told when I was a young girl that through cousins and relatives I was somehow related to a king.
And here I am today wearing a royal crown, totally unprepared for the role as I never grew up around royalty and didn’t have the foggiest idea of what to do. I knew that I didn’t have a great deal of time for pomp and pleasure on this day that I became the queen of the land. I had to sort out what had happened and work out how to undo it so that the land could be put to rights once more.
I worked out the strategy over the last two weeks as I questioned my grand uncle through the jail bars where he was held. I really wanted to believe him, but I realized that everything he said to me was a lie.
First I would research the laws that he put into place, then I would go and speak to him to ask about the law and why he did it. One day while listening and looking at my notes, I realized that he wasn’t just lying, he actually turned the truth completely around. “I took all the seeds of the land to protect them for future generations,” he said. When I looked at what he actually did, he took all the seeds that he could round up (which included searching peoples homes), and had a bon fire to destroy every one of them.
Knowing how to make sense of the scary, insane old man’s excuses for the laws, I was able to extrapolate the truth from the fiction and come up with a plan to restore this kingdom to its glory.
His laws and orders had been of destruction. The land was tired from not being properly cared for. Instead of rotating crops and every so often giving it a rest, he ordered the same crops to be grown on the fields which wasted the richness of the soil and ruined the quality of the food.
The trees that surrounded the fields as wind breaks; he had ordered to be chopped down. The wood had been carted off and left in an open field to rot.
Entertainment had been cancelled as it became a law that the people of the kingdom were not allowed to be happy. If a person was caught with so much as a smile, he was taken to the jail house. In the jail, people did not have any method to stay clean, food was only served every two or three days and not many made it out alive.
Education was only delivered to the richer class, but that class had dwindled into being serfs. Only five families were able to educate their children by the time I took the crown. The remaining people of the kingdom – men, women and children worked all day and through most of the night without the education that would be beneficial to improving survival conditions.
It was the taxes that were put into place year after year that created poverty like the people had never known. First the tax was introduced for those that owned houses. The home owners had to pay taxes on the amount of land, the size of the house and for each person, the amounts increased. Then another tax was introduced for coins that the kingdom created. Each purchase that was made, cost extra because coins were used. Then there was a tax put on the food that was grown. People had home gardens but were taxed on the food that they grew, farmers with huge fields had it worse with higher taxes. Not only were farmers and people taxed for growing food, the king took most of the crop that was grown to feed the diminishing royalty. More taxes were added for schooling while laws were passed barring the serfs from being educated.
On and on the taxes went but the main focus was to get the people to pay for services and products that they were not allowed to have. Destructive law after destructive law made the prosperous country into a failing one.
Finally, the borders were guarded so that no one could leave. People were suffering from unhealthy diets and a huge burden of taxes while the young children were dying from malnutrition. The King delighted in the failure of the land, the worse it got, the more pleasure he took in his rule.
Somehow, the regent had been able to convince my grand uncle that he was indeed a worthy and trustable regent. It was my grand uncle that had known about me and my whereabouts. The King’s intention was to have me murdered; it was the regent that ensured my life was spared so that I could take the crown.
After I interviewed my grand uncle, I rode throughout the kingdom without letting anyone know who I was or what I was up to. I had to search hidden trails, caves and abandoned homes to find seeds for the land. I was successful on each trip that I took. I gathered bags of seeds some of which I knew and others that were a mystery to me. But, seeds to grow food and feed a starving nation I did find.
I searched the woods and near the streams to locate wild food growing. I was amazed to find wild rice, mustard, berries and grains. For each find that I made, I pulled out my map and wrote symbols on the parchment to indicate it so that the food could be found again. While at each site, I gathered some of the food to take with me back to the castle in preparation of my plan.
Finding so much food, I knew that all had not been lost and that I could feed my nation.
Next I searched the buildings and houses owned by the royalty but abandoned because the taxes could not be paid. By doing so, I found every treasure that had been taken from the good people of the land. There were musical instruments and books; paintings and costumes; ornaments and furniture; coins and statues; rugs and weaving looms; jewelry and gems. Search as closely as I could, I found no records that existed to say where each item came from.
Not knowing what else to do, I gathered everything together, loaded it on my horse and rode back to the castle with the riches of the people. I stored everything safely and noted in my plans what my solution would be.
Day after day, for the two weeks prior to being crowned, I worked out my strategy. When, finally, it was the evening before my coronation, I confided in the regent my full plan to revive the nation and secure it against attacks. He was totally pleased with my workout which was very nice to hear as I had never done such a thing before.
Before I knew it, morning arrived and there I was, newly crowned and watching the ex-king shuffle forth in total disgrace during the first few minutes of my reign. I watched until I saw him leave through the gates down at the bottom of the mountain. From that far away, he looked more like an apathetic dot that slowly moved forth.
Without much ado, I was queen of a nation that was in a very precarious situation. I thanked the people that showed up. Then I turned to go into the dilapidated castle that was the hub for my realm.
Even with all the wealth that was stolen from the people, the castle had not been cleaned or repaired in years. It had broken windows, doors hanging off their hinges that squeaked even when not in use and it was just plain dirty. It would take a lot of scrubbing with a heavy duty brush and lots of suds to get the grime off.
The only place that was clean was the room right off the foyer that I had set up to be my base of operations. I had personally scrubbed the floor till the marble shone like a mirror, cleaned the upholstery on the pieces of furniture that were in the room, cleaned the wall hangings and dusted every surface. I could imagine it better, but this would have to do for now. I kept the windows open for the fresh air, which helped to rid the castle of a terrible musty odor.
Immediately, I sat down and took out the law book. This had become a tome of laws that were meant to harm the people of the land rather than help them. A law really should only come into being if there is a problem that happens too many times that harms many people. The law then gets put on the books to prevent that situation from happening.
This law book was evil because my grand uncle had found ways that people were prospering and made it illegal.
I didn’t have much time to turn this country around as he had left it in such a shambles that the other kingdoms on this continent were ready to invade it, eliminate it and take over the land. So, I turned to my new book with the plan I wrote and activated step number one which was, “Call in the guards on the perimeter.”
This was done with a drum and bell system that was on top of the castle. As this kingdom was circular with the mountain in the middle and the castle on the top of the mountain, the drums and bells could easily be heard. I had to learn the code myself so that I could do this chore as the head guardsman had been dismissed long ago.
Up to the parapet I went and started pounding out the code, “return to the castle immediately.” Three times I beat out the code, then I waited several minutes and did it again three times.
I finished that task and returned to my office on the ground floor to find the regent waiting for me. “Are you ready for the next step your highness?” he asked as I strode into the office.
“Yes,” I said as I made my way towards my new book with the plan to rescue the nation. In big scrolling letters, I wrote “DONE” next to step number one. I didn’t dare smile yet though as that law was still on the books, but not for long.
I looked at step number two, shook my head and walked to the table that was laden with packages and scrolls. I stood there as regally as I could muster. I darted a look over to the regent who was stationed at the door and he gave me a nod that said, “You’re doing great.”
With that little boost, I was ready when the first guards came into the castle, saw the regent and headed into my office. I really wasn’t prepared for the stench of the guards. It appeared as if they had the same clothes on for months with hardly a wash.
“Oh well,” I thought “this will change, too.”
As each guard arrived, the regent introduced me. I held my own sword and when the guards came in, each one knelt in front of me. I gently touched each guard on the head and then each shoulder saying a little speech as I did so. “You are now dubbed a knight of the land to serve and protect.”
“Now stand.” I then said to each one.
“The law to guard the borders of the land has been rescinded. Your duty is to protect and serve the people of this land. Today you are to do an extra duty which is to deliver this message,” I made each man memorize the message as I read it aloud over and again, “and this package.”
“Here’s the map for the location where you are to deliver the message and package,” I said as I handed each man a bundle. “Take this and go with speed to the area that you are assigned. Return rapidly. You should be back here before nightfall. When you get to the area you are assigned, call to the people and give the people the message. Any questions?”
I did the same routine over and over for the next three hours. Guards arrived from their guard posts and left within moments to go to their assigned areas to deliver the message and the package.
Finally the last package was placed in the hands of the last guard in the line. As he left the room, I went to my desk, opened my new book with the plan to save the nation and wrote “DONE” for step number two.
I made my way to the kitchen with the regent, chatting amiably while making sandwiches to take back into the office. When we returned, I asked him “Are the barracks ready?”
“Yes, your highness, the barracks are ready and the new captain of the guard is, too.”
“Okay then, all we can do is wait now.”
Time ticked by slowly. The sun reached the zenith and started heading down the sky. The day ticked away from noon to afternoon, to late afternoon and then into evening.
The first trickle that indicated that the plan was working was when the sky was turning red from the setting sun. In walked the first worn out looking guard who gave his report to the regent who then directed him to the barracks where a cook had made soup with dumplings. A bath was waiting for him, too.
The next guard arrived and was also ushered to the quarters. Soon more guards arrived tired and worn out from a day of bringing in a new era for their country. Each one was happy, which was something that was no longer against the law along with the other so-called laws that my grand uncle had imposed on the country.
I stayed in my office watching the guards give their reports to the regent one after the other and then head towards the barracks for food and a bath. The flow of men continued till the night was pitch black. I waited patiently to hear the news from the regent.
Finally no more men were on the horizon. The regent, who should have looked tired but was walking sprightly with a smile on his face came into the office, “Looks like that’s all of them, your majesty. The plan worked well, the laws have been rescinded and the people of the nation are no longer living under a tyranny. Each guard said that the message was well received.”
At last I smiled. He smiled back at me.
Then I went to my new book and wrote a “DONE” for step number three.
The regent went off to his chambers for the night. I dozed off on the couch in my office with a comforter over me and the office door open. I instructed the night duty guard to wake me when the first person arrived. I thought it was great that there was a night duty guard to tell you the truth. There hadn’t been one up until this evening.
The guard not only was on duty but clean and he smiled. I thought I could get used to having a smiling nation, it seemed to be contagious because I smiled right back at him.
My dreams were of happy times.
“My lady, my lady.” A voice called out to interrupt my dreams.
Blinking my eyes, I sat up to look in wonder at who it was that spoke to me. It was another night guard. He stood tall and clean in the doorway of the office. “You’re first visitor has arrived, your highness.” He said while bowing.
I fixed my hair rapidly by smoothing it with my hands, shoved off the blanket and stood, straightening my clothing getting ready to meet the first arrival.
“Please, step this way,” I indicated my office. The woman smiled at me, I smiled back.
I indicated that she should go to the table, which was now laden with fruit and nuts that I had found in my travels of the land. I let her know that we were waiting for more arrivals and that she should make herself at home.
After the lady arrived, more folks trickled in. Men, woman, teenagers and even some children arrived to help me with step number four of the plan. More people arrived than I expected, but the night guard came to my rescue with chairs that he located in other rooms. He even cleaned the dust and cobwebs from the chairs before bringing them into the room to set around the table.
The people were practicing smiling at each other. First it was little smiles, you know the kind – the cautious smile with lips firmly together and the sides of the mouth slightly turned up. Then the smiles got to be bigger ones that turned into grins. After a while, the grins turned into chuckles and then the entire table full of people were laughing whole heartedly.
It was a joy to behold. The hope I had for my nation soared.
Once I was reasonably sure that the people had all arrived, I addressed the group before me. “I am pleased that you answered my call for talented individuals. It is the artists that have the dreams and ideas that can push a nation forward, therefore my call to you. We have a nation that has been under a suppressive rule for nearly fifty years. There is a task before us that is daunting, it may even be impossible, but I sincerely think that we can resuscitate this kingdom and bring it to greater heights if we work together to do it. It must be done rapidly in order to save our nation as the other nations on this continent are rallying to take over our land as we speak. The laws that were destructive to this land have all been cancelled. Food has been located in order to feed our nation. Now, we need your creative genius to guide us into an enhanced, thriving nation. Time is of the essence.”
Murmurs of agreement followed my speech.
“Please introduce yourselves; let us know your talents and we will call it a day. There are plenty of rooms in the castle. You can choose one to call your own as you are permanent advisors to the queen now. Your tasks will include creating together and collaborating to not only make unique art but also how to help our nation.”
The introductions lasted a few moments and the thirty-two people scattered to the four floors of the castle in search of their perfect room. It was great to feel the castle coming to life in a new creative direction.
In the morning, there was certain verve to the previously desolate castle. The artists were exploring the castle and the grounds in groups of threes and fours, conversing good-naturedly. The castle guards were clean and alert. The guards not on duty were exercising and drilling near the barracks behind the palace.
I went outside to the nice terrace that had paving stones and was surrounded by gardens while I watched for the next group of people to arrive. The gardens were unkempt, so, to wile away the time that I was waiting, I started working on the overgrown grass in-between the paving stones while imagining how glorious the terrace would be. I imagined a nice little table with chairs on the terrace, being the perfect place to have an afternoon tea while smelling jasmine and rose blossoms.
Soon my reverie was interrupted by the next crowd of people that started to arrive. Brushing my hands off as best I could, I hurried to the front door of the castle to greet my guests. The visitors were the people that could teach that I had requested in my message. There weren’t many people left that could teach after fifty years of denying knowledge to the citizens of the land.
I only counted fourteen people that had arrived that could read and write out of an entire nation of people. The men and woman looked to be forty-five to sixty-five years old; all looked rather worn and were quite thin. I ushered my group of teachers inside to serve them food and drink.
In my travels around the land before taking the crown, I had found the old school house. It was on a stone paved road that was not far from the castle.
I had spent a full day fixing up the school house. The school books and dictionaries had been in a dungeon at the castle locked up so that no one could gain the knowledge. Whoever had stored the books had taken the time to ensure that there would be no water or bug damage. It took me some time to lug the books up from the dungeon to a farm cart then push it to the school, but it was worth it. The books were treasures!
The school house itself was only four separate rooms with a courtyard in the middle. I spent the time to scrub down the rooms from ceiling to floor, and then did the outside as well. The courtyard was over-grown, but that didn’t stop me from making it look presentable. I trimmed the over-growth down to a presentable height so that the school yard looked charming and inviting.
I showed the teachers their new school house and the little cabins that were only a few hundred feet away where they would be able to make their home. Most especially, I showed the teachers the school bell – it was expected to ring once in the morning for the younger children, once after lunch for the young adults and then once again in the mid-afternoon for the adults. Not one person was left out; everyone was expected to learn their lessons well.
The next day was the first day of school for the kingdom, so I left the teachers to get on with their lesson plans. I returned to the castle in time to see the next contingent of folks to arrive.
The people to arrive were the farmers. This was a hardy bunch of people, although quite thin. This was also the largest group that I had seen so far with several hundred people in it.
As preparations for this group, I had mapped out the land. I knew that I had to find farmland that was not tired and depleted. I also had to find food that could be gathered immediately so that the nation did not continue to go hungry.
In my travels, I had been pleased to find that there had been wild rice growing along the banks of the river, fruit and berries in the forests and huge areas with alfalfa growing. The alfalfa was quite a find as it was the perennial variety, so I knew the root systems went down about sixty-five feet and it would supply nutrients, vitamins and protein for my people so that they would be healthy. It would be good to eat as salad greens and for tea; the leaves could be cut while the plants continued to produce which would provide food every season.
I had also found several farms that had been abandoned, probably because the land was incapable of producing any more crops but since abandonment, there had been some crops that started growing wild. I mapped out each area where there was food and land to be worked. With this assembly of people, I shared my maps.
It was this assemblage that I gave the farms to and to place in charge of feeding the people of the nation. There was a central meeting place that had been used in the past for entertainment and parties when the kingdom had once been wealthy which I set up to be the central area for the people to prepare and serve food.
Until there was an abundance of food once again, what food there was needed to be shared. I left it up to this group of farmers to be in charge of growing, harvesting, preparing and serving the food. The logistics would have to be worked out by this group of people, but that started right away. People volunteered to be harvesters, while others volunteered to till and plant. Food preparation and serving was divvied up amongst some others. A few others decided to gather up resources such as cooking and serving items.
I left the farmers to their tasks and once again returned to the castle to greet the mechanics of the land. The six men had arrived before I did. They had been ushered into the castle and given food to eat. I found them pleasantly talking when I arrived back from the central meeting place.
It was with these few men that I needed to entrust major mechanical constructions. We needed power, a draw bridge, a water system, roadways and more to bring our kingdom up to date. I gave the men my ideas and set them to work out the mechanics to make the contraptions work and plan the systems.
What remained was the majority of the population to meet at dinner-time. The artist counsel, the regent and a few of the guards accompanied me to the central meeting place that evening. There we were greeted by a gaunt people who had smiling faces. We smiled back, happy to see the survivors of the reign of terror. These were the people that were going to be bringing in a new age for our land. I wanted to hug every one of them for being the incredible people that they were to make it through to this new age.
Instead, I remained business-like. I spoke to the people that had not been a part of the different groups. I found people that wanted to be shop keepers and seamstresses; people that wanted to be metal workers and leather craftsmen; people that wanted to help other teams and people that wanted to be entertainers and inn keepers and more.
For this trip, in several carts, I took all the worldly goods that had been stolen and taxed away from the people. The carts had been covered and placed over to the side of the central meeting place to wait until I had greeted each person. Then I uncovered the carts and asked the people to take their possessions back.
I had expected a rush of people to the carts, but it was a very orderly procession where people went to look and to take items. There were no arguments, no arm-loads of goods, just an item or two per individual until there was only a little bit of gems and coins at the very bottom of the carts.
Before I could ask who the items belonged to, an elderly gentleman spoke up. He said that before the reign of the king that was overthrown, that people did give a small tithe to the royal palace in order to keep the land safe and governed well. Murmurs of agreement could be heard in the crowd. The man continued by saying that the people agreed with my government system even though it had only been two days, the changes made had been pro-survival; therefore the remaining items should go to the royal palace.
“Here! Here!’ shot up from the crowd. When the crowd exploded into applause, I got tears in my eyes. I had been so busy working out and executing my plan during the last two days that I never thought once about myself as a queen of this land. All I had wanted was a land that was freed from cruelty.
I never entered any laws to tax the people in my plan. In the years that followed, I in no way had to worry about being cared for because food was delivered to the castle, clothing was made for me. The people were industriously creating a better nation. The castle was cleaned automatically and the land was cultivated. The people were eagerly educated, the artist counsel envisioned a grand future and we worked together as a people to attain it and, even surpass the targets that we set.
Peace reigned in the prosperous kingdom.
aka Leigh Ann Edrich
© 2021. All Rights Reserved.