There was once a fortunate king called Geoffrey. His lands were green and bountiful; his people hard-working and happy. Yet somberly he would sit atop his throne and gaze for hours out the great window of his keep. His bride, a princess from a neighboring land, became concerned by her betrothed and his long, quiet hours in the tower.
“My love,” she said sweetly, “are you not happy?”
“No,” he replied gravely, “I am not happy, my love.”
Out of genuine kindness, she consulted a minstrel and brought him before the king. The minstrel’s joy rattled along the strings of his lute and echoed fiercely through the halls and hearts of the kingdom. With a flourish and a bow, the minstrel knelt before King Geoffrey.
“My king,” he asked earnestly, “are you not pleased?”
“No,” rang the ragged reply, “I am not yet pleased.”
The princess dismissed the minstrel with her heartfelt thanks and brought then a wise man before the king.
“My king,” offered the wise man, “your kingdom is a garden ripe with blossoms of every variety, the greatest flower being your loving bride who wishes naught but your happiness. Are you not content?”
“No,” sighed the king, “I am not content.”
This discouraged the princess. She dismissed the wise man and succumbed to worry. The king, though his days were spent tending an unseen fire, was not blind. He knew at once his unhappiness could not stay in the kingdom.
That very night, after kissing his bride on the forehead and bidding her sleep soundly, King Geoffrey stole away from the high, high walls of his kingdom and into the darkened countryside.
He strode alone until happening across a road at dawn the following day. There, he was at once surrounded by bandits.
The tallest bandit pointed his sword at the king.
“Rich man,” he shouted jovially, “I demand all you have.”
“My friend,” the king replied, “I have only the clothes you see and the heaviness of my heart.”
The bandit regarded the king carefully. “Then I shall have both,” he smirked.
In exchange for his clothes, the bandit gave the king a torn pair of breeches.
“Be no longer troubled,” the bandit offered in parting, “for now no man can take anything from you.”
And thus the king wandered through the wilderness; the sun and moon his only friends. The more he walked, the more his thoughts turned from his own unhappiness and toward days long since dawned and passed.
In the morning, the light on the wildflowers reminded him of the smile that could only belong to his bride. In the evening, as he dozed in a bed of leaves, he remembered fondly how nightly she would warm her frozen feet on his.
Many such days did pass until one came when the king stooped before a pool to drink of its waters. He was surprised to find the reflection was not his own. Whiskers had overgrown the face of this man wavering on the surface before him.
The king wondered, as he touched the glittering stones of the pool, if he would ever again feel the smooth skin of his love. He wondered if he could bear to again see her lips and not know their taste. The king wondered then, terribly, if he was a king at all. For what king spends his days dreaming of a kingdom without claiming it for his own?
With haste and difficulty, Geoffrey made his way back home.
He stopped a woodsman on the road outside the keep.
“Woodsman,” Geoffrey implored, “where are the castle walls?”
“Stranger,” he roughly replied, “ours is a friendly kingdom with no enemies and no need of walls.”
Geoffrey smiled unexpectedly. The castle seemed somehow more like home without the walls he spent years fortifying.
“Woodsman,” Geoffrey requested, “would you do for me a great favor? Go forth to the keep and instruct the princess her king has returned and wants nothing more than to fill her heart with happiness.”
The woodsman leaned grimly upon the handle of his ax. “Stranger,” he consoled, “these lands have not a king and no princess of whom you speak.”
Geoffrey had been struck dumb. The woodsman felt his sudden sorrow.
“My lord,” he offered, “you should know the princess left here long ago on the arm of a minstrel. The wise man said her heart was full of happiness for it contained not only her own and so, finally, her own.”
“My lord,” the woodsman begged, “why now do you weep? Your bride is happy and you are free to find peace and contentment.”
Geoffrey wiped his eyes dry. “Woodsman,” he said calmly, “I am not your lord and my tears are not entirely of sadness.”
“How then,” the woodsman asked, “might I bring you happiness on this bittersweet day?”
“My friend,” Geoffrey said, “my pleasure must be my own.”
The woodsman smiled and again took up his ax.
Geoffrey then retraced his path a short way upon the road and struck sharply into the wilderness; each step his own and for its own sake, but never without the hope of hearing his bride’s behind him.