“I envy you Winston.” king Granville said.
“Me sire. Why, I’m just a simple gardener.” The elderly man said as he and the monarch walked the cobblestone path between the rose and lily beds. The gardener held a pair of clippers in one hand and a galvanized bucket in the other. He had been dead-heading the roses when the king exited the palace.
Two bodyguards stood at the edge of the garden. Alert for any threat to the sovereign, their hands never far from their weapons.
Stopping, the king turned to the old man and lay a friendly hand on his shoulder. “To night you will go home to a loving wife. Your son the blacksmith will bring his children over from the next village for you to play with. How old are they now?”
“5 and 6 sire. “The gardener said, his face lightening at the thought of his grandchildren. Both boys. He loved to bounce them on his knee.
“You and your lovely wife, how long since you wed? “The King said, taking the gardener by the arm he led him to a stone bench. Together, he and his servant set down. The King folded his hands in his lap. The elderly man shifted in his seat. This was not to be. A common servant seated on the same bench with his master.
“40 years, my lord.” The man said nervously. “And it seems as if it was yesterday, I ask her to marry me.”
“And you’re still in love with her?”
“Ah yes, she is the joy of my life.” The gardener said, tears misting his eyes.
“Wonderful.” The King said simply.
“Thank you, sire.” The gardener said.
“I sought you out because of your reputation. “The king said, lifting his eyes as he stared at his gardener.
“My reputation, sire?” The elderly man said, setting the bucket and clippers on the ground at his feet. The bodyguards watched the old man’s movements.
The King smiled. “Yes, my friend, it is said you are one who speaks the truth. I have many advisers who tell me what they think I want to hear. However, what I really seek is the truth.”
“I have always found telling the truth to be best.” Winston said. “My father taught me if you lie, you have to cover it with another lie, so tell the truth even when it hurts.”
“A good policy.” The King’s face became grave. “I have a problem. As you know, the princess from our neighboring country is due to arrive this afternoon. I see you have been preparing for her visit.”
Winston nodded. For the last month, he and several boys from the village were dressing the garden for the royal wedding. “Yes, sire, the gardens are at their peak at this time of the summer.”
“At the end of the week, we are to marry, thus uniting our two countries.” The King said.
“Congratulations my lord. Marriage is a wonderful thing.” Winston said, smiling, thinking of the day many years ago when he and his wife stood before the local pastor to recite their vows.
“Therein lays the problem.” The king continued; his expression unchanged. “She is a very beautiful woman, warm and kind. However, I don’t love her.”
Winston’s breath caught in his throat. For many years, he had cared for the gardens around the palace. He had watched the prince grow from a child to manhood. Upon the death of his father, the young man had taken over leadership of the country. His kindness made the people love him.
“I am being encouraged by my advisers to marry her. And that love is a byproduct of marriage, and love will come.” The king said with a sad expression. “Our marriage will be a great advantage to both our countries.”
“Love is the glue that holds a marriage together, sire.” The gardener said cautiously, his gnarled hands folded in his lap. The king had the power to end his life if he chose.
“What do you think?” The king asks. “Should I marry someone I do not love?”
Sweat popped out on the gardener’s forehead. His hands became clammy. What should he say? What he said next could change not only his life but also the lives of his wife and his son’s family. He could lose his position as the royal gardener. If this happened, he and his wife would lose their home. They would have no choice but to move in with their son and his family. Their son’s home comfortable for his family would be cramped with him and his wife. But as a Christian, he had to tell the truth regardless of the consequents.
“Marriage is a wonderful endeavor, my lord. Love is more than a feeling.” Winston said, his voice held a slight tremor. Be it as it may, he would not lie for the favor of the king. “You and your wife will face many trials, including times of sorrow. Love and commitment will see you through and cement your lives together. If you do not love her now, how will you love her later? I’m sorry but I must disagree with your advisers.”
Agitated, the king stood. The bodyguards moved up; their swords drawn. The king waved them back. Their eyes on the gardener, they shafted their swords.
“What you said makes me happy and sad.” The king said, setting back down. He laid a hand on the elderly man’s arm. “Happy that you told me the truth. Sad that I must inform the princess that I cannot marry her.”
“I’m sorry sire, I only spoke the truth.” The gardener said, standing to his feet.
“And that is the reason I sought you out.” The king said, smiling. “I will leave you to your work.”
The king returned to the palace and Winston to his work.
As he dug in the ground for young flowers, Winston prayed. “Lord, you know the king needs wisdom to guide this country. But at home he’s just a man. Help him make the right chose for his home.”
As she rode along in the royal carriage, princess Alize thought of how to break the news to the king.
She respected him as a godly man. A leader of his country. However, she tried, she couldn’t find love in her heart for him.
As she rode along, she prayed. “Lord, help me find the courage to stop this marriage.” Soon they were coming into the courtyard of the palace. The servants kneeled in a row up to the palace door. At the door stood the handsome king. Exiting the carriage on the arm of her bodyguard, she bowed before the king.
After a magnificent meal, the king dismissed the servants.
Clearing his throat, the king said,” I’m sorry, but I cannot marry you.”
The princess stared at him, her mouth hanging open. “Please don’t get me wrong. You are very beautiful. You’re the kind of person I would choose to be my wife.”
She turned away and grasps the edge of the table. “I’m so sorry to hurt you lik…” Her body was shaking. At first, he thought she was weeping. Then she turned to face him. He realized she was laughing. The smile on her face confused him.
“It is me that is sorry, your highness. The love I have for you is not the marrying kind.” She said, taking his hand. “I love you like a brother, but not a husband.” After half an hour, the servants gathered again as the princess left for her own country.
That night at sunset, the king walked on the roof of his castle. Looking over the village, he watched wives greet their husbands at the doors of their homes. Children gathered in the arms of their mothers. He said to himself. “I am the king. I with the help of God, rule over this country. Most men envy my position of leadership. Yet I am, of all men, the loneliest one in the kingdom.”
That night, Winston went home to be greeted by his grandchildren. Their faces lit up when they saw their grandfather. After the evening meal, he set them on his lap and told them the story of David and Goliath. Later, as they lay in bed, he told his wife of his communication with the king. She hugged and kissed him.
“My adviser to the king. I’m so proud of you. I love you.” She said.
“Please don’t tell anyone.” He said. “I love you. You are my life.”
“Oh, I won’t. It’s just enough to know the king confides in you.” She said. That night Winston slept in his wife’s arms. The king spent a lonely night tossing and turning.
For the next few days, he moped around. Everything seemed dull and uninteresting. He took care of state matters and not, as before, found joy in them.
One afternoon, he set on one bench in the garden and watched Winston work. Unaware of the king’s presence, the elderly man was singing as he cleaned the garden pool. At the end of the song, Winston, still not aware the king was watching him, prayed.
“Lord, our king is so sad. He’s all alone in the world…except for You of course. I pray you will bring a young lady into his life. One who will not just be his wife, but his friend. Amen.” He started singing again. The king slipped away.
From that day forward, the king was determined to be happy no matter what. His will was tested many times.
One morning he was out riding when he saw smoke. A hut by the trail was on fire. flames were licking through the back door. Galloping up to the front of the cottage, he jumped off his horse. Quickly pulling a bandana from his pocket, he kicked in the front door. Smoke billowed out, making it impossible to see. Feeling along the wall, he almost fell over a body. He grasps the person under the arms and drug it out into the fresh air. The girl had a gash on her head. At that minute, a neighbor came running up.
Thrusting the rains of his speed into the man’s hands, the king shouted. “Here, take my horse. Ride quickly for the doctor.”
“Her mother’s still in there.” The man said, mounting the horse. The smoke was clearing out, but now the fire had eaten through the wall to the kitchen. The king looked at the hut. Soon it would be gone. The mother of the girl might already be dead. The man, now seated on the king’s horse, looked at his sovereign.
“Go.” the king shouted, slapping the horse on its flank. The horse took off at a gallop, with the neighbor hanging on for dear life.
Turning, the king plunged back into the burning house. A figure appeared out of the smoke. The mother with her hands burnt, stood in the kitchen. She looked at him stupidly. “I tried to put it out. I think I hurt my hands. “She held her hands up and stared at them. Taking her by the arm, Granville guided her outside. Choking from the smoke, he fell to his knees, coughing.
The girl awakened and raised herself up on her elbows. She tried to get up. The king suet covering his face and clothes pushed her back down.
“Easy now, the doctor will be here soon.”
“Momma oh momma.” She fell back into unconsciousness.
Setting the older woman on a rock, Granville drew water from the well. Pouring some on the woman’s hands, he then bathed the girl’s head with a towel he found on the clothesline.
By this time, neighbors had gathered. And the doctor arrived. Taking back his horse, king Granville instructed the doctor to have the girl and her mother transported to the palace.
Riding up to the stables, he left the horse in the care of the stable boy. “Brush him down, give him water in small portions.” He then walked quickly to the castle.
To his butler, he said. “Charles two ladies will be arriving soon, transported by the doctor. Please see they have a suitable room. The one next to my bedroom will do. And quickly I must bathe and dress.”
30 minutes later, he emerged from his bedroom clothed in his finest attire.
“Are they here?” He asks his Charles.
“Yes sire, the young one seemed to be somewhat agitated. The elderly one is asleep. By the way your majesty the young one said her name is Grace and her mother’s name is Catherine.”
“Thank you Charles.” He knocked on the bedroom door. He heard some rustling. He knocked again. The door opened a crack. Grace peeked out. She screamed and slammed the door. The king knocked again. He heard rustling again.
“You might as well open the door or I will stand out here and knock all day.” He said smiling.
The door slowly opened. Grace fell to her knees. “Yo…your highness. I’m so so…sorry I don’t know why they brought us here. Please forgive us. We will leave as soon as my mother wakes up.” Grace said, looking at the floor.
He reached down and lifted her to her feet. He put a finger under her chin and looked into eyes as green as the leaves blowing in the wind, her complexion flawless.
The king gasped, his breath caught in his throat. The cut on her head was just a small place. The girl 18 or 19 was lovely or would be if she were cleaned up. She smiled. It was like the rising of the sun.
“I ask you to be brought here.” Granville said.
“Bu…but this is the palace, my lord?”
“Yes, and I say who stays here.” The king said.
“I’m not worthy.” She reddened, fingering her soiled dress. “My dress is filthy.”
“I have asked the royal dress maker to outfit you and your mother.” He said. A woman hurried up to his majesty. Turning to her, Granville said. “She and the maids will make you presentable.”
In the kitchen, Granville called the master chef. “Please go all out.”
“How many to dine sire?” The chef ask.
“Only three, my friend.” The king said, smiling. “Only three.”
Singing, Granville went to see about his horse.
In the bedchamber, the dress maker and her assistant measured Grace and her mother, being careful of her bandaged hands. The maids hurriedly filled two tubs with warm water and helped bath them. Washing Grace’s hair, they worked around the cut. Later in the afternoon, the dress maker returned with two dresses.
At six, with the royal banquet laid out, Granville waited at the head of the table. His breath caught in his throat. Standing on the stairs, Grace smiled nervously at him. Her golden hair shone in the lamplight. Her green eyes sparkled. Clothed in a gown of blue and white. To king Granville, she was stunning. Her right hand was on her mother’s arm. She cautiously helped Catherine down the stairs.
Before the butler could move, the king stepped to the bottom of the stairs and held out his hand. As she came within reach, he grasp Grace’s mother by her other arm. Together, they escorted her to the table. Charles helped her to be seated. Grace and Catherine’s eyes widened at the fair on the table.
The king seated Grace to his right and her mother to his left. The girl cleared her throat. “Sire this is not to be. I am but a commoner.”
“We are all commoners in the sight of The Lord.” He said smiling.
They bowed as Granville said grace. Together they helped her mother eat. Between bites, he learned of the death of Grace’s father and Catherine’s husband last year.
“I still miss him. He was the love of my life” Catherine said.
“I learned from a very wise man marriage is a great friendship.” Granville said.
“A very wise man indeed.” Catherine said smiling.
As the evening progressed, Grace and her mother loosened up and conversed freely with the king on many matters.
At the end of the meal, Granville asked Grace to accompany him to the gardens. As they walked, the garden paths, she seemed taken by the beauty of the flowers. He picked a blue rose for her, the thorns pricking his finger. Before handing it to her, he removed the thorns. Grace held it to her nose, taking in the sweet sent.
At the pool, they set and watched the fish play. Grace laughed, the sound like the tinkling of a bell. Grace smiled at him, her face bright; her eyes twinkled in the lamplight. He felt as if he had known her all of his life.
“Your very beautiful, my dear.” He said.
“Please don’t say that, your majesty.” She said, her cheeks reddening. “I’m just a serving girl.”
“Then marry me and you will be queen.” He blurted out. Now it was his turn to be embarrassed. “I’m sorry you don’t even know me.”
“Actually I do.” Grace said, smiling. He looked at her questionably.
“My aunt was your nanny. Many times, she told you of the people of the village. You ask of the children if they were well fed. One day you ask your father if your nanny could bring a group of us to play. He consented. I was one of those children.
His eyes widened. “You were the little girl behind the chest. “She nodded smiling. “We looked everywhere for you.”
“I remember you taking me by the hand and leading me out. I never forgot your kindness.” Grace said.
“I ask your aunt, my nanny, to bring you back. We played hide and seek.” Granville laughed.” You found places to hide I never knew existed. I called you my little friend.”
Their walk continued until they ended at her bedroom door. He wanted to kiss her but didn’t dare. Instead, he held her hand.
“I feel as if I have known you all my life.” Granville said his face beaming.
“And I you, my lord.” She said, smiling.
6 weeks later Winston and his wife hurried to the castle. They had just finished lunch when there was a knock. The town crier stood at their door. “The king wishes to see you and your wife immediately.” He said breathlessly.
Seldom had the gardener entered the castle. Today, Charles ushered him and his wife into the presence of king Granville. Grace sit at the king’s side. Winston and his wife bowed reverently.
“Arise my friend. “The king said, smiling. “This, my dear, is the man that advised me not to wed the princess.”
” Thank you Winston. You unknowingly did me a great service.” Grace said smiling.
”I did?” Winston said, looking at her curiously.
“Winston, because of your advice, I’m now free to marry my true love.” The king said, laying his hand on the gardener’s shoulder. “In two weeks from now, Grace and I will be married.”
“Congratulations, my lord.” Winston said, smiling.
“And you and your dear wife will be my honored guests.”
And so it was that the gardener and his wife stood by king Granville and queen Grace’s side as he repeated the vows that would last a lifetime.
Three years later
King Granville carried his son to the fishpond. Winton, feeding the fish, watched as the two-year-old child threw pellets to the kio.
“Once again, I make the offer to you, my friend, to become my chief adviser.” The king said. Setting down on the bench, he set the child between him and the elderly gardener. The boy climbed onto Winston’s lap and peered up into his face. He lifted a finger and traced the wrinkles.
Winston smiled. “I am where I belong, your Majesty.”
At that minute, the smiling queen joined them. The boy climbed from Winton’s lap to his mother. They set on the bench, each contented in their role in the kingdom. The king, his queen, the prince and the gardener.