There is a place, in another universe, and within another reality, which is both as near to us as a thought and as far from us as the beginning of time. In this place you will find a kingdom, filled with beautiful castles, enchanting forests and verdant meadows. Its subjects are happy and love their king, who is the strongest and most handsome of all the inhabitants of the land. While still a prince, he learned from the wise teachers how to harness the planet's natural forces of magic. Realising he had the power to create a perfect kingdom, he set about making his plans. Though there would be a price to pay for taking what he should not, in his pride and arrogance he ignored the warnings of the wise teachers, and gathered up the planet's magical energy, diverting it away from its true purpose to use in remaking the kingdom into a place of perfection for himself and his subjects.
Years passed, idly, as men and women spent their time in the pursuit of leisure, at picnics, pageants, jousts, and masquerade balls; and those of the country, at fairs, in sports, and the passing of idyllic days surrounded by lush fields. The king issued just one command to his subjects - beauty must be first in all things. Not a sentence should be uttered unless it is poetic, not a building should be built unless it is harmonious to the eye. Nothing ordinary or mundane must ever be seen or heard. Grateful for being freed from the ugly chains of travail and toil, all strove for perfection to please their beloved king.
One day the king woke from sleep, restless. He realises he has tired of the delights of his palace. Deciding to admire his handiwork, he rides out alone. He is pleased with the perfect weather, and the pleasant sights meeting his eyes. But despite his many reasons for contentment, he finds himself wishing for a queen who could be his equal, who would admire and enjoy his kingdom with him. Despite his efforts to find a queen, not one woman had yet been able to capture his heart. Bleak feelings haunt him and he begins to wonder if he has no choice but to conjure a woman to be his lifelong companion.
While he is wandering through the meadows and shady forest trails lost in his thoughts he happens upon a sheltered glade where a small waterfall tumbles into crystal clear pool. He does not recognise the place. Unease surrounds him, for he senses powerful magic lies upon the glade. He utters a spell to place a shield around him and his horse, but the words tumble, useless, from his lips. He spurs his mount to a gallop, but no matter how hard his horse runs, he never reaches the edge of the glade. As his horse stumbles with exhaustion, he turns to look back at the waterfall, dismayed to find he has ridden no further away from it than when he began.
A stirring comes from the pool's clear waters, and three figures step out from the surface of the water, their bodies dry. They are the most breathtaking beings the king has ever seen. Flanked by two men far superior in perfection than he, is a woman, her beauty beyond comprehension. She gestures to the men at her sides and they stand a little apart. Even her movements are flawless. For some moments, the woman stands before the king, gazing at him, as though she is seeing someone she has seen once before, long ago. Her men stand as still as statues, their gold and silver chased jeweled torques, arm, and wrist bands glittering in the reflection of the pure waters.
The woman calls to the king. Her voice is melodious and sweet. Her eyes deep and expressive, and her features beyond the restriction of mere words. She is magnificent. She is more than a queen, she is an Empress of the Heavens, a fallen star. The king is shaking with hope for her. He wishes to his core for her to be his queen. Now he has met her, he knows he can love no other. He is willing to do anything to have her as his own. Never before has he been second to anyone, but even in his humiliation he is aroused by the challenge laid before him. He is less than her in every way, but he believes he is deserving of her. He believes she has come to him, for was he not wishing for one such as her when he found this sacred glade?
She smiles a little, as though she can hear his thoughts. With gentle movements she approaches the king's exhausted horse and places her hand upon its hanging head. Her eyes light up for a moment as she connects with the horse, and soon it is refreshed, dancing and snorting in its excitement to ride out. The king marvels at her ability, for he has never been able to cure illness or injury, merely conceal it. He dismounts and finds his voice, begging her to accompany him to his palace where she might share her knowledge with him.
With a gentle inclination of her head, she accedes to accompany him to his palace, but just for one day and one night. He is triumphant. To bring her before his subjects, to stand beside her as king of his realm, fills him with hunger. Never will his subjects doubt his power when they see he has brought back beings such as these. His determination to make her his queen is paramount, he can think of nothing else. He steals a glance at her as he lifts her up onto his horse, who whinnies with delight at her presence. The king's heart skips a beat when her eyes meet his, as deep as the waters of the magical pool. He is completely lost to her.
He leads the horse back to the palace, proud of the perfection of his kingdom, knowing this heavenly creature cannot help but love his home and wish to stay. Behind him her honor guard follow in silence, powerful energy emanating from them, their eyes neither approving or disapproving. The king chooses to ignore them; they are her slaves, with no purpose but to obey the wave of her hand. She has chosen him and has come to him. He is confident in his prowess and beauty. He smiles as he plans her seduction. He will use the greatest of his powers to pull her to him. He will not lose her. He has never failed before, and he will not fail now.
The king enters his palace and orders the grandest celebration the kingdom has ever known, with acrobats, contortionists, dancers and magicians to delight all and sundry. At the banquet tables, a feast is laid out and the best wines pour from the fountains. Birds of every colour fly among the revelers, their songs competing with the musicians over the guests' excited chatter and speculation. All eyes stray to the king's table, where he presides in his glorious finery, his arms, head and throat adorned with gold and jewels; a white silk kilt wrapped around his hips, his muscular chest bare. His whole attention is focused on the glorious apparition seated beside him. She smiles, eats, drinks, and nods with approval at the tricks of the conjuring artists. Her guards stand to each side of her behind her seat, to the right of the king, silent and detached, more glorious in appearance than even the king. His subjects see the king is ignoring them, and apart from the younger and more impressionable guests, so do the rest.
At midnight, a display of magnificent fireworks set to music conjured by the king's magic is seen across the skies. It is a testament of his love for her, sweeping and powerful, the passion of the king played out in the starry heavens above. His subjects tremble at this display of love; all are moved to tears. The music swells and they feel as if their souls are being pulled into a dance with him, where he commands the steps and decides the fate of his partner. At the end, there is not one female who does not desire the king, but the Lady of the Heavens only smiles and turns away with her men to proceed to her lodgings for the night. Hiding his dismay, the king sweeps her a gallant bow, and as she passes them by, his subjects fall to their knees, worshiping her.
The palace is quiet, but the king cannot sleep. He strides the length of his chamber, unable to understand his guest's detachment. He cannot accept she has no feelings for him. Into the early hours he drinks and strides, his thoughts consuming him. Finally, against all protocol, he leaves his rooms for hers. Outside her door her men stand, silent and watchful as ever. He demands to see their mistress. Without a word, one opens the door.
She is standing at the end of her bed, still in the garments in which she arrived, facing him, her eyes sad. He sees the bed is untouched, and the nightdress laid out for her has not been moved from its resting place. She is waiting for him. Ah, he thinks with satisfaction, so this is the game she plays!
Come with me, she says to him, holding out her hand to him. I wish to show you truth.
He crosses the room and reaches out his hand to her, understanding she is no ordinary woman for whom a typical seduction is possible. The moment his hand touches hers, they are back in the glade, before the pool and its waterfall, now shining white in the light of the twin moons. She turns to walk into the water from whence she came, continuing to hold his hand.
Do not be afraid, she smiles as he resists her pull. You have shown me your home, now you shall visit mine.
The king's confidence surges anew. He steps into the water - which does not touch him - onto a crystal staircase. Together they descend into the pure waters until they disappear into the reflection of the moon.
The king falls to his knees, his stomach turning from the transference, bile in his throat. Unable to keep down his dinner, he retches into a bizarre receptacle held out for him by beings he is unable to describe. He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth, humiliated more than he could ever know, wishing to return to his kingdom and forget this experience. To forget her. He steals a look at her, and realises she is no longer a woman, but something else, become brilliance, pure light. Fear courses through him and bile rises once more. When he is finished, he rises, his legs unsteady, and bows to her, to whatever it is she has become and asks to leave her domain at once.
60.11.10.00, she says, in a voice of crystal. You must remember this, even if all else is lost to you. He stares at her, at this tall being of light emanating peace and harmony whose words makes no sense.
'This message means nothing to me, it is nonsense,' he says, the futility of his presence in this superior place spurring him into rage. He tries to cast a spell of destructive fire, but his words are absorbed. He is silenced.
The being bears down on him and he must tilt his head back to look up into its enormous golden eyes. We have watched the evolution of your planet for many aeons now, and we see what you have done to it. Right now, you have a chance to change your ways before it is too late. If you do, you may become, one day, as sentient and knowing as we are. I said I would show you my home, and I shall. Transforming back into the beautiful woman he loved, she lifts her hand towards him. If it helps you to see me this way we may continue so, but this is not what I truly am. It is an illusion for you so you may focus on what it is you must learn.
'I loved you,' the king whispers, the sight of her once more moving his heart.
You loved an illusion, she answers. You are a king, and you must be a king now, in both your heart and mind. You must understand what I am about to show you.
She turns away and places her fingers against a clear panel. An opening appears. The king peers through the opening, realising he has not yet arrived at her home, but has been at an in-between place, a hub between worlds. Together they step into the portal and out into a world of unspeakable beauty. Crystal cities rise up in the distance and many colorful life forms travel along paths lined with singing flowers. All of the beings are silent, yet nodding and acknowledging each other, communicating without words. In the background, the sounds of a conscious, sentient land hums and vibrates in perfect harmony. Behind them, the portal rotates and closes, the portal platform itself a wondrous, sentient thing. He watches as another approaches, as it translates their lifecode into music. The king is so delighted by this wonder he returns to stand before the portal which triggers the staggering symphony of his existence. It is the most beautiful thing he has ever heard, the sound of his very being. He weeps tears of joy.
The Lady of the Heavens smiles and gestures for him to join her on the path. Together they traverse a world of perfection. For one day of her time he travels with her in her world, experiencing a new way of living - a way of harmony and peace, of wonder and silence, of beauty and emotions. He explores the crystal cities and listens to the knowledge the walls have to share, his mind crushed under the weight of his learning. He is a boy filled with wonder, he is an old man filled with wisdom, he is at once ancient and young. At the end of her day, he is ready to return home to teach his people how to find knowledge such as this.
She leads him back to the pool in his kingdom and asks him if he remembers the numbers she gave him. He recites them back to her and she is satisfied.
You will not see me again, she tells him, sadness in her eyes. This event was manifested to give your race a chance to evolve from what it is to what it might be. Otherwise all this will come to nothing. There are but two paths, one of sentience and knowledge, and one of destruction. Your kingdom is at a crossroads. Now is the time of choosing. Remember the numbers. Decipher them. They represent the beginning of the end...or the beginning of the beginning.
Stepping back into the waters, the Lady of the Heavens begins her descent down the staircase; pausing halfway she turns back to him. The king steps towards her, filled with hope, his hand held out to hers to draw her back to him. She smiles and shakes her head. You have many challenges before you, if I could, I would stay with you and guide you, but it is not the way. You must find the way yourself, as we have done before you, alone and in darkness. Remember what you have learned in our cities. And be ready... for the point of no return is almost upon you...
And in a flash she, the glade, and the pool vanished, as though they had never been.
Wasting no time, the king returns to his palace and summons all the wise men, advisers, and seers to his council. He tells them the numbers but despite days spent in study none can explain the meaning of them. Desperate, the king begins to practice darker and darker magic to find understanding, but the further he travels into darkness, the more he distances himself from all he learned. Soon he begins to believe he imagined the Lady of the Heavens, her guards, and her marvelous planet. He decides to forget about her, and abandons his quest. Soon after, his path crosses with a beautiful maiden, perfect in heart and mind, who captures his heart. He marries her, and crowns her his queen.
He is no longer alone. He is content and happy. He needs nothing more than this and his magic to keep his kingdom fertile and beautiful.
Then, one day, years after the visit from the Lady of the Heavens, the king awakens beside his beautiful queen his bed no longer clad in silk but rough sacking which smells of mold and rot. He jumps out of the bed, brushing crawling bugs from his skin with shudders of revulsion. Through the open doors of his crumbling balcony, the screams of his people. He runs to the balcony and surveys what his kingdom has become, horror filling him. Everywhere death, decay, destruction. Men and women run mad in the rotting streets, trying to escape the encroaching filth, and their own demises. His queen, wakened by the tumult, joins him. She weeps as the clean meadows and sweet smelling forests transform to foul, fetid swamps.
He holds her close against his strong body, blocking her from the horror spreading away from them as far as he can see. As her breathing quiets, the king remembers the Lady he once knew, the one he chose to forget, whose message he had ignored.
Remember the numbers. Decipher them. They represent the beginning of the end…or the beginning of the beginning.
Tightening his hold on his queen he realizes the depth of his failure. In his vanity and pride, he used up all the magic the planet contained, leaving only the magic left within his own creations, which it now consumed to try and maintain his utopia. He had destroyed their world and left his people with nothing, just for the momentary pleasures the magic he stole could give…
At last, he understands the meaning of the code. It was a time stamp. 60 moons, 11 suns, 10 circas and zero circuits. Tears gather, blurring his vision, as he understands the magic is dying in him too, and his body is aging. In his arms, his queen is wasting away. Together they collapse, dying in each other’s embrace, their brief lives wasted, purposeless. Meaningless.
In a sacred glade, a pool of water appears. A beautiful woman flanked by two perfect men emerge from it, their gold and jewels glittering in the reflection of the pure waters.
Together they walk across the ravaged land until they reach the ruined palace. Up and up they go, past the rotting bodies of animals and the twisted, shrivelled remains of its citizens. Finally, they enter the king’s apartments, and find the lifeless husks of the king and his queen, still locked in their dying embrace.
With great sadness, the Lady of the Heavens looks down upon the pair. A single tear escaps and falls to the cracked floor. Looking out at the silent wasteland below her, she grieves, her heart aching. She departs and returns to the glade, and with one last, sorrowful look, she leaves the king's desolate, exhausted world behind.
And on that forgotten, wasted planet where her tear fell on its decaying ground, green shoots turn their faces towards a weakened sun…and life seeks to begin again.
Originally published on Breaking Every Paradigm Jan 8 2013