Once upon a time, there was a king who lived in a castle in the mountains. The king loved his castle more than anything else in the world, and all the people who lived there took pride in it as well. Not only did it provide protection against enemies and a sense of shared identity for those within its walls, it was quite possibly the most majestic castle ever constructed. On a clear day, the sight of the castle’s sparkling, sun-dazzled walls and its boldly colored turrets was wonderful to behold, and the sound of its many pennants snapping joyfully in the brisk wind was prone to making people’s hearts beat faster. The king loved his castle for all of these reasons, but more still because its splendor was such a far cry from the squalor of the mountain village he had inherited. The king and his people had been an unimportant and crude tribe not so long ago, but through his rule and because of his wisdom, a beautiful castle with bustling markets and many artisans was his people’s legacy.
One autumn, there was a terrific earthquake that shook the roots of the mountains of the king. The foundations of his castle were strong, and sunk deep into the earth, but that only put them closer to the impossible forces that were rising from deep underground. The inhabitants of the castle stayed in their homes, frightened, until very gradually the stones of the castle’s wall, and the high graceful arches that spanned tower to tower, began to crack and fall. Then, chaos and panic drove everyone out of the town with whatever they could carry, and higher into the mountains where nothing could fall on them.
Though his people had fled, the king stayed in the great hall of the keep, sitting in shock on his throne. He could not bear to think about the destruction that was happening around him, to his beautiful castle. In his mind, he resolved himself to stay where he was until some falling stone crushed him and ended the horror that was brought upon him as his most treasured object was dying. Fortunately, the king had a wise steward who had not only helped to organize the disorderly flight of the people, thereby saving many lives, but who knew the king would need persuading to leave. Patiently but insistently, the steward convinced the king that he owed more to his subjects than to the town he had constructed for them, and so the king allowed himself to be led out of the great hall, out of the keep, and out of the high walls.
Once the earthquakes had subsided, unfavorable terrain, lack of food, and roving bands of wolves drove the king and his people away from the ruins of the castle. It was weeks until the king returned to survey the damage. In truth, very little remained. A few towers stood, looking cracked and forlorn, lonely when once they had companions. The inner parts of the castle were for the most part one large heap of rubble, though a ghostly skeleton of the great hall remained. The king felt that this was worse than if everything had been flat on the ground, for the hint of structure mocked him, reminded him of the glory that once existed in and around it.
The king sank to his knees on the ground and silently mourned the loss of his life’s work. Then those who were with him saw a change occur–the king clenched his fists and shook with what appeared to be anger. Immediately the king strode to the nearest pile of debris and pulled out some of the remains of a stone wall, throwing them wildly away from the old perimeter of the castle. His companions asked what he was doing, and his only reply was to order that every man, woman, and child be engaged thenceforth in the dismantling of all that remained of the castle, the pieces of which were to be scattered around the whole country, so that nothing whatsoever of the castle remained to mark the spot where it had once stood proudly.
With great sadness, the former inhabitants of the castle turned to do the king’s bidding, and to erase the memory of a place where they had spent so many happy years. But the king’s steward, seeing that the king was acting out of anger, sought to dissuade him from his plan. He reminded the king that it was now nearing winter, that they had no means to recover their storehouses of food, which had been spoiled, that they were ill-equipped for the cold, and that in order to survive they would need to abandon the mountain’s heights and take refuge with their country’s lowland neighbors, who had had good harvests. Once again it was only his obligation to the people he ruled that convinced the king, and so even though he hated now the very sight of the poor castle that had once been his greatest accomplishment, he relented and led his people down the mountain, where they passed the winter in the generous hospitality of those who lived there.
When spring came, the folk of the high mountain castle were loath to leave the friendly lands where they had wintered. Not only were they eager to help with the crops and livestock of their benefactors in order to show their significant gratitude, but they had become friends with their neighbors and had grown to love the milder environment, where meadows and ponds were in somewhat more plenty. Indeed, some of the newcomers had even intermarried with their hosts, and so had no trouble at all forgetting the magnificent castle when an equally magnificent and peaceful life looked open to them where they were. Since such was the heart of his people, and given the insistence of his friend (the king of lowland people) that he remain, the king and his subjects spent several years living and working as guests, though as the time went on, they felt less like guests and more integrated into the life and culture of their new country.
The mountain king, for the most part, did not think about his loss. As an expert architect, he was always helping the lowland king with a bridge or windmill or grain house, and of course he attended to all the typical kingly duties, which were made no fewer without having an official throne. On some of the colder nights, however, his steward would see the king staring up at the mountains to their north as the sun set between two peaks–the same two peaks that the king’s former castle was nestled between. The steward also noticed that the king never replicated the angry visage he had shown on the first day of their descent to the lowlands, except when the lowland king mentioned the mountain king’s castle. This happened infrequently, though it was obvious that the lowland king had admired the mountain king’s castle, and hoped that now that he was a guest in the lowland king’s lands, he might help the lowland king with a construction of a castle of his own. But the mountain king, in these instances, kept his jaw so tight and his tone so non-committal that the lowland king soon learned there was no use in asking.
When a few springs had passed, there was word that some barbarian tribes had made allegiance and descended from the north, threatening the scattered homesteads and villages in the lands surrounding the mountain king’s former domain. These homesteads had not been affected seriously by the earthquake and had decided to remain where they were, despite the migration south by the king and his people, and were now paying the cost of the lack of protection of a nearby monarch. Neither the mountain king nor the lowland king could bear the thought of such innocents being ravaged, so they agreed to spend the latter portion of winter in battle against the barbarians, which, with their combined forces, they would surely win.
During one of the northern marches of said battle, the mountain king realized they were near to the spot were his castle had been, and since they were not on a particularly pressing campaign, he was able to take a small band, including his faithful and wise steward, to the spot where the shakings of the earth had leveled his beloved town. He approached the ruins expecting to feel the same burst of anger that he had felt on those nights in the lowlands when he chanced to look up at the mountains, but instead, when they arrived at the place, he was shocked into silence by the change that had been wrought there. Instead of the harsh crumble of stone, the king saw a gentle carpet of green moss over all the castle. It was a sad moss, and spoke of lost glory and beautiful days that would be no more–but if softened the scene and left the king feeling wistful, rather than angry. As the king moved across the nature-strewn rubble, he saw something even more powerful–a tiny fir had taken root in the very center of the remains of the great hall, and was having, on all appearances, a grand summer. Such new life and potential majesty caused the king to forget his thoughts of hatred towards the castle, and made him ponder the flow of time, of nature and its inexorable drive to live.
The king stood by the fir sapling and realized that he owed very much to his wise steward, for he knew all of a sudden that the correct response to such destruction and loss as he had experienced was not to eradicate everything which reminded him of such loss–no! The king realized in that moment that memories of great things, even though they might be destroyed, were worth keeping, for great things are worth remembering, even if they were thought to be greater than they were. The king laid his palm against the fir tree, and begrudged it not that it stood where his throne had sat, because he saw that such a place as the one around him was as perfect for firs as for kings and castles.
Then, the king thanked the wise steward and promised him that he and his line would inherit the throne (for the king was childless), since it was because of the steward that the king and his people had survived the great earthquake, and seen the beauty that nature had wrought over a scene of such destruction. It was not that nature made it so that the destruction never occurred–instead, between the time and the trees, the king had realized that the ghosts of his past were not to be annihilated, but to be treasured and viewed in a particular way–the way of the present. So the king descended from the mountain to his people, victorious in the battle against the barbarians, but more importantly, healed from his anger against the castle, and fully ready to give his life to the people, even if the houses of the lowland king were not as grand.