Once long ago there lived a wise king who ruled with great compassion and heedful judgement. He never failed to do what was best for his people, and for this, he was respected.
It happened one day that the king’s advisor and closest friend came to him and explained that there was a large band of travelers approaching the border of his country.
“I received word from a farmer who said he had been observing them from afar since midday.”
“This is quite strange. Have you any idea of the cause of this migration? “ the king said.
“I have heard that there has been an uprising in a nearby land. A nobleman was killed and the country has gone into turmoil while deciding on a new leader and dealing with the offender. These people may be fleeing to a calmer place.”
“Then we must go meet them.”
“You could send a messenger.”
“I wish to do this myself.”
“But, my king, what if they mean harm?”
“My friend, you are right that we don’t know their intentions. But if I turned away every person who came here looking for shelter, I would be alone in my country.”
So the king decided to meet his visitors. Accompanied by his advisor, he trudged along dirt paths that ran alongside grassy hills, past workers plowing fields and tending to fruit trees. As he walked, he thought of his father.
When the king was a prince, merely a boy at the time, his mother had passed away and his father was not often with him. It was a period of great conflict and unrest. As a result, his father was attending to matters affecting the country, his mind filled with thoughts of war.
One evening, the prince’s father heard shouts of an agitated confrontation. The sounds were distant but grew louder as a few short moments passed. Understanding quickly that his country had been invaded and his men had been overpowered, he found his son.
“We need to leave. It isn’t safe.”
They packed food and clothes and hurried to a trail leading to the backcountry. After they were a considerable distance away, they sat near the top of a hill to rest.
“What will happen to our home?” the prince asked.
From a vantage point, the prince and his father set their gaze on their palace. It had been constructed by the finest architects in the land, who had worked tirelessly for many days and many nights to see its completion. It was made of red bricks and white tiles, and it was enclosed with a magnificent oak roof.
Wearily, they watched the flames lick the walls with a brilliant glow. Tenderly, the palace turned to dust and ash. Steadily, the smoke surged up to the heavens.
“I’ve failed my people,” the prince’s father said softly.
“No, you haven’t. You’ve worked so hard and given up so much.”
“I’m a coward,” he whispered to himself.
The kingdom was already lost. Although the young prince’s father didn’t know it at the time, there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. Desperate to find safety, he bit back the regret and found solace that his son was unharmed.
“Don’t be afraid, my boy. You will take back what I have lost and build a home far more grand. I will be with you for as long as I can and I will protect you. Do you hear me?”
The prince’s father looked down and discerned beneath his son’s unease a fervent courage that he guessed was barely awake within himself. His resolve restored, he continued to speak.
“Home is not a place. It’s a feeling. It lies within the ones who share your grief, loss and joy, the people you love. My strength is almost gone now. My hair is graying. You must remember this when I am gone. Keep this feeling in your heart. Treasure it. Hold it with you so that you will find it when you are looking for it. Promise me this.”
The air held sparks of hope ready to be set ablaze with the passion of a rekindled spirit.
“I won’t forget. I promise.”
Swiftly, the father and his son ran into the night.
The king shook his head and was thrust back to the present. At last, the travelers were in sight. Their legs were weak with fatigue from their journey. They drew nearer and stopped as they reached him.
The king ceased walking and began to consider them. He pointed to one of the men who stood with a young girl at his side. The man was tall and dressed in a dark garb.
“You there. Why have you come here?” the king asked.
“We have walked for many days seeking refuge. We come from -”
“No. It does not matter to me where you have traveled from. Tell me, in this life, what is most precious to you?”
After a moment of pause, the tall man reached for his daughter and brushed aside her hair. He faced the king with an unwavering gaze.
“She is all I have left. I need to find a safe place for her.”
“Caring for the ones we love, protecting them and providing for them. Sometimes, it’s all we have left,” the king thought.
He considered this man again and noticed a yearning in his eyes. He realized he had seen it even before his question was answered. He looked to the row of people behind the tall man, the teary-eyed mothers with their children, the elderly men and women. He studied the expressions etched on their faces. In them, he saw a profound longing for freedom, for safety, for time with family. It was a familiar sight, one he had seen in someone very dear to him.
The king turned to his advisor and smiled warmly.
“True kindness is holding an open heart for those who are most in need.”
As the wind blew upon his cheek and the sunlight danced in his eyes, the wise king thought of promises fulfilled and dreams yet unrealized. He gestured back the way he had come, at the dusty path behind him.
“We can take this road. Let’s go home.”