The King listened gravely. When the emissary finished his report, the King slowly stood, removed his crown, and set it carefully on his throne. “Saddle a horse for me,” he said. “I have work to do.”
When the King arrived at the foot of the hill, he headed directly for the valley where the messengers were working. Wordlessly, he joined them handing out food to hungry people. The messengers whispered much among themselves as they saw the King himself working with them. With them! He must approve of their work! Whatever those proud builders thought, the messengers were doing the King’s work, and now they could prove it!
They watched as he bent down to talk to a tiny girl with big eyes and unbrushed hair. They listened closely to see what the King himself had to say to these people. Then, they drew back in shock and amazement.
The King was talking about the city! Here, to these people! People who were dirty and tired and hurting, and the King himself was talking about that place the builders were so excited about. But as they listened, his words sounded different than they expected. Builders praised the city when they talked. Messengers focused on loving the people they talked to. But the King, talking to this tiny girl, clearly loved her *and* the city he spoke of.
It was an astonishing way of speaking, but not so astonishing as what happened next. The King swept the little girl up in one arm, and motioning to the gathered crowd to follow him, he strode up the hill towards the city.
What could the messengers do but follow? They followed at a cautious distance as the crowd pressed up the hill to see this city the King spoke of with such affection.
The builders were obviously quite startled at the influx of visitors. Some rushed off to polish up bits of the city that might be dusty, and others started into complex speeches of welcome they’d memorized for just such an unlikely occasion. But all fell silent as the King stepped in through the gate. And, somewhere, in the back of their minds, they thought, surely the messengers will see how the King is approving our work by bringing all these people here to enjoy it.
The King set the little girl on the ground. She looked around, taken aback by the strange wonders of the city. Then she spotted a fountain just inside the gate. Great streams of water flowed upwards, sparkling in the sunlight before dancing down in droplets to the pavement. The girl ran to dance with them, laughing as her hair, her clothes and her shoes were drenched with the falling water.
Trickles of muddy water ran across the stones under her feet, as slowly her face and her hands came clean. Still laughing, the she ran back to the King. “Show me, show more!” she said, grabbing his hand.
And the King led her, and all the crowds from below, along with the builders and the messengers, through every path in the city. A few from the crowd left in disgust at this city that was not all like where they came from, and, they thought, could never be a good, safe place to live. Too clean! Too strange! The messengers noticed with a pang each person who left, and yet, they couldn’t blame the city as they normally did. Not while they were seeing it through the King’s eyes.
As the King led them all through the city, they could see, not only the charm and beauty of the city before them, but also the complete splendor that it would be when it was finished. The rough patches in the path, the piles of broken bricks here and there, the unfinished walls, these would all be smoothed away eventually, and then it would shine beyond compare.
Even the builders were astonished at how lovely the city seemed now, with the King himself showing them what it was and what it would be. At the same time, they couldn’t help but notice the crowds of people following behind the King. Somehow, at this moment, it was clear that this was why the city existed. It was so easy to forget, staring at blueprints all day, with no messengers, no visitors, that they were building this city for these very people, and for their King!
As they came back to the gate and the fountain, the builders and messengers began to walk slower. Those in the crowds who had stayed to see the whole city were shouting in amazement at this point, and as the fountain came back into sight, began to run to laugh and play in the fountain as the little girl had. The builders and messengers cast sideways glances at each other, trying not to meet anyone else’s eyes.
They had slowed almost to a stop when they began to realize that the King was watching them. He had stopped just ahead of them . As they reached his feet, they all knelt in front of him.
“We…” one person started, then trailed off.
“It seemed…” someone else started and stopped.
Finally, one voice cried out, “Forgive us?”
The rest of the voices joined in quickly, “Forgive us!”
The King smiled gravely. “It is forgiven,” he said.
Then, motioning them to rise, he quickly led them to the fountain. Soon everyone, builder and messenger and those in the crowd soon to be builders and messengers where laughing and playing in the water together. The King danced with the little girl, and the party went on until late that night.
The next day, the builders awoke with amazing new ideas for the city. How could they have missed such obvious plans before? Of course, they needed mirrors in the courtyard to even better reflect the light through the water. And that one spot in the back wall was in shameful need of fresh mortar. They busily got to work with an enthusiasm they’d missed recently.
The messenger woke up to a different burning thought. So many people had come to see the city last night…and so many more had still never seen it! They had to be off quickly, to go further and deeper into the darkness than ever before, and bring as many people back to the city as they could.
The builders and messengers waved cheerful goodbyes as each went back to his work, knowing that before long they’d all see each other again.
The little girl climbed to the top of the wall and looked out. The King sat on his horse a little way down the path, looking back at the city with a smile. He waved when he saw her. She waved back, and watched as he turned and rode away. She watched a little longer, fixing in her mind the direction he’d gone, so she’d know which way to watch for him to come back again. Then she climbed down and went off to find some breakfast.