The road was long, dusty and rough. It went on winding through the forest and was strewn with rocks and ruts, which was hard on the feet. A lone pair of soft leather slippers worn by a tired peasant trod along its path. The road started up a hill, passing under a large oak tree overhanging the road. As the uneven road grew steeper, the traveler’s breaths became heavier, and as the oak tree came closer, thoughts of highway robbery and danger filled the traveler’s thoughts. The traveler pulled up the worn gray jacket tighter over their shoulders and clutched their knapsack and cane tighter in preparation for flight, should danger present itself. Walking under the shadow of the large oak tree the traveler began looking over their shoulder often as well as looking above, in apprehension. In the knapsack were a few precious possessions of gold, a picture, and a trinket from childhood, a few coins and the remnants of bread and meat for food.
The large oak tree passed without incident, and gave way to more winding, rough road that became steeper still and led into heavier forest, shaded enough to be dark. The traveler pressed ever onward, yearning for life in a big city where they could begin a life as an adult and find their happiness. Driven on by dreams of a beautiful city they had heard about in childhood bedtime stories, the traveler pressed on, hoping this was the road to that great and wonderful place. Far up the hill, the sky opened, and the traveler looked back down the hill from whence they had come. The road out on the plain could be seen clearly, and became a thread, disappearing on the far side. The traveler stopped momentarily, thinking of friends, family, and of familiar settings left behind, and of the well wishes they had expressed when they parted.
Now all that the traveler had to their name was what was in the knapsack, which loved ones had given at parting. The traveler turned forward and pressed on. The road led over the top of a rise, and became a panoramic view of a big and fertile valley. This valley had a wide river running through it, and by that glistening water was the great city! The traveler stopped and looked in awe, and after a moment continued down the hill towards it.
The city was bustling with activity, and more so than usual. Streets were being swept and the merchants were putting out their goods in preparation for a special market day. The residents were out and about, and no one was at home. Crowds were filling the streets in the center of town, and everyone seemed in the highest of spirits. The avenues were in the process of being decorated with elaborate banners of silk of many colors. A row of oxcarts made their way towards the town square with roasted pigs and an abundance of other colorful, fragrant foods along side. Villagers craned their heads looking in the oxcarts at the feast items, and the oxcart drivers beamed with pride at their cargo. This was certainly going to be a day to remember! A group of dancers and musicians strolled through the streets towards the town center, bowing and curtsying occasionally. One child dipped her knees awkwardly in imitation. The tall dancer smiled, and repeated the curtsy slowly, showing how to do it right. The child retreated self-consciously back into the crowd.
Peasants began to stream in from the countryside, some carrying wares to sell, some with big purses seeking to buy, but all dressed up in finery for the event planned. There were a few tall horses and shiny carriages, the horses were skittish both because of the unusually large crowds and by the uncomfortable adornments thrust upon them by their excited owners. One set of horses that were not nervous though were the Queens Stallions pulling the elaborately ornate open top coach in the square. They stood calmly as last minute grooming took place and the last polish was put on the golden lamps and door handles on the coach. The Queen’s Stallions were used to this. In the Grooming Room in the Queen’s Chambers the Queen demonstrated much the same demeanor and received the same treatment as her horses did down in the courtyard below. Finely dressed ladies in waiting fussed endlessly as Her Majesty started down the stairs to the waiting coach, and the excited crowds.
It was a sunny spring day, mid-day and with a slight comfortable breeze. The colorful flags and banners flowed with dignity in that breeze, as did the long locks of young girls’ hair, not unnoticed by the young men in attendance. The music and announcements began, and then the formal ceremonies and speeches.
he traveler walked through the West Gate and soon found their self immersed in all the festive activity going on. Feeling in awe at never leaving their village of birth, and now seeing what paved boulevards and tall townhouses looked like, and all this many people, the traveler was overwhelmed. It soon became obvious that they would not fit in, because of their unusually plain and dirty garb from the journey. The traveler soon too became aware of their hair was plain and not in the custom of the City Dwellers. The City Dwellers however took no notice of the unfamiliar stranger, caught up in the wonderful spirit of their own celebration. The traveler soon noticed their preoccupation and ventured further into the festivities spurred on by curiosity and fascination. The celebrations were not loud and boisterous, as in the village sport contests the traveler remembered from home, but were proper and lighthearted, as in the Holidays. There was enthusiasm nonetheless with dancing, talking and much joyous laughter. The City Dwellers became a slowly moving crowd, and soon the throngs entered the large courtyard where the festivities were happening. There in the middle on a stage was Her Majesty and Her Court, and she was finishing up speaking. The traveler had worked up to the edge of the crowd, and could not believe the grandeur of this day, and could not imagine what was going on to create such celebration. A soldier in formal dress near the Queen spoke quietly, “Your Majesty,” to get the Queen’s attention, interrupting the speech. They pointed to the traveler, and started in that direction, with a compassionate look on his face.
The Queen too spied the traveler, and stepped down off the stage, following the soldier. It was at this point the traveler felt afraid and out of place at the same time, becoming aware of their dirty clothes and improper state. Not knowing what to do and what City Dwellers do to outsiders, the traveler knelt, laying their knapsack at the feet of the approaching Queen, bowing in the deepest of respect.The Queen leaned close, and when the traveler looked up into the eyes of the Queen, her eyes were full of tears. The Queen laid her hand on the traveler’s hand holding the knapsack, and spoke.
“Rise up, O beloved one. Welcome
home. We have been expecting you, for this day, you are our Guest of Honor.”