Once upon a time, there lived a peaceful king who reigned over a peaceful kingdom. The king had been King for so many generations that nobody could remember a time when he was not the king, and it was not the sort of subject that anybody ever thought of, for nobody could imagine that another king could be.
Now it did so happen that the king had a brother. For many generations he had externally conformed to the expectations of peace, but internally his heart burned with jealousy against his brother the king. “If I were king,” he thought, “the kingdom would be a much better place indeed!” He did not really consider in what way the kingdom could possibly be better than it was, but it appeared to him that his brother the king really did not have to do much of anything to maintain order; the people were naturally obedient. He therefore began to fancy his brother lazy, and he nursed the idea until he grew to despise the king, and fooled himself that his hatred was on account of the king’s laziness. Really he had been searching for a reason to despise the king for generations, and any miniscule provocation would do.
One day a band of gypsies passed through the kingdom, and the brother of the king happened to be out walking through town as the gypsies were about. He watched them as they sold jewels and spices, fancy silk cloths, and combs for the women’s hair. The king’s brother watched as desire and greed began to fill the people’s faces, and as the gypsies picked their pockets when they were not looking. At last! He thought, here was a group of people who might honor him as their leader!
And so he continued to observe until he identified the gypsy who appeared to be in charge, and pulled him aside. “How would you like to stay in our kingdom forever?” he said.
“We never stay in any one kingdom for long,” the gypsy said distrustfully.
“Ah, but I am the prince, the king’s brother, and I am his most trusted advisor!” he boasted. “I can make sure that your concerns are well looked after.”
And so from that day forward, the gypsies made their residence in the kingdom, peddling their wares and making mischief where previously there had been only harmony. The king became distraught, and said to himself, “What can I do in order to restore peace? It seems that ever since these gypsies have arrived, the people have begun to quarrel and despise one another.” He knew that it was his duty to the people to look after their best interests. So the king issued a decree: “The gypsies must leave the kingdom at once! They will be given until nightfall tomorrow to abandon their residence and move on, or else they will be removed by force. “
The head of the gypsies was furious when he heard the news, and sought the prince, the king’s brother, at once. “Did you not promise that if we took up residence here, you would look after our interests?” he demanded.
The king’s brother, however, was delighted. This had been exactly the circumstance that he was hoping for. “Yes indeed, I did,” he said gravely. “You must stand your ground, and let the king use force if he will!”
So the head of the gypsies returned to his fellows and told them what the prince had said. “We will stand our ground!” he told them. But it was not the gypsy way to meet force head on with force. Instead of fighting directly, they would become as nearly invisible as gypsies are wont to do, and recruit other members of the kingdom to their side. It would not be hard; already they had quite a few, and they knew they could win many more. There would come a time for fighting in the open, but only once their number reached a critical mass. And then the prince would be their king.
Nightfall came the day after the king’s decree, and he had seen not a single gypsy depart from the kingdom. Instead, weeks later, rumors reached the king’s ears of a brawl, a theft, or at times a beating or a murder in the outskirts of the kingdom. The reports became increasingly frequent, until the king knew he could ignore them no more.
He called a royal council of his loyal brothers and sisters, though he saw that the table was not full. One chair sat empty: that which was usually occupied by his brother the prince. The king pursed his lips; he had suspected his brother for a traitor for some time, but was grieved to see his suspicions confirmed.
“Loyal brothers and sisters,” he began, “it is time to assemble our forces against those disloyal to the harmony of the kingdom.
“Each of you has a unique talent that makes you an indispensible tool in my plan,” the king continued. “My sister Aurora, you are blessed with the gift of sight. You see truth where others see only chaos. I rely on you to use your discernment to our continued advantage.
“My brother Daniel, you have been given the strength of many men. I will rely on you to lead the way in hand to hand combat.
“My brother Rafael, you have the gift of cunning. I will rely on you to penetrate our enemy’s secret chambers, and obtain intelligence of their plans.
“My sister Kendra, you have the gift of song. I will rely on you to entice our enemies with the beauty of your voice, so that other plans may be effectively carried out.
“And finally, my brother Thomas, you have the gift of speech. You persuade others with your words who would otherwise fail to see reason. I will rely on you to plead with those members of our kingdom who may not yet be lost. For all who desire to live in peace are welcome.”
It so happened that the prince, the king’s brother, was privy to this council in secret; he hid behind a curtain and slipped out when the king had finished speaking. The prince went straight to the head of the gypsies and said to him, “Listen: the king’s plan against you centers on the gifts of my loyal brothers and sisters. Therefore our counter-plan must center on them, as well. Here is what we must do: my sister Aurora has the gift of sight; we must blind her. My brother Daniel has the strength of many men; we must cripple him. My brother Rafael has the gift of cunning; we must ensnare him. My sister Kendra has the gift of song; we must silence her. And my brother Thomas has the gift of speech; he must be muzzled.”
Thomas went out to the people of the kingdom first, and tried to persuade them to see reason and to join the ranks of the king, and many were convinced and joined the king’s army. Their ranks grew daily, and the prince, the king’s brother, saw that he needed to muzzle Thomas quickly before all was lost. “Lure him away from the people!” the prince commanded. So the head of the gypsies dressed like a member of the kingdom and approached Thomas as he spoke to the crowds. “You must come and speak at my tavern tonight!” he said, “There will be hundreds assembled to hear you, for I have told them of your powerful message.” Thomas, who had never been given reason to distrust any member of the kingdom, went to the tavern without a moment’s hesitation, and from behind, two strong gypsies bound him and placed a muzzle over his mouth. “You can speak no longer!” they cackled; “you are worthless now to the king!” They so taunted him day and night that he began to believe them, and though the gypsies left him alone after a time, they knew he was no longer a threat to them because he began to repeat their message to himself: “I am worthless to the king!” And he sat there, imprisoned in the dark, though he could have been free all the time.
When the king learned that Thomas had disappeared, Aurora, who had the gift of sight, informed the king, “Thomas is muzzled alone in the dark in a tavern within the kingdom!” She looked expectantly to the king for his declaration to send a search party to rescue him.
But the king said, “Thomas would not come. He is in a prison of his own making, and will have to see for himself that freedom is his for the taking.”
“We know the gypsy’s hideout now, sire!” declared Daniel, who had the strength of many men; “let me take those loyal to the king, and storm the place!”
“You will need to take them unawares,” said Kendra, whose gift was song; “I will go and sing for them, so that they will not hear or notice your approach.”
So Kendra entered an open courtyard near the place of the gypsies’ hideout, and began to sing with a voice like an angel. But the prince had warned them of the bewitching qualities of her voice, and the gypsies had filled their ears with straw. Then they were able to call out insults as they heard her, saying things like, “Who told you that you could sing? Your voice is dreadful!” Kendra’s voice began to falter; it quivered so that she was unable to stay on pitch, and the heckling grew louder. She heard her own voice and realized that they were right: it was so distorted that she did not sound beautiful at all. And she began to wonder why she had ever believed she could sing, or that she had anything to offer to the king at all. Soon she gave up altogether and fled, blinded by tears. She arrived in a dark abandoned tavern, where sat her muzzled brother Thomas. He was saying something quietly to himself that sounded like “You are worthless to the king!” but she paid no attention to him because she was too busy saying to herself, “Your voice is dreadful!” She sat down across from Thomas, taking no notice of him, and repeated her woeful refrain.
Meanwhile, Aurora told the king, “Our sister Kendra is with Thomas now! When Daniel and the king’s army arrive at the gypsy’s hiding place, they will find the gypsies undistracted and ready for battle.”
“Then,” said the king, “it is up to you to see that Daniel does not fail. Rafael must persuade the gypsies that he has turned traitor. Then he must lead them astray. Aurora, you must go with him, but keep hidden, so that you can inform him of what the enemy is thinking.
“As for me, I will go to the tavern.”
“But sire,” said Rafael, “I thought that Kendra and Thomas had to find their own path out of the prison of their own making?”
“But I can stand at the door and knock,” said the king. “It is then for them to decide to let me in.”
Rafael breached the gypsies’ hideout before his brother Daniel, with his sister Aurora hidden in the trees. Rafael declared, “I have decided that your kingdom, my brother the prince, would be better than that of my brother the king! I have come to help you.” And he told them that his brother Daniel intended to attack from the west the following day at sunrise (rather than that afternoon and from the east, which was his real intention). When Rafael returned to Aurora, she told him, “It is well; they have believed you, and Daniel will have the victory. Let us hope that the king will likewise have success with our brother and sister!”
When the king came upon the tavern, he saw that the door was shut, but not locked. But he stood outside and knocked on the tavern door, and called, “Thomas and Kendra. I know that you are inside. I know you believe that you are worthless to me now. It is not true. You must examine those words: they are the words of the enemy, my brother the prince. They are not your words, and they are not the words of truth.” The king stood and knocked without ceasing for hour upon hour. The day turned to night, and still the king knocked.
Kendra presently began to hear him, and said, “Is that my brother Thomas in the room here with me?” It was the first moment that she had said anything other than, “Your voice is dreadful!”
Never for a moment did the king grow weary of knocking, until at long last, Kendra opened the door. It was morning again, and she could not help but squint, as she said, “Sire?”
“Will you let me come in, Kendra?” he asked.
“Of course, sire.”
“Will Thomas let me?”
“Thomas is muzzled, sire. He can’t answer.”
“Thomas is muzzled, but not bound. He can remove the muzzle if he chooses to.”
Both the king and Kendra turned towards Thomas, who looked down at his unbound hands in amazement. Somehow he had believed himself a captive, when all the time his hands were unbound and the door was unlocked. Slowly, he removed the muzzle.
“Speak to me, Thomas,” declared the king.
“I cannot,” he said hesitantly.
“Do not say you cannot when you just did!” said the king. “Sing for me, Kendra.”
“I sing frightfully badly, my king,” she said, with eyes downcast.
“I know you think so now, but it is not the truth. Sing, and hear your own voice. You cannot but believe in its beauty when you hear it.”
So Kendra sang, such a song as was never heard before, a song so haunting and thrilling that they all felt chills to their toes when she had done. Then they began to laugh with uncontrollable joy.
“And now let us return to the palace, for the victory is ours!” declared the king.
And so it was: Daniel and the men Thomas had persuaded had vanquished the gypsies, with the help of Rafael’s cunning and Aurora’s sight, and the king gave a great banquet in honor of the occasion at the palace and invited all the loyal subjects of the kingdom to attend. And Kendra sang at the banquet as never before, and all the loyal subjects cheered as though their lungs would give out.
And nobody ever saw or heard of the king’s brother the prince, ever again.