Volume 2 Number 4


Autumn 2004

The Keeper of Words

William Lengeman III

In a time before this one, in a land far beyond the mountains of Noralaw, was the kingdom of Pegralla. The king of Pegralla was good and fair, speaking wisely and ruling his subjects with a benevolent hand.

Visitors to the court could not help but notice that whenever the king would speak, a small, thin man leapt about the throne, reaching into the air and grasping at nothing. "Who is that man," they would ask, "and what is he doing?"

In fact, he was the Keeper of Words. Long before, when Pegralla was young, a previous king possessed a great treasure of many words of wisdom. These words were so precious, that his ministers appointed a Keeper of Words, who would see to it that none of these priceless utterances were lost.

This "wordkeeper," as commoners called him, was descended from a long, noble line of men who had served the Pegrallan kings. He swirled gracefully about the court, plucking light, airy words that only the king and he could see, placing each one into a large sack. Now and again, the sack would fill, and the king would begin to stammer, whereupon the king and the Keeper Of Words would disappear into the forest. When they returned it was with an empty sack and a king who spoke wisdom again.

Visitors to the court would nod politely at these happenings and laugh among themselves later. What a charming bit of nonsense it was. Indeed, many of the king’s own subjects had come to believe that the tales told of the Keeper of Words were but quaint legends – that is, until that fateful day when the wordkeeper lost his balance and missed one.

He grabbed frantically, but it was too late. A word fell to the ground with a tinkle and a shattering that only the king and the Keeper of Words could hear.

Both men froze. The court grew silent, aware that something was wrong, but not exactly sure what it was. The Keeper of Words wrung his hands. The king turned a deep shade of red and roared with anger. The courtesans took a step back. They had never heard such a thing.

Upon that instant, the king banished the Keeper of Words from Pegralla, and he slunk from the king’s presence in disgrace.

Before long, Pegralla was not a pleasant place to live. The king spoke harshly, when he spoke at all. He was given to fits of melancholy, rage, and despair. His words clanked and fell to the ground, like jagged shards of rusted metal. No one else could hear those awful sounds, but all of the king’s subjects could feel their effects.

Time passed, and the rains did not come. The crops failed, and famine followed. From these came plague, pestilence, and war. War – who could have imagined such a thing? Eventually, the king and his subjects forgot the former days of peace and contentment.

They forgot, except for one old advisor. Though he knew that it might mean his life, since the king now saw plots under every stone, he sent messengers far and wide with instructions to bring back the Keeper Of Words.

One day, an old man and a boy entered the court. When the king noticed them, he knitted his brows and reached for his sword. Then, he paused. After a long look at the two, a weary smile grew on the king’s face. He and the Keeper of Words and the boy left the court without delay, disappearing into the forest.

When they returned, the king settled onto his throne. He opened his mouth and out came…words of wisdom. The boy danced around the throne, whisking away the words, as the Keeper of Words pointed and smiled.

It was not long before the bad times were a memory, and along with them the Keeper of Words and the king, who passed on their mantles to younger men and died of contented old age.

The new king was a worthy successor. Everyone agreed that the words he spoke were exceedingly wise -- though, if the truth be told, it was the same wisdom that kings had spoken and Keepers of Words had gathered from time immemorial.