One day, in the kingdom of Kyr, two travelers made their way toward the royal city, Charis. Each of the travelers carried an invitation from King Arnon to live with him in his palace and serve him there. As they drew near to the palace, King Arnon sent an Ursa fairy to each traveler, to encourage them and give each a special message.
Abyn had no trouble finding the traveler named Arabella. She was riding on a fine white horse at the head of a small procession. Three golden coaches followed behind, packed to overflowing. Abyn watched thoughtfully as the caravan wove its way through the trees. "Grant me wisdom, King Arnon," he whispered before taking off from his perch and flying down toward Arabella.
"Greetings, Arabella of Tanith," Abyn cried as he hovered before the startled young woman. "My name is Abyn. I have been sent from King Arnon with a message for you."
Arabella smiled and nodded. "Of course. King Arnon knows I am coming. What message does he have for me?"
In another part of the forest, Lyssa made her way through the trees. She was becoming weary from endless days of walking and sleeping on the hard ground. But she was determined to see King Arnon. She reached into the pocket of her much-patched dress and clutched the invitation she had received. It made her stand straighter and move forward more quickly. "King Arnon wants me to serve in his palace," she said to herself. "I may not be a fine lady, but I can work hard. And King Arnon will teach me whatever he needs me to know so I can serve him better."
As she thought this, she shifted the small bag she had slung over one shoulder. It carried food and water for her journey, as well as a small battered book of fables Ė all she had left from her parents. She had read and reread the book until the pages were in danger of falling out. It was her one treasure.
To help the time go faster, Lyssa began to sing. She did not have a beautiful voice, but she could carry a tune fairly well. She matched her footsteps to the rhythm of the song, smiling as she moved through the trees. She did not notice the tiny winged creature fluttering near her head.
"Greetings, Lyssa of Corin!" came a small voice.
Lyssa stopped singing and peered around. "Whoís there? Did someone call me?"
"I did," replied the voice. "Please hold out your hand so I have a place to land."
Lyssa did as she was told. She heard a fluttering sound, as if a large butterfly was nearby. Then she caught sight of brightly colored wings. She gasped in surprise. "Youíre an Ursa fairy!" she cried in delight.
"Yes," the speaker answered as she fluttered awkwardly onto Lyssaís outstretched hand. "I am Jemi. King Arnon sent me with a message for you."
"King Arnon has a message for me?" Lyssa asked. "What is it?"
"You are not far from Charis," Jemi said. "Your journey is almost over."
Lyssa smiled and sighed in relief. "Iím so glad to hear that. It has not been easy traveling here from Corin on foot."
"It is a very long way. It would take me weeks to get there," Jemi said sympathetically.
"But, you can fly," Lyssa said. "You could get there much faster than I could!"
Jemi shook her head. "My wings are not strong. It is hard for me to fly long distances. I have to take many rests along the way. But that doesnít stop me from serving King Arnon."
"I see," Lysa said thoughtfully.
"And now, I will give you King Arnonís message," Jemi said. "You are to continue along this path, ignoring any branches that turn off to the right or to the left. About ten miles from here you will find a path leading up to the palace gates. When you approach the gate, present your invitation to the gatekeeper. Listen to what he tells you and do exactly what he says. Remember, you must do exactly what he tells you to do."
Lyssa nodded. "I will. Thank you." She watched Jemi flutter awkwardly up to a tree branch before starting on her way. She took a few steps down the path, then stopped and turned around. "Jemi, are you going to the palace, too?" she asked.
"Yes, I am," Jemi answered.
"Would you like me to carry you?" Lyssa asked.
Jemi smiled. "That would be great!" she said, fluttering down to perch on Lyssaís shoulder. "My wings could use a rest!"
"Then, letís go," Lyssa said. She began singing, walking in rhythm to the music. Jemi listened to the tune and then joined in. Together they made their way through the trees toward the palace.
"What message does King Arnon have for me?" Arabella repeated, growing a little impatient. She was eager to reach the palace and see the King. He would appreciate her many talents and put her in a position of great importance.
Abyn studied the young woman carefully. She certainly was beautiful. She was dressed in a lovely gown and wore jewels in her carefully styled hair. Rings decorated her white hands which were clearly more used to embroidery than cleaning floors. What did King Arnon have in mind for her, Abyn wondered?
Clearing his throat, Abyn announced, "You are to continue along this road for several miles, ignoring the crossroads leading away to the left or the right. Soon you will reach the palace gate. Present your invitation to the gatekeeper and do exactly what he tells you. It is very important that you do exactly what he tells you."
I understand. Thank you," Arabella said curtly. She chirruped to her horse and the caravan began to move toward the palace once again. Abyn fluttered up out of the way, watching the procession thoughtfully. Then he followed quietly behind as King Arnon had instructed, wondering how Arabella would respond to King Arnonís instructions.
The rider on the magnificent horse and her caravan soon arrived at the palace gates. Arabella smiled as she studied the golden fence and the great gate that shone, milky white, in the sun. "It looks as if it was carved from a giant pearl," she murmured.
Gracefully, Arabella dismounted. Abyn watched from a nearby perch as the young woman took a few moments to straighten her gown and tuck a stray hair back into place. She moved smoothly toward the gatekeeper who stood at attention beside the pearl-like gate.
"I am Arabella of Tanith," she announced in a clear, strong voice. She presented King Arnonís invitation to the gatekeeper. "I was told you had instructions for me," she said.
The gatekeeper studied the invitation and then the young woman standing before him. He did not speak for several minutes. Arabella began to grow restless at the delay. Why was this man keeping her waiting when she had come to see the King? She held herself still, waiting for the gatekeeper to show her through to the palace.
At last, the gatekeeper cleared his throat. "Listen carefully. You are to go through this gate and along the path leading to the palace. You will find a heavy wooden door with no handle. The door is locked and will only open if you tell it to open in King Arnonís name.
"Once inside, you will find a fountain. There is no way around it. You must walk through the fountain and allow it to cleanse you. King Arnon has invited you to serve him, but you must be made new. The waters of the fountain will do that. Take nothing with you into the palace except a willing heart. King Arnon will give you everything you need to serve him."
Arabella listened in dismay at the gatekeeperís instructions. Questions began to form in her mind. Why did she need a fountain to cleanse her? She had bathed in rose-scented water and dressed in her finest clothes. Her hair was washed and neatly combed into place. She might have some dust from the road on her clothes, but that would be easily brushed away.
As to what to take with her, the gatekeeper could not be serious. She had brought everything she would need to serve King Arnon; rich clothes, books, her flute and harp, dancing shoes. How could she serve him if she left it all here at the gate?
As Arabella debated these things, the gate swung open on its golden hinges. Arabella signaled to her coaches and they began to move forward. But the gatekeeper stopped her, his face stern. "You cannot bring these coaches. You may enter this gate, but they cannot. Will you enter or remain outside?"
"I canít leave everything out here!" Arabella cried. "I need these things in order to serve King Arnon!"
"The coaches must remain here," the gatekeeper said firmly.
Arabella could see by the look in the gatekeeperís eyes that he meant what he said. She frowned, her thoughts racing. Then she hurried to each of the three coaches, taking one or two of the most valuable items she had brought. She wrapped them up in a cloak and swung it over her shoulders. The weight of her bundle made it hard for her to move, but she staggered forward, determination on her face.
Once again she faced the gatekeeper. "All right," she said, "I will leave the coaches out here. Now, may I enter?"
The gatekeeper looked at the bundle on her back thoughtfully. Arabella thought his eyes seemed sad. Didnít he understand how important these items were?
"You may enter," he said at last. Arabella smiled in her delight and began to make her way along the path to the palace.
Abyn flew along behind her, but was stopped by a signal from the gatekeeper. The man smiled a greeting and Abyn instantly recognized him as King Arnon.
"Do not follow her, Abyn," the King said gently.
"But she will need help if she tries to carry all that," Abyn said.
"She must choose to obey my instructions and leave her burden outside the palace. It is a decision she must make on her own," King Arnon answered, love and concern in his eyes. "No one can convince her the possessions she carries are not necessary; I cannot and neither can you. She must learn it for herself and set them down because she chooses to do so."
Abyn settled thoughtfully onto King Arnonís shoulder. Together they watched in silence as Arabella struggled along the path to the palace, clinging tightly to her burden.
A long day of walking and a night sleeping on the hard ground brought Lyssa and Jemi to the palace gate. When she saw all the gold glittering in the sunlight and the milky white gate, Lyssa stared in amazement. She stopped where she was, lingering fearfully at the edge of the forest.
"How can I go up to the palace looking like this?" Lyssa said, holding out her travel-stained skirt. "What was I thinking? There were people in my village who told me the invitation from King Arnon wasnít really meant for me. It was for someone else Ė someone more talented or smarter or stronger or more beautiful. How can I possibly serve King Arnon?"
"My wings are not strong and it often takes me longer to deliver a message, but I serve King Arnon," Jemi said. "He loves me and wants me to serve him. He doesnít mind that my wings arenít strong like other Ursa fairies."
"He doesnít?" Lyssa asked.
"It is more important to have a heart that is willing to obey than to be able to fly fast or far," Jemi answered. "King Arnon told me that one day, when I was feeling discouraged and tired."
Lyssa stood thoughtfully, pondering Jemiís words as the looked at the golden fence and the gatekeeper in his crisp uniform. "Are you sure he wonít turn me away?" she asked, nodding toward the gatekeeper.
"You have the invitation King Arnon sent you, right?"
"Then he will let you in," Jemi said decidedly. "He wouldnít be standing there if he didnít do exactly what King Arnon tells him to do."
Lyssa nodded and straightened her stained dress. She pulled the invitation from her pocket and clutched it firmly. "All right, then," she said. "King Arnon sent me an invitation and I will do as he has asked." She stepped forward and made her way toward the gate on sore, blistered feet.
At the gate, she nervously presented the invitation to the gatekeeper. He studied it carefully, then smiled. "Welcome, Lyssa of Corin. Listen carefully to my instructions. You are to go through this gate to the path that leads to the palace. You will find a heavy wooden door with no handle. The door is locked and will only open if you tell it to open in King Arnonís name.
"Once inside, you will find a fountain. There is no way around it. You must walk through it and allow it to cleanse you. King Arnon has invited you to serve him, but you must be made new. The waters of the fountain will do that. Take nothing with you into the palace except a willing heart. King Arnon will give you everything you need to serve him."
Lyssa listened carefully to the gatekeeperís words. The fountain sounded nice Ė she felt so dirty and tired from her long journey. She set the bag she had carried down at her feet and began to walk through the gate. Then she stopped. She looked lovingly at the bag which contained her favorite book.
"Must I leave everything?" she asked.
"Everything," the gatekeeper said firmly.
Lyssa looked at the bag, then sighed. She carried the stories in her heart Ė she would not lose them if she left the book outside the gate. "I am ready," she said.
"Then enter the gate and follow my instructions," the gatekeeper said. He nodded at Jemi who recognized him as King Arnon but understood he wished to keep him identity secret for now. She smiled back at him as she rode on Lyssaís shoulder through the gate.
Although Lyssaís feet were sore from traveling, she moved quickly along the path, eager to see King Arnon. The path was level and smooth, soothing her aching feet. Before long she found herself standing before a locked wooden door.
"Open in the name of King Arnon," she said. The door swung open silently and Lyssa stepped inside.
The sound of running water greeted Lyssa. She stared in amazement at the magnificent fountain before her. The walls of the room were made of clear glass, allowing sunshine to reflect off the flowing water. Three steps led down into a shallow pool formed by the fountain. There was no pathway around the water and no way to cross the room except by going through the pool.
"Will you be all right?" Lyssa asked, looking at Jemi and then at the water.
"I will be fine. I have been through this fountain before," Jemi said. "It will not hurt me."
Lyssa took off her shoes and left them by the door. Then she took a deep breath and started forward. The water was pleasant - not too cold, not too warm. It tingled as it touched her sore feet, washing the tiredness away. Encouraged, Lyssa moved forward more quickly, curious to see what would happen when she reached the cascade of water formed by the fountain high above her.
Soon spray from the falling drops began to touch her face and hair. She laughed as the water tingled along her skin. She felt herself growing lighter, almost as if something heavy was dropping away. She was no longer tired from her journey. In fact, she felt like dancing and singing. She splashed joyfully as she ducked under the falling wall of water.
For several moments, Lyssa could see nothing. Flashes of sunshine and shimmering water drops blinded her to everything else. Then, Lyssa blinked in surprise. She found herself standing in the entryway of a magnificent palace. "Where am I?" she asked in amazement.
"In my palace," King Arnon said, stepping forward. He opened his arms to welcome Lyssa, a loving smile on his face.
Lyssa felt awkward and uncertain. King Arnon was dressed in royal garments while she still wore her travel clothes. She looked down, stammering an apology for her appearance. But, as she took hold of her skirt, she gasped in surprise. Her hands touched smooth satin material, not the homespun cloth she had been wearing. "I donít understand," she murmured.
"My fountain has made you clean and new," King Arnon said. "Are you ready to serve me now?"
Lyssa looked up with a smile. "Yes, King Arnon," she said happily.
"Good. I will teach you many things," he said. "But first, I want to show you my library. There you will find the stories you have loved and thought you left behind. They contain my truth and are to be found in my library. You will find many stories that are new to you, as well. Perhaps you would like to learn to be a storyteller for me."
"Yes, I would!" Lyssa said with a smile. She took King Arnonís hand and walked down the hallway at his side while Jemi rode along happily perched on the Kingís shoulder.
Meanwhile, Arabella had been making her way along the path. It had been steep, forcing her to climb along on hands and knees. Her beautiful gown was torn and dirty. Her hair kept falling in her eyes. She had lost a shoe and was limping along. But no matter how hard the road became, she kept a firm grip on the cloak containing her prized possessions.
Abyn watched sadly from a distance. He longed to tell Arabella how wonderful King Arnonís palace was and how satisfying it was to serve him. She didnít need all the things she was dragging after her. But he knew there was nothing he could say that could convince her to set down her bundle.
Arabella was now weaving her way through a thicket which ripped her dress further. It caught at her cloak and made a hole, causing several items to fall out. Arabella stopped, picked up the items, rewrapped the cloak and clutched it in her arms. Then she continued on her way.
Abyn sighed. Would she never learn? "King Arnon, canít you help her?" he asked aloud.
"I am helping her," King Arnon answered, taking Abyn in his hand. "Her path is hard to help her see the need to lay down what she carries and trust instead in what I can give her."
"Couldnít you just take it from her?" Abyn asked.
"I could," King Arnon answered. "But if I did that, she would become angry and refuse to listen to me. She must make that choice herself."
"But she chooses what is harmful," Abyn protested.
"Would you have me force her to obey?" King Arnon asked. "Then she would be enchanted, like a sleepwalker, only serving me because my power forces obedience." He shook his head firmly. "I give my people the right and responsibility to choose. It is truly the best way, although my heart often aches at their choices."
At last, Arabella reached the wooden door. She opened it using King Arnonís name and stepped inside. She stepped down into the fountain, eager to cool her aching feet. The water tingled and sparkled, giving her the energy to go on.
But, as she began to move forward, a breeze began to blow. It tugged at the cloak she clutched tightly in her arms. Where she had tied the cloak together, it pulled apart. She watched in dismay as things began to fall out into the water. Arabella frantically began splashing through the water, rescuing her treasures. She fished each one out, drying it carefully on the ragged skirt of her gown.
When all her treasures were secured in the tattered cloak, Arabella headed for the wooden door. She took a last look at the fountain, then at the bundle in her arms. "No," she said, shaking her head. "I will not give these things up. I will be better prepared next time. I will get into the palace. I will work hard and become strong. I am not ready now, but I will be." With that, she left the palace and returned to the gate where her horse and coaches were waiting. She mounted stiffly and road off toward home, determined to do better next time.
But Lyssa learned from King Arnon and delighted in the stories she found in his library. In time, she became a great storyteller and added many books to the palace collection.
And so, the Ursa fairies learned that, in order to serve King Arnon, one must come with a willing heart, leaving self and all its treasures behind. For King Arnon gives all that is needed to those who desire to serve him. Those who willingly give up what they have find they have gained everything in him.