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A Visit From King Arnon

 

Rina listened eagerly Ė she could hardly believe her ears! King Arnon, himself, would be visiting their village in three days. Everyone crowded around Jonathan, one of the village elders, bombarding him with questions.

"Where will the King stay while he is here?" someone asked.

"He made it clear that he will decide that when he arrives," Jonathan replied. "Everyone should be ready to have a guest in their home."

"Will he be traveling with a large group? Are there others who need a place to stay? What about food for all of them?"

Jonathan waved his hands to quiet the crowd. "King Arnon did not give us many details." He tapped the scroll in his hand. "We know he will be here, in Lystan, at noon three days from today. We must do our best to prepare a welcome for him. That is all we were told. I do not even know what his business is here. We have been told when he will visit and must do our best to be ready."

With that, Jonathan dismissed the crowd. He gathered several leaders in the village and began talking with them about all that needed to be done before the Kingís arrival.

Rina watched the people leaving the village square, talking excitedly. She heard one group discussing a feast, another planning a grand concert. The next few days would certainly be busy for all in Lyston.

"Iíd better get organized if I want to be ready to meet the King," Rina thought. As she hurried from the square, she began to make her own plans. "I have that old gown that belonged to Aunt Edna. I can remake it, add some pearls and embroidery and it will be perfect. I can even make a netting of pearls to wear in my hair." She smiled at the vision she saw in her mind. "Iíll need to do something to dress up my slippers, too. And Iíll put my hair up and wear the necklace Grandmother gave me last year. I have to look perfect for King Arnon!"

Eagerly, Rina rushed into her house, pulling the gown out of the trunk where it had been stored. The rose-colored material was dusty and smelled from being in the trunk so long. "Guess it needs a good cleaning first," Rina sighed. "I suppose I should clean all my best clothes. If King Arnon stays for a few days, Iíll need my nicest things ready." She began to gather articles of clothing from her wardrobe and dresser, adding them to the laundry basket until it was quite full.

"I wish King Arnon had given us more notice," Rina said as she scrubbed her clothing in soapy water. "I have so many things to do."

After carefully washing all her finest clothes, Rina hung them up to dry. The afternoon sun warmed her face as it dried the clothes. A gentle breeze made the wet garments dance as they hung on the line.

Rina paused for a moment to watch the clouds drift lazily across the sky. She often sat on the wooden bench behind her house, watching the clouds change shape as the breeze pushed them along. It always amazed and delighted her to see what objects she could see in the clouds.

"But thereís no time for that today," Rina scolded herself. "I must get ready for King Arnon." She hurried back into the house, ignoring the beauty of the sky above her.

In the kitchen, Rina grabbed the broom. She began to sweep every corner of the kitchen. She moved into the dining room and the small, cozy front room where she greeted guests. The study and her bedroom were next. She was careful to sweep every inch of floor, moving furniture and pulling back all the braided rugs to get at every speck of dust.

"I suppose I should clean these rugs. I havenít done that in a while," she said as she swept a cobweb out of a corner. Putting the broom away, she collected all the rugs from the floors and piled them into her wash tub. "Everything will look so much better when it is clean."

By the time the sun was setting, Rina had hung the braided rugs on the line beside her clothes. She sat on the wooden bench, watching the sky begin to turn orange and pink. A little breeze tickled her forehead and played with a few loose strands of her hair. A bird began to sing as the sky changed colors.

"It is very peaceful out here," Rina thought. She sat for a few moments, drinking in the beauty. Then she shook her head firmly. "I must get back to work. King Arnon is coming and I must be ready." She pulled herself from her place on the bench, turned her back on the sunset and hurried inside.

Lighting a lamp, Rina next tackled her kitchen. She emptied all the shelves in the pantry, throwing out anything that was not perfectly fresh. She scrubbed the shelves, drying them carefully. Then she restocked the shelves, dusting items that had been sitting a long time. She spent several hours making sure everything was arranged just so. When she finished, shortly after midnight, she rushed outside to collect the now dry laundry. "Iíll put everything away tomorrow," she told herself. Then she dragged herself to her bedroom, too tired to do anything except collapse onto the soft mattress when she slept soundly for the remainder of the night.

Early the next morning, Rina woke to the sound of birds singing at her window. Most mornings she would lie in bed for a few minutes, listening to their songs. But there was no time for that today. "I have so much to do!" Rina groaned as she flung herself out of bed. She pulled on her work clothes, ready for a long, busy day.

Instead of taking the time to cook some sausages and an egg as she usually did, Rina cut herself a thick slice of cheese. She ate it with a piece of bread while planning out her activities. "I need to dust all the books in the study and reorganize them," she told herself. "I should start on Aunt Ednaís old gown, though. It really needs work. Then Iíll have to go pick up some supplies at the market, in case King Arnon asks to stay at my house. Iíll have to do some baking so my pantry is properly stocked. Iíve got to keep working or Iíll never be ready in time."

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Rina cleared away the remains of her hasty breakfast and scurried to answer it.

"Good morning, Miss Katerina," a little boy, age seven, stood at her door. "Sorry Iím late."

"Late?" Rina asked, confused.

"For my lesson." The boy held up the flute he had been carrying.

"Oh, of course," Rina stammered. She smiled gently. "Iím sorry, Jacob. I totally forgot. But Iím afraid Iím going to have to cancel lessons today."

"Why?" Jacob wanted to know.

"Because King Arnon is coming and I have so much to do in order to get ready for his visit," Rina answered.

Jacobís brow wrinkled as he digested this piece of information. "Oh," he said at last, not moving from the front step.

"So, run along now and Iíll see you next week," Rina said, eager to get back to her work.

Jacob paused, rather disappointed. He tried to say something, but couldnít seem to find the words. After a few smiles from Rina he finally waved and trotted off home.

"I guess Iíd better put a sign up, canceling all lessons for the next two days," Rina said as she closed the door. "That way I wonít have any more interruptions."

For the rest of the day, Rina cleaned and sewed and organized. There were no more knocks at her door Ė the sign she had hung made it clear that there would be no music lessons until after King Arnonís visit. After a brief trip to the market, Rina flung herself into her preparations. She worked through lunch, ignoring her growling stomach while she stitched and altered Aunt Ednaís gown. "Iíll eat something later," she told herself as she finished another seam.

As Rina worked, she focused her thoughts on meeting King Arnon. She tried to think what to say and do to make a good impression. She was completely unaware of the tiny winged creatures who watched her anxious preparations with concerned faces.

The sun had set by the time Rina finished her tasks. The newly altered gown was truly beautiful. Strands of pearly hung from the shoulders and draped the overskirt. "It needs a few little touches, then it will be perfect," Rina thought. She carefully hung the dress in her wardrobe, then moved into the kitchen. She smiled as she passed the study where every book was dust-free and neatly stacked on clean shelves. "Perfect," Rina smiled.

In the kitchen, Rina donned an apron and began mixing dough. She made loaves of bread, sweet rolls, two pies and an enormous cake. She nibbled on cheese and some bread while she worked. "I must get everything done tonight," she told herself. "King Arnon is coming tomorrow."

When all her baking was finished, Rina dragged herself to her bedroom. It was well past midnight as she crept under the covers. "Everything is ready," she thought as she closed her eyes.

Early the next morning, Rina was up making her final preparations. She went through each room of her house, making sure everything was just right. She checked the pantry, smiling in satisfaction at all the baked goods on the shelves. Then she heated water, filled a tub and cleaned herself thoroughly. After drying off she began to braid and style her hair to perfection. She clipped a string of pearls into her hair, then carefully put on her gown.

She had just finished dressing when the bell in the village square began to chime. "Heís here!" Rina thought eagerly. "King Arnon is really here!" She hurried out the door, joining other villagers as they headed toward the square.

By the time Rina reached the square, a large crowd had gathered. Rina could see many of her neighbors, some in gowns as rich as the one she was wearing. She also saw some people wearing their everyday clothing. She wrinkled up her nose at the sight of Cedric, a farmer, who wore his tattered pants and had a smudge of dirt on his shirt. "Whatís wrong with him?" Rina wondered. She smoothed her dress and scanned the square.

As she stood, waiting, Rinaís stomach began to growl. She realized she had forgotten to eat that morning. Her body felt achy and worn out from all the chores she had done over the past two days. She stifled a yawn. "Iíll take a nap later," she told herself.

Her attention was drawn to a group of children who were playing on the grass, shrieking as they climbed all over a man in their midst. Rina could hear his laughter mingling with theirs. She shook her head, watching him roll on the ground. Streaks of dirt and grass stains soon covered his pants.

"What a silly thing to do," Rina thought. "Heíll look terrible by the time King Arnon arrives."

Just then, the village bell rang. Rina looked around eagerly as the bell counted twelve. To her amazement, the man who had been wrestling with the children stood up and moved to the center of the square. His crown and golden medallion gleamed in the sunlight.

"King Arnon!" Rina whispered.

As if he had heard her, King Arnon stopped. He stood still for a moment, then turned. He walked through the crowd until he was standing before her.

"Katerina of Lystran," he said, smiling. "It is good to see you."

Rina curtsied gracefully, clamping her lips shut so she wouldnít yawn. "It is an honor to meet you," she said quietly.

"You have been very busy these past few days," King Arnon said.

Rina nodded, uncertain how to respond. Of course she had been busy. She had to get herself ready to meet the King.

"Your music students missed you," King Arnon continued. "They were hoping you could help them with a piece they wanted to play for me."

Rina opened her mouth and began to explain. "I had so much to do, so many preparations to make . . . . " She paused as her eyes caught King Arnonís. An image of Jacobís disappointed face appeared before her. "But, I had to get ready for your visit," she protested weakly.

"You were very busy," King Arnon said softly.

"Is that wrong?" Rina asked.

"Cleaning, making a new dress, baking Ė all of those are good things," King Arnon said. "But none of them were necessary."

Rina stared at him. "I donít understand."

"My love is a gift," King Arnon said. "You cannot earn my love or approval, no matter how hard you work or how many good things you do. I am far more interested in the heart than in clean floors, a freshly stocked panty or a pretty gown." He took Rinaís hands in his own and added, "I will always love you, Rina, just the way you are."

"Even if I wore my dirty work clothes?" Rina asked in amazement.

"Even if you hadnít bathed in a month," King Arnon answered, a twinkle in his eye.

"But shouldnít a person be clean and well-dressed to meet a King?" Rina asked.

"It isnít wrong to do those things," King Arnon answered. "But acts of kindness are far more beautiful to me than all the gowns in the kingdom. And the one who has the heart of a child has learned to see through me eyes."

Just then, Jacob bounded to King Arnonís side. He tugged at the Kingís tunic which had a smudge of dirt on it from his earlier wrestling with the children. "Grandma says lunch is almost ready. You promised to play tag with us before lunch."

"So I did," King Arnon grinned. He lunged at Jacob who whooped and scampered away. King Arnon held out his hand to Rina. "Join us in a game of tag?"

Rina looked at the children who were dancing around the King just beyond armís reach. She saw their eager faces, oblivious to the dirt and grass stains on their clothing. Their eyes were focused on the laughing King.

With a joyful cry, Rina pulled the pearls from her hair and shook it loose. Then, catching up her skirts, she began to run with the children, heedless of the grass and dirt. She laughed as the King caught her in his loving embrace, then raced off to catch another of his children. He paused in the wild game to wave to the small groups of Ursa fairies waiting nearby, inviting them to join in the fun.

And so, the Ursa fairies learned that King Arnonís love is a gift given freely to all that no amount of work can ever earn. Those who wish to find this great love must learn to see with the heart of a child.



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