“Daddy! Daddy! Tell us a story!”
“Yes, a story!”
“Okay, okay! A story it is, my dear ones. What story do you want to hear tonight?”
“Yes, the king!”
“It’s my favorite!”
“Are you sure you want that one again? I told it to you lastnight.”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
“Very well. I will tell it again . . . if I can remember how it goes . . . ”
“Oh, I know! Far in the east near the sunrise . . .”
“. . . in a land of paradise . . . “
“. . . was the narthodox king!”
“Ha ha. Yes, I remember now. . . . Listen my children as I tell you the story of The Unorthodox King and his kingdom of glory.”
“Oooh! I love that part!”
“Quiet now so we can hear.”
“Yes, we must not interrupt.”
. . . And this is the story of The Unorthodox King.
Far away, much closer to the sunrise than the sunset, there was a great and glorious land. The houses were always clean, the streets were always free of litter, and the people always dressed in their finest clothes. The capital city sat in the very center of the land, and the towers of the palace could be seen sparkling in the sun almost as far as the mountains. The king and queen of the land would often go out into the streets of the city to talk to the people. They never feared to do so, for there was no danger in the land except for what came from the occasional wild animal. Those who came from other lands to trade would remark that the city was a paradise, for the deals were always great, and the people were always happy.
One day, the early-morning peace of the city was disturbed by the sound of bells. People were very excited, for it meant that a new prince or princess had been born. As it turned out, the news quickly spread that it was indeed a new prince. The happy people gave each other gifts and greeted each other merrily at the good news. However, as it happened, there was one place in the city where the news was not so good—and it happened to be the palace.
It all started with the visit of a fairy. Now, magical beings were not unknown in the land, but they did not show themselves too often. In this instance, the king and queen were very surprised that the fairy came to them. The last time a fairy had attended the birth of anyone in the land was so long ago that nobody knew exactly when it had happened. Of course, the king and queen received her with perfect manners.
“Greetings, good fairy! We are most honored to have you visit us at this joyous occasion,” said the king.
“Yes, we thank you for your kindness. You are welcome indeed,” remarked the queen, sitting up in bed.
“Thank you for your kindness as true as it may be,” replied the fairy, “for I have come to give a gift of language free.”
Now, the king and queen did not know exactly what the fairy meant by “a gift of language free,” but they knew it would be considered rude to question it, so they simply showed her the tiny smiling face of the new baby. The small child smiled as the fairy came closer, reaching a small hand toward her. With an outstretched hand, the fairy extended a finger to the baby, and just as his small fingers closed around it, the fairy disappeared in a flash and a loud “pop” that made everyone jump. The baby was surprised the most, for he immediately began to cry.
Now, it is important to know at this point that a crying baby was almost unheard of in the land for as long as anyone could remember. You see, nobody cried or complained or even said anything unpleasant in this land. From the moment they were born until the moment they died, every person presented the most perfect manners and disposition that could be imagined. It had been this way for so long that nobody remembered when it began or even how it happened. Thus, the king and queen were clearly surprised—and slightly concerned—as they soothed the baby back to a peaceful state, hoping it was simply one of those unexplainable things that never happened again.
As it turned out, it was not an isolated event. The baby cried whenever he was hungry, tired, or needed to be changed. This habit put an unavoidable strain on the manners of everyone in the palace. Of course, the king and queen did not complain or say anything openly about their consternation, but they invited more physicians to examine the child than had ever been seen in the palace previously. The doctors were unable to answer their questions, for they did not understand what was wrong with the child. The best they could do was politely remark that the baby seemed to have the same disposition as the outsiders who visited the city. It is notable that as the king and queen heard this news repeatedly, they eventually forgot to smile when thanking the physicians for their professional opinion; however, the doctors overlooked the omission and made no mention of it—nor of the bags under the parents’ eyes. Toward the end of the first year, the king and queen hired a nanny and doctor from another land, realizing they needed people in the palace who knew how to deal with unpleasant circumstances.
Now, as the child grew, he had a profound effect on everyone around him. When he was 2 ½ years old, he had deviated from the expected rules of etiquette so often that the king actually described his mood as “unpleasant” in conversation with the queen; it is perhaps a sign of her own stress that not only was she not shocked that such a thing would be said but she also did not disagree. When he was 6, shortly after the king hired 2 outsiders to teach and train the boy, there was an incident that caused so much distress to the queen that she needed treatment by the physicians—and it is noteworthy that normal palace life almost stopped for a few years after he turned 13. His parents did all they could, but the truth is that they simply did not know how to handle him. It is quite understandable, then, that his nanny and teachers took over most of his care, and he listened to them much more than he did to anyone else.
You might think that by this time, stories would have gotten out into the neighboring lands about some of these very regrettable occurrences. Actually, the opposite was true. As far as everyone else knew, the city was as much of a paradise as ever. This was not just because nobody ever said anything impolite about the prince. The truth was that when outsiders came to the city and visited the palace, they would often remark at how nice the boy was. He may have been like an outsider to the insiders, but as far as the outsiders were concerned, he behaved himself very commendably for a child his age. Indeed, there were times that visiting nobility seemed to prefer the company of the prince over the king and queen!
Now, as mentioned, everybody considered this to be the best possible place to trade. The reason for this is that the people were always so polite that they would never refuse any offer when doing so might be described as unreasonable; in other words, they were repeatedly taken advantage of by outsiders. The treaties by other lands were equally as skewed. The people always responded politely and agreeably to everyone, but they spent so much of their time working to compensate for terrible deals that they got sick and died younger than all the neighboring lands—and when they got sick, it often ended up worse than it needed to be because nobody ever wanted to tell the physicians what was wrong. Probably the only reason the city had lasted as long as it had was that the lands with treaties defended their personal interests and interceded when a treaty with one land would negatively affect that of another.
The most significant event of the prince’s youth took place when he had just turned 17. A delegation from a country beyond the mountains arrived to request a treaty. The delegation asked to meet with the king and queen at dinner, knowing it was the best time to get a favorable response because it was when people were most polite. Of course, the palace accommodated their request. It was at the dinner that the visiting ambassador suggested a deal in which each city would annually give half their produce to the other. This might sound equitable at first, but the visiting delegation was from a land 1/5 the size of the city, not to mention the farms and villages around the city. Even at his most polite, the king felt some distress. On the one hand, it would be unreasonable and unfair to decline a half-for-half trade when both sides would be giving up half of their goods; on the other hand, he knew that agreeing to such a deal would bankrupt the city. The entire room fell silent while the king looked at the other members of his court and considered how to politely agree to a treaty he knew would doom them all.
It was at this point that the prince did a most unthinkable thing. Having recently studied economy from his teacher—who described it according to his own outsider perspective—he responded without fully thinking and exclaimed, “That is the most ridiculously outrageous deal I have ever heard in my life!” Now, the room may have seemed quiet before, but it seemed that even noises outside the windows stopped while everyone held their breath. The visiting ambassador, expecting a polite acceptance of the conditions, was so stunned that he stood up and walked out, followed by the rest of his delegation. Normally, the king and queen, as well as the other members of the court, would have immediately gone after them and apologized, doing whatever they could to amend the situation; however, they all simply stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity—though it was only about 4 minutes.
“My queen, my lords, and my ladies,” the king finally said with nods in their general directions, “I must apologize for not responding quicker to the unforeseen outburst of the prince; however, it seems that his tendency to be free with his language may have fortuitously prevented our complete destruction.”
“I am usually distressed by my son’s lack of diplomacy,” responded the queen, “but I must admit, dear husband, that I agree with you. I am forced to consider if perhaps there is an tangible benefit to having someone in our midst who is accustomed to being imperfectly polite when dealing with outsiders?”
The rest of the court unanimously agreed, and it was clear that they were not doing so just to be polite. It was immediately decided that the prince would handle all treaties and negotiations with other lands. The prince was overjoyed to find that his condition turned out to be beneficial for the land, and he took great care to do the best he could. As would be expected, the neighboring kingdoms did not like this turn of events, but they eventually came to respect the prince as both fair and reasonable. The king and queen, who originally doubted the potential prospects for their son, did not know how to respond to the subsequent interest by outsider princesses, so after careful consideration, they decided to let the prince decide for himself. To be honest, they became a bit distressed when he was still single at the age of 20, but he assured them it was just because he was very busy. They were deeply relieved when he fell in love the next year, and the wedding ended up being the biggest that anyone could remember.
It was actually the day of the wedding, after the priest pronounced the happy couple married, that a most amazing thing took place. They had just kissed when the king and queen gasped, for coming down the aisle was none other than the fairy herself. She approached the king and queen.
“I will consider if you ask it of me, to take back my gift of language free,” said the fairy.
The king and queen looked at each other for a brief moment before smiling to each other.
“Thank you for your offer, excellent fairy,” said the queen, “but we prefer our son just the way he is.”
The fairy smiled and turned to the newly married couple.
“The gift I gave you has saved your land. It will also rest in your first-born’s hand.”
The prince and outsider princess bowed to the fairy, who faded from sight—this time without a flash or loud noise.
The fairy’s meaning became clear after they had their first child. Although she was as polite as anybody could desire, people found themselves completely unable to be dishonest around her. It created some very embarrassing incidents until everybody got used to it. However, the prince found it very useful to have her crib in the room during tough negotiations.
Eventually, the prince and princess became king and queen, and they ruled the land with fairness and honesty. Of course, the people had to learn adapt to new rulers who were not quite as polite as the ones they knew before, and it took a bit of work. Still, they came to love them dearly. The people began to use the term “unorthodox” in a very endearing way when referencing the king. Additionally, an unexpected side effect of this new king was that as the people of the kingdom began to benefit from his honesty on their behalf, they began to learn how to temper their politeness with truth. It was not easy, but the long-term results were significantly better.
“And that is the story of The Unorthodox King.”
“The narthodox king!”
“Yay! It is my favorite story.”
“Tell us again!”
“Oh no, now it is time for you to go to bed. You will have to wait for tomorrow night for another story.”
“Goodnight, children, and pleasant dreams.”