by Deborah Hemstreet
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The Prince and Ambre
Once upon a time, in a far distant land that did not know the meaning of magic, but lived by knowledge of truth and lies, there lived a prince.
Looking upon his kingdom, the prince thought that it would be good to know the manner of people he would someday rule, and so, although still only a child, he made a man’s decision, dressed himself in rags and became a beggar. He only told his servants to look for his return in rags, and since this was a kingdom where lies and truth were held in great esteem, and where wisdom called forth from the streets, his servants felt they had no need for concern.
The prince set out on his journey. All too soon, however, the prince found himself truly impoverished. In his palace, which was a huge silent place, he had learned one definition of truth; but now in the streets of his kingdom, truth seemed to take on an entirely different meaning. Soon he became quite confused for it seemed that the esteem of lies was greater than the esteem of truth, or rather, that the two had somehow become rather confused. In this great noisy place, the prince found himself truly impoverished and soon joined other beggars lining the streets on the outskirts of the capital city of his kingdom, begging and pleading for help from all passer’s by. He soon forgot that he was a prince, and wandered far away. His past was like a dream and if he mentioned it to others, they merely laughed and threw sticks at him.
Among the prince’s new companions was a little waif of a girl. Her hair was always dirty, but her eyes carried glints of gold. When one looked in her eyes, no one noticed the state of her filth and poverty. She found the beggar boy to be a curiosity. She would watch him as every morning, long before others were stirring, he would make his way to a public fountain and try, as best he could, to wash himself. Sometimes he would take off pieces of his clothing and wash them as well, then put them back on wet. The waif girl found this behavior odd, since she and her companions had never been taught to bathe. But this new beggar did seem to be a bit healthier than the rest and there was something about his bearing that drew her to him.
However, she also noticed that the prince was totally inept at begging. He did not hold his hands out like the others, and he did not know how to look needy. He always received less than the other beggars, and so, although in some ways he seemed stronger than those with whom he begged, in the end, after many months, he was markedly weaker, for he rarely got enough pennies to buy food, and although he was always clean and healthy, his clothes were now mere rags and he walked with a slow stoop.
One day Ambre (for that was the waif girl’s name) heard the others laughing and pushing Ozel (for that was the prince’s name) around, slapping him and shouting, “Hail prince, grant us alms, meet our needs.” Ozel moved as one in a stupor, allowing himself to be pushed around, not fighting back, eyes closed, and as blood began to flow from his wounds, Ambre realized that soon he would be mortally hurt if someone did not interfere soon.
It took a lot of courage, for Ambre was but a small waif of a child, but she ran into the group and began yelling at them to stop beating Ozel. She stood between him and his mockers and they quickly stopped their blows, but whether they stopped because Ambre was but a little filthy waif of a child, or if it was shock at the glints of fire in her eyes, I cannot tell you.
Soon they were left alone and Ambre tried to comfort the wounded boy. Ozel did not talk for a long time. He did not know what to say. In truth, he had been so terrified that he had withdrawn to a terrible place of silence in his soul that no one would reach quickly.
Slowly, Ambre drew him forth. Terribly wounded, Ozel could do nothing but entrust himself to her care. Tenderly she covered him with the edge of her robe. As she begged she would piteously cry out for double mercy so that she could feed her sick brother. Passers by saw and threw a few extra coins her way, others an occasional crust, and so she was able to feed both herself and Ozel.
Never having bathed herself, Ambre did not understand why it was important, but she knew that it was important to Ozel. Every morning she would creep to the well in the early morning hours and laboriously hand-spoon water over Ozel’s wounds, face, hair, and feet. Sometimes the water would spill onto her body and she would find the feel pleasant. She did not know that the water made her clean and pleasant to look at, but she soon learned to enjoy its feel, and so, as Ozel was healed by her care, she was cleansed in turn.
The day came when Ozel finally dared come out of his silence. “Who are you?” he whispered, “why have you helped me?”
Ambre shrugged. “I am me, no one special. I helped you because you were wounded. It did not seem right to leave you so.”
They both were silent, looking at each other, each feeling strangely more alive than either had in a very long time. Ambre finally broke the silence. “Why were the others beating you? What did you do?”
Ozel seemed to shrink into himself.
Ambre touched him gently, “Please, I won’t hurt you. Only tell me, why were they hurting you? Whatever it was, whatever you have done, I will not hurt you.”
Ozel gazed into her gold glinted eyes, and trusted her. “I had been dreaming. When I woke up I remembered that my dream was true and my life here on the streets a lie. And I told the others my dream.”
“What was it?”
Ozel paused and then said so softly Ambre could barely hear him, “I am the prince of this kingdom and will someday be its king. I had come to see the state of my kingdom, but I did not know that this is how so many people live. I became lost and frightened, and for a long time I forgot that I am the Crown Prince. But now I have remembered, and I do not know how to get back to my palace. I asked for help and, and..” the prince’s voice faltered and he fell into a deep silence.
Ambre looked at him somberly. Then she gently touched his chin and forced his face upwards so that she could look into his eyes. She gazed long and hard into his eyes, and the prince did not resist, though her look seemed to pierce his very being. Ambre finally released Ozel from her gaze and gently caressed the face she had bathed when he had been so ill and wounded. “I believe you. I will take you to the palace.”
The journey was long and filled with many adventures. The prince shared the truths of his life in the palace and Ambre shared with him the truths of her life in the streets. It was hard to understand such different truths, even harder to understand the lies that surrounded them all. The prince taught Ambre the truth of cleanliness and she understood the lie of filth. Ambre taught the Prince the truth of compassion, and he understood the lie of silence. But the Prince did not understand that the lie lived within him. Ambre, however, sensed this, and could only continue to guide him to the palace and hope that one day he would understand. How could she explain to him, “If I lived in the silence that possesses you, I would never have reached out to care for you”?
But wisdom calls out in the streets, and Ambre had begun to hear that voice and so she likewise understood that truth and lies are too easily confused and the desire for truth must consume the listener. It grieved her that the closer they came to the palace, the more the prince could think only of the comfort awaiting him, and the less he seemed to think about all that he had seen and experienced. Still he was tender towards her for she had saved his life.
“You are beautiful,” the Prince told her one day.
“I am?” Ambre whispered in wonder.
And so Ambre began to learn a new truth, of her own beauty and worth. Without the prince, such a thought would never have occurred to one born to know only filth, and horror, and penury.
On a cold dry day, Ambre and the prince stood outside the gates of the palace.
“I wish I could bring you with me,” the Prince said.
“You can,” Ambre thought. “I would never leave you.”
But the Prince could not hear Ambre’s thoughts, and his mind was distracted by the Palace. It was bigger than he remembered and he was overcome with a longing for a long hot bath, like he had not taken in seemingly years.
“I will miss you,” the Prince said, and turned to go.
“Ozel,” Ambre called, “May I give you a gift before you go?”
Prince Ozel turned. “You have given more than I had a right to expect already. What more could I expect you to give?”
Ambre smiled sadly. “You can expect nothing. But still, I would give, for I have learned far more from you than you can imagine. All this path that I have led you to your rightful home and place, you have helped me find my home and place as well. I, who was not content and lived in sorrow, have found contentment and joy. I would share this with you.”
The Prince became uncomfortable, for he did not understand such talk, though he and Ambre had shared their hearts and she had bathed him, and once, he had kissed her.
Ambre reached under her tunic and pulled out a beautiful, simply made bowl. In it was a soul of incredible beauty and value, the soul of an innocent little girl who would one day be a beautiful woman, whose name was Ambre.
The Prince stepped back. “I cannot take this. It is yours! It is your most precious possession..”
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “But I would not have found it without you. And something of true worth can only hold its value if it is shared.” She stretched the bowl out to him. “Please, take it. I want to share.”
Hesitantly the Prince reached out to take the bowl. “Are you sure?”
The Prince looked at the bowl, awed at such a gift, held it close to himself and then turned and left her. Approaching the gates of the palace he called a secret name to the guards. Hearing his voice, they quickly opened the gates and ushered the long gone Prince in to his rightful home.
Ambre watched until he was gone from view but the Prince never looked back. Ambre felt a strange heaviness in her heart that she did not understand, for she was still a child. Then with a child’s faith and truth, she pictured the Prince holding her only valued possession, the bowl with her soul, and her spirit soared, she lived, she flew and knew, that in the giving of herself, she had found new life.
Ambre’s journey and experience taught her many things. Among them, was the truth that beggar’s are made by a state of heart. No longer a beggar in her heart, Ambre found that she had gifts and capabilities that made her able to work like other people. Growing out of childhood, she found that life meant more than food, or money, or even cleanliness. She did not want to leave the city of the Prince and so she looked for work. Although she had no credentials, she went to the Lane of the Healers and began to inquire for work. Nearly all told her to go away and not bother them. She had given up and was turning at the end of the lane to leave, fighting tears, when a man, ancient in years, stopped her.
“What do you here, child?” he asked.
“Please sir, I am looking for work.”
The old man looked at her and took her chin, in much the same way she had once taken Prince Ozel’s, and looked her in the eyes, just as she had looked into the Prince’s eyes.
“You will do. Come” was all he said.
And so Ambre found employment with an old man who was known as the Ancient Healer. He was so old that children mocked his crippled step. He was so old that the newer healer’s mocked his cures, for they were not modern. He was so old that only the old and the desperate came to him. But he revered truth and feared lies, and most important, every morning when wisdom cried out on the streets, he took Ambre with him, and together, silently, they would listen. Then, the rest of the day, as she cleaned, or cooked, or helped him with a patient, he would query her on what she had heard.
In this way Ambre learned the way of wisdom.
Prince Ozel found that no one in the Palace wanted to understand or hear about his journeys. They laughed at the bowl he’d been given, and so he hid it in his room. He tried to talk with his father, but the King had a heart only for rules and laws and was intent on teaching his only son to replace him. Although the Prince had learned many things, he had not learned to discern the voice of wisdom; he became confused. The King invited many gifted teachers into the palace, and some spoke of wisdom, some spoke of the law, some spoke of the spirit of the age and others spoke on the truth of lies and the lies of truth. The Prince listened to them all, and then, when he became too confused, he would find a place of deep silence in his soul and hide there.
In the beginning he found comfort in looking secretly at the precious gift Ambre had given him. It did not take long, however, for him to fear the ridicule of men. More than once a servant would open the door to his room, see him talking to Ambre's soul, and laugh at his childish behavior. Once his father called him aside and urged him to put aside childish things. Another time a teacher mocked his sensitivity and stressed, “you must rule your kingdom with an iron hand, of what use is a soul in an old bowl to you?” As the prince grew older his desire to please, his fear of ridicule, and the pleasures of the palace filled him beyond any other thought. He took Ambre’s soul, in its bowl, and hid it under his bed.
Many months passed. One night the prince lay restless on his bed. He thought he heard a sound like dry paper cracking. It was coming from under his bed. He looked underneath and found the long forgotten bowl. Its contents were no longer beautiful and glistening, but rather dried and crumbling. The soul was so dry and parched that it could barely whisper, “water”.
The prince was irritated that his rest was disturbed, but nothing could still the whisper, and so he got up, went and fetched some water, since at this time of night even his servants were sleeping.
A few nights later he heard a whisper, “cold.” Again it was in the middle of the night. Again he was disturbed. This night he’d been truly sleeping a deep silent sleep. He needed his rest as the examiners were coming the next day to test him on the things of the Kingdom.
“Hush, I need to sleep,” the Prince mumbled and turned over in his bed.
“Cold” the soul’s whisper fluttered to his ears.
Truly irritated, the Prince finally got up and looked for a spare blanket to cover Ambre’s soul with, for he was certainly not going to give up his own blanket. It was cold out... This too took some time as, again, his servants were sleeping, he had no help and had no idea where the extra blankets were stored.
Once covered, the soul sighed and seemed to smile at him. “Thank you.”
But the Prince did not even hear as he crawled back into bed and returned to his deep, heavy and silent sleep.
On such nights, Ambre would cry out in her sleep, as though in pain. But in the morning she would remember nothing. After many such nights, the old healer became worried. He knew that something was wrong, but he did not know what. One particular night, Ambre cried out in such pain that she awakened from her sleep. Only this time she did remember: in her dream someone she’d loved had taken her, beaten her and then thrown her onto a pile of filthy, disease riddled refuse. Awake, Ambre could only clutch her chest and moan in pain.
The Healer awoke from his sleep. “My child, what is wrong?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Ambre moaned, rocking herself and clutching her chest. “I feel such a pain I can’t bear it.”
The Healer had Ambre lay down and made a poultice to lay on Ambre’s pain racked chest. As he opened her gown and looked, he drew back in shock. “Who has done this to you? Where did you get such a wound? What has happened to your soul?”
Ambre looked down and sighed through the pain. “I did not know I was wounded. Truly.” And then she began to tell the Healer the story of the strange beggar boy she had helped, and how the beggar boy had been a Prince. She explained that she had given him her soul because she had not known what else to give to help him.
The Healer sighed. “You do not know what you have given,” he said as he placed a poultice on her wound. “Such a gift should not be given lightly.”
Remembering the many ill and sorely treated people who had sought the Healer’s help, Ambre now understood, though only a little. “I know,” but then she said more strongly. “But Healer, I am not sorry. I would do it again. I, I think I came to, to... is love, is that the word? Yes, I think I loved him. I am not sorry.”
Looking at her with compassion the Healer said, “Then you know you cannot ask for your soul back. You gave it freely. It must be freely returned. And if not, you must live without it. This is the way of Wisdom and Truth.”
“I know...” Ambre was thoughtful. “But Healer, would it be wrong for me to ask to see the Prince, to ask for the state of his health, to perhaps ask if he is happy with my gift?”
The Healer was thoughtful before he answered. “My child, it would not be wrong, but I do not think you will like the answer. The Teacher of this Age was invited by the King to teach the Prince. I do not think Prince Ozel will even remember you. If he does remember you, I do not think it will be kindly.”
“But I saved his life,” Ambre exclaimed. “How could he not remember me?”
“He will remember a shadow of who you were. You will be remembered, remade into an image he can live with.”
Ambre was silent and the old Healer spoke on. “But is it any different with you? You have not seen the Prince in a long time. Surely he has changed. But you remember a little boy who was a beggar, the Prince in disguise, wounded and needy. This is the Prince you love. Can you truly say that he has remained the same?”
“No.” Ambre replied thoughtfully. “Nevertheless, I must go and see him.”
“I know,” the old Healer replied.
Time had turned Ambre into a beautiful young girl, bearing little resemblance to the child who had met the Prince so long ago. Only the gold flakes in her eyes revealed her as the same person as, the next day, Ambre stood at the gates of the palace asking for an audience with the Prince.
Gaining an audience with the Prince was not as easy as she had thought it would be. No one wanted to listen to her pleas. In fact, she might not have gained admittance if one of the Prince’s teachers had not overheard the argument.
“Please,” Ambre was begging, “I knew him when he left the palace so long ago, to learn on the streets.”
The guards, all new since the Prince had returned, knew nothing of the story. “You are a bad liar.” They mocked. “Go and learn a better lie that we might believe.”
The teacher, one whom the Prince did not like, sensed truth in the words of this pleading girl, poor, but stately in bearing. He had long sensed a secret in the life of the Prince that kept him from being the man and future King that this kingdom would need. Perhaps this girl would be able reach the Prince where he had failed.
“Let her in,” the teacher said. “I would use her as an assistant today. If she lies the Prince will know. If she speaks truth, then he will know.”
The guards laughed and replied, “Oh take her with you old teacher. You think the Prince will know the truth from lies? Maybe, if your teaching has succeeded, but our Prince prefers silence to all this confusion about discernment.”
But the guards let Ambre enter with the teacher.
Once inside, the teacher motioned for Ambre to enter the Prince’s classroom. She looked at him in surprise. “You will not come with me?”
“I think not,” the teacher said. “I believe your story. Perhaps you will succeed in teaching the Prince, where I have failed.”
Ambre entered an opulent chamber filled with carpets, bookcases, and a huge table. Seated at a chair, absorbed with a book, she saw the Prince. He looked older, but other than that, he did not look much different from what she remembered.
“What are you reading, Prince Ozel?” Ambre asked.
Without looking up the Prince replied, “My favorite book, the Book of Truth. It is truly an amazing book. Go light the fire.”
The Prince had assumed that Ambre was the chambermaid. When she did not move he finally looked up. “Who are you? What do you want? Why do you disturb me from my treasured reading? I am learning to rule a Kingdom. Go away.”
“Don’t you remember me?” Ambre asked, looking at him steadily.
The Prince avoided her gaze and failed. “No.” He said dully.
“I am Ambre.”
The Prince carefully closed his Book of Truth and finally returned her gaze, but his look was closed, cold and hard. “What do you want?”
Ambre’s body throbbed with pain as she silently stood before him.
“What do you want of me?” the Prince repeated.
“Nothing,” Ambre gasped, and stumbled. “I, I came... I don’t know.. please, my friend, my beggar, prince, my equal, help me...” The pain in her chest was unbearable and Ambre stumbled against the table.
The Prince stared at her imperiously. “I cannot help you.”
Ambre did not understand. But then, she thought, “My soul, if I could just look at it, To be sure it is safe and well...”
“My soul,” she said. “I know you are busy, but I have but a small favor to ask of you.”
“My soul. I don’t need it back, for I gave of it freely. But, could I, would you let me just see my soul, to be sure it is safe...”
The Prince’s face went white and he fell back in his chair as though someone had hit him. Slowly he composed himself. “I know nothing of your soul.”
Ambre cringed but continued to gaze at him. A small tear appeared at the corner of her eye.
“It demanded too much of me. I threw it away.”
Ambre was too shocked to respond. Demanded? Threw it away? If he had not wanted it surely he could have given it back, or given it to someone who would want it...
The Prince paused and then spoke, harshly, coldly, unthinkingly. “You gave me no gift. You gave only demands. I thought you had given me a beautiful bowl with contents lovely to behold. But you did not tell me that if I left it in the sun it would whither up, or that if it got too cold, it could freeze, or that if I dropped it, it would bruise. Nor did you tell me that it would sing when I wanted silence or be silent when I needed a voice to soothe me.” “In short,” he finished, “I have no need of such a gift. It is too much for me to care for. It is no gift, only demanding responsibility.”
Silent tears now streamed down Ambre’s face. “Then give it back,” she cried. “I never would have given it to you if I had not truly thought it would bring you joy. Give it back.”
For a moment the Prince’s hardness vanished. For just a moment Ambre saw a little beggar boy. “I can’t,” he whispered. “I threw it away.”
Ambre moaned and collapsed on the ground. She was barely aware of the voices around her. Demands that she move, that she get up, get out. She did not feel the harsh hands grab her, not the bruising jolt to her body as she was cast out.
Ambre came to herself slowly, assailed by horrible smells and noises. As she became aware of where she was, horror and pain overcame her. She had been cast out of the palace onto a garbage heap, where all the refuse of the city was left. Turning, to get her bearings, she looked down. There in the garbage heap, next to her, she saw shining sparkling pieces of a broken bowl, and mixed with the pieces lay her soul, brittle, withered, cracked, and, upon picking it up, broken, into too many pieces, splinters, and chunks, to be easily handled.
Ambre looked carefully around her, found a piece of bowl here, a shred of soul there. She gently lay her shattered soul and the broken pieces of the bowl into her lap. Some pieces of her soul, still barely alive, fled into her heart, finding hidden chambers of warmth and healing. Other pieces, too wounded to move, lay there quivering. She gathered the pieces, strands and parts in the apron of her skirt and gingerly, painfully, made her way back to the lane of the Healers.
A new sorrow awaited Ambre at the end of the lane of the Healers. On entering the tent of the ancient Healer, she found his body, sitting in a chair, waiting for her return. But cry though she might, His life was gone. The ancient Healer had heard the Voice of Wisdom calling his name, and though he was worried for Ambre, Wisdom assured him that all would be well. It was time for the Healer to enter True Life.
Ambre wept and buried the Healer’s body. Now she was truly alone. When she wandered the lane of Healers asking if anyone knew how to heal a Soul Bowl, they mocked and laughed. When she showed the broken pieces of the Bowl to one healer, he only laughed and knocked it to the ground, breaking it into still smaller pieces.
“Is there no true healer in the land?” Ambre cried out. But no one answered, for the Teacher of the Age was well listened to and he taught that healing came through destruction. It made no sense to Ambre, but that is the way of the world.
She knew that her time in the Capital of the Kingdom had come to an end. This was not her place anymore. She returned to the tent of the Ancient Healer and gathered a few of the ointments and salves that he said were best used for all maladies, and an ancient book of healing which comforted her wounded soul. Then, looking at the broken Soul Bowl and pieces of soul still too wounded to reach her own heart, she found a small burlap bag and padded it with cotton. She gently placed all the broken pieces and splinters in the bag, attached it to a string and tied it around her neck.
Gathering the few treasured possessions that the ancient healer had left her, Ambre began her long journey in search of a True Healer.
The Prince remained a beggar in his soul and all too soon, he became ruler of the Kingdom with great responsibility and honor. He gave many gifts, but accepted no praise, nor gifts from anyone. He ordered the gates of the palace to be barred. Few were those who gained permission to enter. The Prince, become King had no need of anyone, and though he ruled well, he ruled alone. He did not think much about his subjects, and his subjects did not really know him. He would venture forth from his Palace only in time of dire need, and then would return quickly, relishing the privacy and silence that ruled there. Sometimes his judgments were wise, sometimes not. He said he had no more need of teachers, for he read his Book of Truth everyday, and endeavored to do the best he could. But sometimes he would sigh, and his guards knew that in his sleep he cried, though their King did not remember.
Ambre learned to live with her crushed soul and Soul Bowl tied in a burlap bag hanging around her neck, resting against her heart. She began to stop looking for a healer as, in the midst of her own quest, she met too many people who had bared their hearts to her. They too had need of a Healer, and soul containers, she learned, come in many shapes and sizes, from bowls and glass bottles, to burlap bags and sacks, to heavy chain-sealed lead boxes.
The sad truth was that the Teacher of the Age had corrupted the healers. There were rumors of True Healers, uncorrupted by the Age, but none of the people Ambre met had found one. Like her, all whom she met had experienced only healers like the ones who lived in the Lane of Healers - unlike the Ancient Healer, who alone was a True Healer, these healers, in the name of health and truth, destroyed.
Ambre found a small village by the sea in a remote part of the Kingdom and found a position as a servant in the hall of a wealthy family. Ever conscious of the burlap bag between her breasts she was sensitive to all she met, as though they too carried the same burden she did - and indeed, many did.
Little by little, by force of sheer proximity of her soul, piece by piece of her soul continued to find its way back into her heart. It was odd, she mused, years later, when her body was no longer a little girl’s, rather only her heart, but it had seemed that every burden of others she had wept over, every time she had reached into her burlap bag to take and give a part of herself to others in hope, in faith and in love, she had found a deeper place of wholeness. Ambre began to wonder about this, for it seemed that the more whole she felt, the deeper her sorrow, the greater her joys, and the more soul for giving her burlap bag contained.
In time she became thankful for the rejection of the Prince. Her bowl had needed to be carefully carried everywhere, but with her soul apportioned in this burlap bag, and paradoxically, now, finally within herself, she found it easier to walk among men, easier to care, easier to give. And so, a young maid in a tiny village on the far coast of a vast Kingdom began to be known as a True Healer. Many were the hopeless who came to the manor house in this village and asked the Master or Mistress of the house if they could have the services of the True Healer. Always, Ambre complied with the wishes of the Master and Mistress of the house, and so she found she had learned well from the Ancient Healer. Here she served in anonymity and truth.
One day the Mistress of the Manor sent for her. “Ambre,” the Lady explained, “I have a guest here who is quite ill. I fear it is unto death. He has seen many physicians and healers, but none know of his malady, none can help, and many are those who have taken payment but left my guest more ill than he was before. Will you nurse him, even if it should be a nursing for a more gentle death?”
Ambre, now a mature woman and sure in her gift, readily agreed. She gathered various ointments and herbs for the soothing of body and soul and entered the guest’s chamber.
There, laying in his bed, a mere shadow of the man he should have been, lay the Prince, now King of the Kingdom, with no heir apparent to his throne.
Ambre looked at him closely as he lay in a stupor, eyes closed. He was so much older than that time so many years past when they had played as beggars and traveled to the Palace. But her fingers still remembered the shape of his face, his nose, the close laying ears that had listened to her child’s heart, his mouth, which had so easily promised to treasure her precious gift, and his hands which had just as carelessly cast her gift away.
Looking at the stricken king, Ambre knew that her ability to heal was not hers to have control over, rather, as she considered her throbbing heart and the now heavy burlap bag weighing her head downward, she knew, that should she withhold what little she could give now, something in her would be lost, something deeper than her soul.
In the few moments that passed as she assembled her herbs and poultices, life and death passed through her fingers. Righteousness and malice, pain and love, glory and hell raged in her soul.
She touched his face gently, “King Ozel,” she whispered, “can you hear me?” But he did not stir. “Prince Ozel,” she whispered. Ambre’s mistress had sent for her, indeed, too late.
Subtly a though stirred in her mind, “It is too late, no one will judge you if you say there is nothing you can do.”
Ambre, to those watching, appeared unmoved and efficient. “Remove his outer clothes,” she ordered.
The King now lay clothed in a thin gown that hung oddly over his chest. His breathing was ragged and shallow; skin glistening and pail, he was unaware of his surroundings. Ambre had seen the like before, but now, knowing for sure how truly near death the King was, she knew that if she chose, she could indeed be a tool to restore.
The thoughts assailed.
“It is too late.”
“You will be blamed if you try and fail.”
“He broke your Soul Bowl and shattered your soul.”
“He will not recognize you if you help him. This pain will be worse than the one before..”
Perhaps it was this latter thought which steeled Ambre’s heart. Or perhaps she had seen too many people suffering this same malady which no power was hers to cure and aid. Or perhaps her love of heaven was so great that pain of hell did not cause her alarm, though it raged in fury against her.
Ambre turned to the King’s servants. “I think I can help, but I must be left alone with him.”
The servants silently nodded assent and left. He would die without this woman’s aid, perhaps he would die anyway, but truly they would have tried everything. They would not be condemned if he died and this Ambre had ministered to the King. If he died they would let her carry the blame.
Alone with the Prince (for though a King, Ambre still saw only the Prince), she approached and gently opened up his gown, revealing his chest. There, as she had expected, lay a heavy lead box clamped tightly shut with heavy chains and locked with a ponderous lock for which there appeared to be no key.
Ambre sighed and then moaned, as though in pain. Suddenly, her burlap bag hung heavier than she had ever remembered it feeling before, so heavy, that she thought she would fall from its weight. But faith and hope kept her standing and love told her what to do.
Slowly, carefully, Ambre removed the burlap bag from around her neck. She opened the bag and reached in and withdrew a piece of soul. It lay in her hands, large, heavy and jagged in shape, like the keyhole to the lock on the Prince’s chain binding the heavy lead box.
Ever so gently, Ambre took her piece of soul, placed it in the keyhole, and turned the lock. At first the lock resisted, but as she maintained pressure, she felt and heard a click that filled the room.
The Prince moaned, but remained unconscious. Ambre grasped the lock in both hands, opened it and slipped it from the chains. Now, gently, gently, she began to unwrap the chains from around the box, an arduous process for they were long and heavy.
At last free, the lead box lay on the Prince’s chest, attached to a fine chain hanging around his neck. His eyes remained closed, but it seemed as though he had moved into sleep. His skin was no longer damp, his breaths were deeper, stronger.
Tenderly, Ambre opened the box. There lay a lovely Soul, the Soul of a little boy prince, a Soul so beautiful... tears silently fell down Ambre’s cheeks, moistening the Soul, as she tenderly picked it up and discovered, to her horror, on its underside, a horrendous wound. Tears cleansed the wound as she held it in one hand, and with her other, removed the Soul Key from the lock, for the Soul Key was the same shape as the mortal wound in the Prince’s soul.
No thoughts of evil could enter Ambre’s heart. Her decision had been made when she had removed the burlap bag from her own neck.
Deftly, Ambre matched the Soul Key to the wound in the Prince’s heart. Her tears became a salve, joining the edges. Slowly and gently now, she placed the Prince’s soul in her own burlap bag.
Finally, she touched the head of the Prince. “I must move your head a little. It will not hurt.”
The Prince sighed and smiled, but did not awaken.
Raising his head up, tears falling and bathing his face, Ambre slipped the burlap bag with its string over his head and placed the bag on his chest, over his heart.
Only then did she take the fine strong chain attached to the lead box, pull it over his head and remove the lead box from the Prince. Hesitantly, almost fearfully, Ambre placed the chains and lock inside the lead box and closed it. Then she took the fine chain and slipped it over her neck. The lead box now hung around her neck replacing her burlap bag.
Ambre had barely regained her balance when the King opened his eyes and looked at her. He did not know her though the glint of gold in her damp eyes signaled something, something... he reached for the memory but it was gone. “Who are you?” he whispered.
“Only a simple Healer,” she answered softly.
He tried to move, but she stilled him. “You have been very sick,” she said. “I have done what I can. Now you must eat and drink, and heal. You have a Kingdom to rule.”
Ambre turned, gathered her salves and herbs, opened the door and called to the surprised servants to come and minister to their master. Then slowly, heavily, she left.
In a far away kingdom there rules a King. He rules in righteousness, kindness, and deep sorrow. The gates to his Palace are always open, and many are his guests, from every position in life. Whenever his subjects are ill and no Healer can be found to help, the King sends them to a True Healer woman in a small village by the sea in the furthermost part of his kingdom.
The True Healer woman carries an odd lead box around her neck, which she insists is not heavy, and from it finds all manner of healing draughts, ointments and salves for those ill in body and soul.
The King, who now lives with many companions, carries an Ambre shaped piece of soul in a burlap bag close to his heart, and Ambre carries the King’s chamber between her breasts.
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