The inside of the king's castle was even more beautiful than I had imagined.
Everything was solid gold with radiant light emanating from nowhere and everywhere all at once.
Was it really my time? I had been told to prepare for this day my entire life, but it still came as a shock when the king summoned me. I glanced down at the ruby-red apple in my hand. It had taken years for me to produce something as ripe and beautiful as this. Surely the king would be pleased.
I was escorted into the throne room, where the aisle was lined with people waiting to see the king. Many carried baskets brimming with different fruit. One wrinkled little man was dragging an entire pear tree behind him. A huge silver bow adorned the trunk, and he was busy polishing each pear with his sleeve.
My stomach lurched, and I suddenly felt like everyone was staring at me. After all, I had only brought one apple. It would not be enough. I knew that now.
The king sat on his high golden throne, encircled in a surreal brightness. I placed a hand over my eyes to shield them, and saw that he was smiling down at me.
My heart pounded against my chest. I did not dare gaze upon his wondrous face. I looked down, swallowed hard and bowed.
"Show me your fruit," he said in a thundering voice that shook the foundation of the castle.
I stood up as tall as I could and held out the apple in both hands. "This is all I have, " my voice quavered. "I'm sorry that I have failed you my Lord."
The king rose from his throne, and walked toward me, his robes billowing gently behind him. There was elegance in his steps, and a fiery power in his eyes.
Before he reached me, I threw myself at his feet. "Please forgive me," I begged.
The entire room seemed to hold its breath, waiting for his response.
What happened next caught me completely off guard. There was no way to prepare myself for what he did.
The king sank to one knee, and placed a hand firmly on the top of my head.
I flinched. I could not believe he was actually touching me. I wanted to shy away, to tell him to stop, but before I could utter the words, a warm tingling feeling spread through my body.
I looked down at my hands, which were a brilliant white. He was covering me with his light.
"Look upon me, my servant," he whispered.
I shook my head. I did not want to look at him, but something about his touch and his words made me want to obey, even if only for one last time. I took a shuddering breath and forced my eyes to meet his gaze.
There were tears in his eyes.
I felt my own eyes burning as the shame and despair overwhelmed me. To see such disappointment in the eyes of the one to whom I had sworn my life, was worse than any punishment.
His voice broke. "My precious child, you have not failed," he said taking the apple from my shaking hands. "How is it possible that you, who have served me all of your life, still do not comprehend?"
I gaped at him, not sure I really understood.
"My child, this is the most exquisite apple I have ever seen."
"But my Lord," I said as boldly as I could. "These others have brought you so much. Their lives are emblems of your glory."
His smile faded. "The fruit they bring is not for my glory - it is for themselves. You sowed many seeds, and with tender care and love you brought forth this strong beautiful apple. In turn, it will produce healthy seeds, which will grow into even more lovely apples." Then his eyes blazed. "My child, their fruit is hollow. Empty shells, just like their souls."
He stood up and reached out his hand toward me. His voice was once again loud enough for the entire room to hear, but his gaze never left my face. "Rise and come, my faithful servant! Your reward awaits you."
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