It was Barnabas’ task to stand watch over Princess Debolev. It was not a task he relished. In fact, if he were honest with himself and he had no choice but to be, he hated the task. He had asked the king several times to be reassigned; after all the palace was full of his children. Each time the king smiled kindly and said. ‘Barnabas, you are my best watcher and only the best will do for Princess Debolev.’
This was a covert operation. And when it came to hiding and unobtrusive helping, the king was right, Barnabas was the best. So he stood in the cool of the afternoon, her invisible companion. He wrinkled his nose. Princess Debolev had chosen to spend yet another day in the utility garden surrounded by piles of horse, cow and chicken manure waiting to be piled into the compost heap.
He resisted the impulse to sigh as Princess Levobed, followed closely by her companion, Simon, wandered through the rose garden touching and smelling and enjoying the abundance of flowers. Oh what bliss, to care for such a perfect princess.
Barnabas knew the compost heap was vital to the garden. Without proper nutrition the roses wouldn’t bloom. The fruit, vegetable and grain crops would fail. Nevertheless, it was no place for a princess or the king. Yet, every evening as the sun set the king would appear in whatever revolting part of the garden Princess Debolev chose, to spend time with her time.
Barnabas bowed as the king approached, feet crunching on the gravel pathway yet not disturbing its intricate patterns. He grimaced as the princess dug three wriggling, fat worms from the bottom of the compost. Don’t, please don’t.
Unhearing, Princess Debolev opened and upended her sandwich, ignoring the slices of smoked salmon that fell to the ground, replacing them with the three worms.
Barnabas grimaced as the king hunkered down in front of the princess. ‘Debolev my child, why do you persist in sitting here among the dung heaps eating worms and beetles when you are free to wander the whole of my garden and partake of whatever you chose?’
Barnabas forced himself to not turn away as Debolev bit into her sandwich. She chewed for a while as if she had not heard the king speak. Barnabas knew how insistent the king could be. He would wait through the night, through many days and nights asking the same question, planting the same thoughts, until she told the king what he already knew.
She finished her sandwich, licked her fingers and began picking caterpillars off the comfrey that grew around the compost. ‘I don’t belong in this garden. Oh, it’s a beautiful place and I’m grateful to you for bringing me here, but I’m not worthy to sit among the roses or gather fruit from your trees.’
The king reached over and picked the caterpillars out of her hand. ‘And who has told you this?’
She watched hungrily as he placed them out of her reach. ‘Voices on the wind. People in my dreams. My own heart confirms it. It’s logical isn’t it? What would a great king such as yourself want with someone like me? Why, even my own parents abandoned me, there is no goodness in me whatsoever, why should you be interested?’
Barnabas leant forward eagerly. Discussion between the princess and the king had never evolved to this depth before.
‘I know that there was no goodness in you, Debolev, but still I chose you to be my princess before the foundation of the earth. Remember the day I purchased you from the slave markets? Remember when I adopted you and brought you to this garden so that we could get to know each other?’
She nodded, glancing over to the path. Princess Levobed was walking past, carrying a large basket of fragrant blooms.
‘I could never be like her.’
‘Did I say I wanted you to be like her?’
The princess looked down and began digging in the earth with a twig.
Barnabas’ heart nearly broke at the compassion and love that was wrapped in that one word.
She shook her head.
‘No, you never said you wanted me to be like anybody else, ever.’
He reached out a hand. ‘Will you join me as we discover who you really are?’
Debolev looked at her filthy hands.
‘I should visit the bath-house first.’
‘Because….’ She showed him her hands and gasped. They were spotless.
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