THE TALLEST KING by D F Lewis
There was once a city that stood between a very high mountain and a very thick forest. There were so many palaces in the city that it was found most difficult to fill them with kings – in fact they needed one hundred! The problem was so great sometimes that one palace had to make do with a prince instead of a king. The tallest palace in the city always housed the tallest king and the smallest palace always housed the smallest king and the palaces in between always housed the kings in between. From the tallest palace in the city, one could see the thick forest stretching away into the distance. It was all the same – that forest – stretching to the far horizon … except for one thing. What was that one thing? Well, there was, close at hand, a squat tower. Silhouetted against the sunset, it was most beautiful, sticking up like a thumb towards the top, a short tapering spire. It was presumably some stone monument to a long lost religion. Since one could see it from the tallest palace in the city, only the tallest king knew of its existence. When one tallest king died and another tallest king replaced him, the new tallest king was always surprised to see that spire sticking up from the vast forest.
That city was very cut off. No one could get to it over the mountain or through the forest. So, all the citizens kept behind the city walls, nurturing their nursery farms, and never ventured out into the forest or on to the nearby mountain slopes. They were always pleased to stay in the city and watch their kings (and an occasional prince) ride by in their coaches.
There came a time when the tallest king in the city was a man of strong mind. When he first went up the stairs to the tallest room in the tallest palace in the whole city, he stood with amazement on his tallest chair, peering through the tallest window near the tallest roof, and gazed for the first time on the expansive forest and the tower.
‘Phew!” He almost fell off the tallest chair on to the hard floor. ‘Phew!’
Now, you will think it most strange that this tallest king was the first tallest king in the city to decide to go out of the city walls. How peculiar that he was the first tallest king to want to visit the tower. On clear nights, when he saw the Moon, all white and bright, rise behind the tower, he was most struck by its beauty. He must lead an expedition to the tower. He must! I’m sure if he could think of a way, he would be the type to want to visit the Moon itself!
Well, the citizens and the shorter kings (and the prince) thought that the tallest king was completely mad. Who had ever heard of going out of the city walls? Nobody had ever heard of such a mad venture before. Well, everybody argued with the tallest king. Even the second from tallest king begged – actually begged – him to stop such stupid ideas. But no, the tallest king could not be dissuaded. He promised ten citizens coffers of gold on their return if they should come with him. And ten brave – or shall we say, silly – citizens agreed to go with him out of the city walls.
There was no gate in the city walls -there had been no reason to have one before, since no one came and no one went. However, the tallest king had several rope ladders made, and, on the night of the expedition, he and the ten citizens marched to the outer walls and threw up hooks to the top. After a while, the rope ladders were firmly fastened and they clambered up to the height of the walls. You can well imagine the gasps of astonishment of the ten citizens as they first set their eyes on the tower set against a pregnant moon that rose above the black-stretching forest. However, the tallest king would brook no delay as he ordered them to hang the rope ladders down the other side of the high wall. No sooner ordered and they were all clambering down to the ground.
Back in the city, the second from tallest king decided that the tallest king would not be returning. He believed that anybody who went out of the city walls would be immediately killed. He shuddered as he recalled the shufflings, grunts and snorts that could be heard every night coming from the other side of the city walls! So, the second from tallest king dubbed himself now the tallest king and went to live in the tallest palace.
After a few hours in the tallest palace, he heard a deep roaring in the distance. He decided to find out what he could see from the windows of his new home. So the tallest king (who was previously the second from tallest king) climbed to the tallest room, stood on the tallest chair and peered through the tallest window near the tallest roof of the tallest palace. And what did he see?
He saw a forest stretching to the far horizon. Nothing but forest. Of course, he was not surprised. All the books that he had read said there was nothing but forest out there. Nothing but forest. He could not wonder where the spire was. He had been taught that there was nothing but forest out there. No tower. Only a Moon with very small moving dots on it, lifting above the dark forest.