The Audience, A Christmas story

THE NIGHT BEFORE MY AUDIENCE WITH THE KING I WENT THROUGH MY BAG to make sure everything was there. Considering what was at stake, I couldn’t be too careful.

One by one, I took them out and replaced them: the ode I’d composed in the King’s honor, the proclamation for the King’s monument I’d commissioned, the ledger of revenue I’d collected for the King: the evidence that demonstrated my worthiness for knighthood.

I’d been traveling a long road to the royal capital and had been sleeping poorly, but the next morning I was eager to make for the castle. As I traversed the long corridor to the throne room, the order in which I should present my evidence was first and foremost in my mind.

The throne room wasn’t what I’d expected, rather small and humble by my standards. When I was presented to the King, he greeted me by name—a good sign that—and asked that I make myself comfortable, serving me a sumptuous breakfast at a table facing the throne, though I was too preoccupied to do more than sample the fare.

Before he could say another word, I told him about the things I desired to place before him.

“That’s not necessary,” he said.

“But it is, Your Highness,” I insisted.

When I went for my bag, I found it wasn’t at hand. Had I left it at the door, or in the corridor?

“I must find my bag, Sir,” I told him.

“You need not,” he said, but how could I represent myself properly without the evidence of all I’d been doing on his behalf?

I bowed and made for the door, and there in a shadowy corner was my bag. I clutched it tightly to my breast and hurried back to the table, pushing the feast aside and setting it before him.

“What do you have for me?” he said.

I reached into the bag. I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t resist removing each and every item: a judgment where I’d favored a rich man over his poor cousin, the work order to expand my private granaries, the green cap belonging to the beggar woman I’d insulted at the door of my manor, a bottle of the best wine in the world I’d acquired at great cost.

As he looked down on these tokens, all I could think to say was, “An enemy has done this, Your Highness.”

A profound sadness clouded his features, and I anticipated a terrible verdict, but when he spoke, he said, “I know about these things, but they won’t change my decision, because I judge you regret all of them.”

“I do, Your Highness…but I must find the tokens that were taken from my bag, so I can place them before you in evidence of my worthiness. Will you give me leave to seek for them?”

“That isn’t necessary, my son.”

“Please, Sir!”

He nodded gravely. I was already shoveling all those shameful things back into my bag. Someone had removed the true tokens to embarrass me, but I would find them out, retrieve the tokens, and place them before the King as I’d intended.

I suspect someone in my own province is responsible for this evil deed, so I will return home and take as long as necessary to put things back in order. Next time, I will guard my tokens with greater vigilance. The next audience will be different.