The Dark King and The Seer

Now that the Dark King had consolidated his hold on the land, he set about to remove all traces of light.

For lights, even the faintest of them, caused him wounds — sores bristling with angry fire that would not let him sleep. Even the stars on a cloudy night were too bright and a constant source of pain and a gruesome barrier to a good night’s sleep.

As a result, his chambermaids and Keepers of the Dark Curtains now worked day and night to better cover his bed chamber windows, especially those facing the sun as she traveled across the sky of his much too bright land.

But no matter how thick the curtains, and no matter how snug and tightly they covered the windows, the Dark King still could not sleep; his wounds alive and burning with what miniscule particles of sun and star still danced their way through to him, ignoring deepest black silk and wool and cotton working so hard to keep them at bay and safely outside the Dark King’s bedchamber.

And so, the slaughter began. The Dark King started with his chambermaid and then the new chambermaid, and then the maid after that, and so on until no sane person in the land would ever consider this precarious position, no matter how well paid; unless, of course, you’d be guaranteed to lose your head would you not accept the job — which is how the post stayed manned through rants and rages.

The Dark King then blamed the Keepers of the Dark Curtains and began to behead a series of them, but to no avail. Light would still make it through somehow and sleep would not come, his wounds would not quieten.

“Maybe,” suggested one of his advisors one day (grasping at very thin straws), “you are sensitive to light that enters other rooms of the castle, even though you are not there. Maybe just knowing there is light somewhere in your castle is the problem.”

This sounded like gibberish to the Dark King but by now, reeling from sleep deprivation, he was sufficiently desperate to cling to this suggestion as a faint hope and so had the Keepers of the Dark Curtains and an army of castle maids darken every window in the entire castle. Not a ray, not a flicker, not even a grain of starlight was to lighten the inside of his massive home, those were their marching orders.

This took several weeks, but in the end the Keepers of the Dark Curtains reported that every room (and nook and cranny) throughout the castle lay in darkness.

To no avail.

For, still, he could not sleep.

So, he beheaded the advisor who had given such bad (and yes, gibberish) advice, and then had his apprentice executed as well, for good measure.

Still, he could not sleep. His skin burned as if with constant, mocking fire.

At his wits end he called all his ministers and all his advisors and he put it to them to find every lighted room in the land and darken it. They all bowed and bowed some more and said Yes Sir they would do that.

The only ones happy about this turn of events were the textile mills and black curtain weavers who stood to make a killing from the miles and miles and miles of thick, black curtains needed to blacken every window and door and other light-admitting aperture in the land.

Even though the Dark King shouted and chopped some heads off to speed things up it took a full (sleepless) year for every window and door and other opening to be covered.

To no avail.

Still the Dark King could not sleep.

Of course, he blamed his ministers and advisors and made half of them precisely one head shorter and the other half he ordered to come up with something, anything, that would solve the Dark King’s problem and so let him sleep.

A few days later, the Keeper of the Deep Wells approached the Dark King.

“Perhaps, perhaps a deep, deep well,” he suggested. “A well so deep that light could not possibly reach all the way down.”

“And what good would that do me?” asked the Dark King.

“Well, Your Majesty, you can climb down to the bottom of this well, where we can prepare a comfortable, and absolutely dark room for you.”

“You want to bury me alive?” roared the Dark King and ordered the Keeper of the Deep Wells cast into the deepest dungeon to reflect on his frivolous tongue and amazing stupidity for the rest of his life.

“Can we extinguish the sun?” asked the Dark King of his Minister of Sunshine.

“Not by any means we know of,” said the minister, and then quickly added, “and even if we could, there are the stars to consider and we cannot reach them nor can we extinguish them.”

That made sense to the Dark King but it did not save the Minister of Sunshine a one-way trip to the dungeons.

Another sleepless year went by and by this time the Dark King was so desperate for sleep that he decided to try the ludicrous suggestion of the Keeper of the Deep Wells. So, he had the poor man released from the deepest dungeon and told him to dig a well so deep that not the tiniest particle of light could reach the bottom, and to fashion a darkened room down there, with dark curtains (for good measure) and a comfortable bed.

The Keeper of the Deep Wells did just this, and after a month of furious digging and other activities they lowered the Dark King down into the well (which was so deep that it was quite warm for being so close the center of the earth).

To no avail. A photon or two or three still made it all the way down to where the Dark King lay, thirsting for sleep.

So, they hoisted him back up and when he asked for the Keeper of the Deep Wells the poor man (who, liking his head very much, had fled the castle — if not the country) was nowhere to be found.

“Perhaps, said one adviser, it is kindness that keeps you awake. I’ve heard it said that a kindness can lighten the darkness of those who suffer. Perhaps, if there were no kindness anywhere in the land, you could finally catch a wink.”

Rubbish, thought the Dark King, but he was desperate, so he outlawed kindness.

To no avail.

Still the Dark King could not sleep.

“Perhaps,” said another advisor, “Your Majesty is allergic to the truth. It has been said many times and by many a wise person that truth is the light they steer by. Perhaps this is the light that keeps you awake.

Balderdash, thought the Dark King, but he was desperate, so he outlawed truth.

This had a curious effect on all goings-on in the land. Children were now taught that the earth was flat, and that the stars were holes pricked in the dark glass cupola called night — which flicked closed over the flat land once a week, and merchants never told the correct price for anything and buyers never gave them the money asked for. Husbands always lied to their wives and their wives lied right back. Children, of course, were born liars, so they felt right at home, and were properly rewarded for it.

Television news were a river of made-up stories of things that had never happened, about famous people that no one had ever heard of, about tame tigers roaming the streets, about ferocious lambs eating every newborn child in one of the suburban hospitals, and on and on and on.

After a year of this no one knew which way was up nor which way was down.

To no avail.

Still the Dark King could not sleep.

One day the Keeper of the Sudden Afterthoughts was admitted into the Dark King’s chambers where he informed His Majesty that he had been approached by an old man who called himself The Seer and who said that he could help the Dark King. Should he call for this man and would His Majesty like to see him.

The Dark King, at his wits end years ago and now well beyond it, was ready to try anything so he nodded. Yes, bring me this man who calls himself The Seer.

The Seer was ancient if he was a day, and he was blind.

As the Keeper of the Sudden Afterthoughts led the blind old man into the Dark King’s chambers His Majesty could hardly believe his eyes, but, also, he could not help but laugh at the ludicrous contradiction: a blind seer.

Tall, willow-like, white hair like a soft avalanche down the peak and ridges of head and shoulders, The Seer turned toward the Dark King and although his eyes were cloudy and non-seeing, the Dark King still had the very strange — and not a little frightening — sensation of being seen very clearly indeed.

“So,” said The Seer to the Dark King, with a voice that sort of bubbled with amusement. “This is the hater of light.”

Now, under most other circumstances, The Seer would have been a head shorter within minutes after such a remark, but the Dark King was truly desperate and was by now convinced that if he could not sleep soon he would die. And perhaps, he also thought, anyone who would dare to address his Sovereign thus could help.

So, instead of ordering The Seer’s head cut off, the Dark King chose to say nothing.

“May I have Your Majesty’s permission to speak the truth?” said The Seer. It was against the law to speak the truth, remember.

“Granted,” said the Dark King.

“Each tiny ray burns your skin and flesh like the tip of a heated knife,” said The Seer.

“It does,” agreed the Dark King.

“And wherever you go, however dark your rooms, however deep your wells, the light still finds you.”

“It does,” agreed the Dark King.

“And by now you have not slept for many a year.”

“This is true,” said the Dark King.

“And you hate light more than you hate any other thing in the world.”

“This is also true,” said the Dark King.

“May I have Your Majesty’s permission to be kind?” asked The Seer. Kindness, too, was still on the books as illegal, remember.

“Granted,” said the Dark King.

“When,” said The Seer, “did you come to hate light so?”

“That question is a kindness?” said the King.

“It is,” said The Seer. “Please answer it.”

“There is no answer to that question,” said the Dark King.

“Oh, but there is,” disagreed The Seer.

This confused the Dark King who had hated light for as long as he could remember, for was it not light of the rising sun that even when he was a small boy would put an end to his dreams — and he loved dreams more than any other thing. And now he had not been able to dream for so many, many years.

Almost despite himself, the Dark King said (more like heard himself saying), “Ever since it stole my dreams.”

“That is as I see,” said The Seer.

“And it is still stealing my dreams,” said the Dark King.

“This, too, is as I see,” said The Seer.

“And how do I stop it from stealing my dreams?” asked the Dark King.

“You must know water,” said The Seer.

The Dark King did not answer for the Dark King did not understand. Silently he studied the cloudy eyes of The Seer which, even though cloudy, studied the Dark King right back.

“You must know starlight,” said The Seer.

Again, the Dark King did not understand, and even less so since starlight was sunlight far removed and as much of an enemy to him and his dreams as any light. So, again, he said nothing.

“Do you understand?” said The Seer.

“No,” said the Dark King.

“That, too, is as I see,” said The Seer.

“You are not even a full breath away from losing your head,” said the Dark King.

“That, too, is as I see,” said The Seer.

The Dark King looked around him, at the thick, dark curtains, at the feeble candle who did not shine as much as disturbed the Dickensian darkness, then back at the impudent Seer. Were it not for so many years of lost sleep and dreams, he would have cast the willow man in the dungeon to await his beheading. But something in the blind man’s demeanor stayed his temper. For one, he seemed to see as well as anyone, and for two he showed not even a trace of fear for the Dark King — the only brave person he had encountered since he could not even remember when.

“What would you have me do?” he asked The Seer. Then quickly added, “And don’t give me another one of your ludicrous impossibilities.”

“Starlight reflects on the water,” said The Seer. “Were you to know both light and its mirror, sleep would find you soon enough.”

“And how, precisely, would I go about such a thing?” said the Dark King.

“Do you trust me?” said The Seer.

“No,” said the Dark King.

“Well, then there is nothing I can do for you,” said The Seer.

“Why should I trust you?” said the Dark King.

“Because you want to dream again,” said The Seer.

This, of course, was true, and a strange movement occurred within the breast of the Dark King; a not unpleasant shift of something to let a thing behind it shine through. He recognized this as trust.

“Okay,” said the Dark King. “Say I trust you.”

“Assumptions will not work. Worthless currency in this case. Either you trust me or you don’t.”

Again, the Dark King’s thoughts briefly flirted with beheading, but again he thought better of it and instead took a closer look at the strange feeling shining through. Yes, it was definitely trust, but trust for whom? He looked the willowy man over, those cloudy eyes that seemed to see as well as any clear-sky eyes in the land, that fine face that seemed totally at ease with the prolonged silence.

“I trust you,” the Dark King said after many breaths.

The Seer nodded slowly, and then he smiled. “Take me to the harbor,” he said.

And so it was that the Dark King and The Seer (along with a not-so-small retinue of servants and advisors and other hangers-on) made their way toward the water, going against signs that pointed the harbor to be the other way (for, by law, not even signs could tell the truth).

At the harbor, several ships were docked and much loading and unloading was going on. Further out, five more ships lay at anchor, awaiting either the tide to depart or an open slot at the docks to load or unload in turn.

This was a sunny day, and the sunshine raced up and down the rippling surface of the sea, threatening to almost blind the Dark King who was now screaming for his darkest sunglasses.

“Come closer,” said The Seer to the Dark King. “Stand by me here at quay’s edge.”

“Why?” said the Dark King.

“Because you like dreams,” said The Seer.

The Dark King complied.

“Now,” said The Seer. “Take a deep breath.”

“Why?” said the Dark King.

“Because you like dreams,” said The Seer.

The Dark King could not disagree with that statement, so he emptied his lungs and then filled them again, to the very brim: at which point The Seer pushed the Dark King into the water — an extremely beheadable offence.

The King, dressed in his heaviest silver and gold (which he always wore when he was out and about amongst his subjects), sank to the bottom of the harbor like a bejeweled stone.

However, before any of the Dark King’s guard could seize The Seer and deal with him according to long-standing protocol, The Seer jumped off the quay and into the waters after the Dark King.

Who was having some serious trouble disentangling himself from the long and seemingly hungry strands of seaweed at the harbor’s bottom. Seeing The Seer in the water above him the Dark King gesticulated for The Seer to come and help work him loose from the seaweed. The Seer saw and came, but not to help the Dark King work himself loose but to help the seaweed keep him at harbor bottom.

The Dark King tried to keep his breath a little longer and then a little longer than that but then had to give up, exhaled and inhaled a barrelful of seawater. A little while later he was dead.

Or appeared to be.

The Seer, who seemed to breathe just fine under water, now loosened the Dark King from the seaweed and, holding his right arm, swam with him toward the open sea, not an easy feat for the Dark King was big and almost encrusted by heavy and encumbering jewelry of many kinds. Still, The Seer made good way toward the harbor mouth all the while the Dark King seemed to grow smaller and lighter and waterier.

Then the Dark King exhaled the water and breathed some more that now did wonders for the Dark King who opened his eyes and realized that he was still alive, still breathing.

And still talking, “What is happening?” he demanded to know. “How can I breathe water?”

“How is it you can swim so well?” The Seer said in reply.

At this, the Dark King realized that he was swimming very well indeed, thanks mainly to his smaller, silvery body and a very strong tail fin.

“You have made me a fish,” said the Dark King.

“Oh, no, not I,” said The Seer. “The water took care of that.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” said the smooth, silvery fish.

“The water is both kind and true, and yet it does not harm you, does it?” said The Seer.

At this, the Dark King realized that his wounds no longer burned, in fact surveying (with some difficulty — fishes don’t really have twistable necks) his smooth, silvery body, he realized that he could no longer find any wounds at all.

“But the light,” he said. “It still reaches me.” As it did in long, undulating sheets of glowing water. “Painlessly.”

“You have the water to thank for this, too,” said The Seer. “It knows how to take the sting out of the darkest light.”

At this, the Dark King lashed his strong tail fin three or four times and so propelled himself up to and through the surface and into the sunny air above. Soon he returned to The Seer, swam around him a few times, then repeated his surface-breaking leap to then return to The Seer again.

“The sunlight does not hurt,” he said. “Even in the air. How is this possible?”

“How is you being a fish possible?” answered The Seer.

“I was getting to that,” said the Dark King.

“While water is the kindest being on Earth,” said The Seer, “it did not take too kindly to being outlawed.”

“I never outlawed water,” said the Dark King.

“You outlawed kindness,” said The Seer.

“I did not know about the water,” explained the Dark King.

“I know that, and so does the water.”

“Do fish sleep?” wondered the Dark King.

“Yes, on occasion.”

“I should like to do that then. For a while at least.”

The Seer nodded and then pointed to a algae-covered wreck of an old schooner far below them at the bottom of the bay. “You’ll find that as good a bedchamber as any,” he said.

The silver fish nodded and lashed his way down and into the old schooner. The Seer followed, though not with the Dark King’s hurry.

And sleep he did, the silvery fish-like Dark King, all day and all night and all day and half the following night when he finally ventured out of the schooner to find The Seer waiting.

“I feel better than I have in many a year,” said the Dark King.

“Sleep does that to you,” said The Seer.

“It is night now?” not quite asked the Dark King.

“It is night after the day and night and day that you have slept,” said The Seer.

“It was a good sleep,” said the Dark King.

“Did you dream?” asked The Seer.

“I did dream,” said the Dark King. “It was a long and thirsty dream about starlight.”

The silvery fish then looked around him, then up at the surface and up at the sea of now harmless (and quite beautiful, thought the Dark King) stars.

“I dreamed that I would wake up in a water filled with starlight.”

“It seems your dream has come true,” said The Seer.

“Am I cured, then?” said the Dark King.

“Yes and no,” said The Seer. “You have a choice to make.”

“Remain a happy, pain-free fish or return to agonized royalty,” suggested the Dark King.

“The gist of it, yes,” agreed The Seer.

“So, this is all your doing?” said the silvery fish.

“No,” said The Seer, “this is all your doing.”

“How is that?” said the Dark King.

“How many brothers did you have?” asked The Seer.

“Three,” answered the silvery fish.

“And where are they now?”

“At the bottom of the harbor,” said the Dark King now looking around as if for them.

“And how did they end up there?” said The Seer.

“Yes, yes. I see,” said the Dark King. “Guilty as charged. But that is how my father gained the throne before me.”

“He killed his brothers?”

“Yes, and his two sisters, for good measure.”

“And this never struck you as perhaps, well, wrong?”

“Tradition, man. For Heaven’s sake. Tradition.”

“And tradition is always right?”

“It was for my father, and his father.”

“And they were happy men, I gather?”

“They were miserable men,” answered the Dark King.

The Seer nodded, “Yes they were.”

The Dark King nodded, too. “Yes, they were.” Then he added, after making several thoughtful fish-faces, “I’d like to remain fish, if that’s all the same to you.”

“Well, you can’t,” said The Seer.


“Not without first setting things right in your land. Not without allowing the light back into every house and home, not without permitting kindness again, and not without restoring the virtue and trust in truth.”

“I would have to become King again?”

“For as long as it would take to set things right.”

“Will it hurt again?”

“Yes, it will. And probably worse than before, now that you have known the pleasure of a pain-less swim and a good night’s sleep.”

“There’s nothing for it,” said the Dark King. “What must be done, must be done.”

At that, the silvery fish swam back into the harbor and up to a ladder that led to the docks. Reaching the ladder, he grew hands, and climbing the ladder he grew Dark King again, encrusted with his many jewels and pained by the many particles of light that now rained down upon him.

His retinue spotted him and escorted him back to the castle where the Dark King immediately set about restoring truth, kindness, and light to his land.

Once done, he told his many advisors and servants that he wanted to saunter down to the harbor, alone.

“But, but, but…” said the many who always accompanied the Dark King wherever he went.

“Alone,” stressed the Dark King.

And at that he gathered his robe around him, strode through and out of the many chambers that led him out into the front gardens basking now in a fall sunshine.

Once there he started to run, past surprised guards, past many bowing and oohing and aahing merchants and craftsmen and their customers and other lookers-on, past the many sailors that strolled up and down the docks and up to the edge of the farthest pier where he picked up speed and leaped out into the air for the waters below.

Three quick lashes of his strong tail fin saw him leave the harbor behind and entering the bay, and thence the ocean beyond.

The Seer smiled at this.




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Ulf Wolf

Ulf Wolf

Raised by trolls in northern Sweden, now settled on the California coast a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border. Here I meditate and write.