**This is a story I wrote earlier this year from the writing prompt "Reading."
Ashling’s eyes were large and watchful, his muscles taut with caution. He had never seen a stranger before. The old man’s snores filled the air like the buzzing of bees. The breeze through the window lifted strands of his silver hair causing wisps to sway like the tall grass in the meadow.
“Oversee him,” King Eldredge had told Ashling. Perhaps the king’s assignment would silence the naysayers in the isolated, but goodly kingdom of Serendipity. As a boy he had been ridiculed, called ne’er-do-well, silly heart, fanciful, and dreamer. Indeed, Ashling means dreamer or visionary.
King Eldredge was kind but he wasn’t a dreamer or visionary. He was content. For decades, none had entered Serendipity or left. The people were happy because they knew no other existence. Their minds were not cluttered with wonderings like Ashling’s.
Ashling was no longer a boy but not quite a man. He spent his days climbing trees, meandering through the forest, wading in the river called Mighty, and frolicking with the animals. He was in awe of his surroundings, but he had many questions. Where did the waters of Mighty journey to and from whence did they flow from? By what miracle did apples grow on trees and berries on vines? Who gave birds their song? How did the moon and sun change places? What caused females to give birth? What lies beyond Serendipity?
He pondered this and much more. When he asked questions, people answered, “It is the way of things. Only a fool and dreamer would ask such questions.” Their answers left him with an aching desire to know more.
As he approached manhood, his father said, “You must find your purpose, Son. Your head is in the clouds. Will you be a fisherman? Hunter? Planter? Carpenter? Healer? There are many choices, but you must decide.”
Instead of thinking about his purpose, Ashling lay in the meadow in the evening. He wondered about the moon and stars. Why didn’t they fall to the ground? How did the moon change shapes from night to night?
It was the next day, while he sat in an apple tree that the old man arrived. Ashling heard braying and watched as two donkeys slowly approached. One carried pouches and crates. The other carried a man who was slumped forward. His hair was silver and his skin like burnt leather.
Ashling plucked two apples, offering them to the donkeys as he called softly, “Sir.” The old man didn’t respond. Ashling saw blood dripping to the ground and the awkward angle of the man’s right leg.
He alerted his father who summoned King Eldredge. The king’s face reflected his perplexity. “We shall care for this stranger until he is well, then send him on his way. You, Ashling, will be his overseer while my healers tend to him.”
Ashling kept his eyes watchful while his fanciful mind spun tales of the stranger. The sound of the old man’s snoring lulled Ashling into slumber. Later Ashling was roused by a hand on his shoulder. The old man’s eyes probed deeply into his as if dissecting his mind and soul. “I am Sage. My travels take me wherever I feel led. On my journey to find the dreamer, a snake frightened my donkey, who pitched me to the ground, wounding my leg. Are you the dreamer?”
“I’m Ashling. I have been called a dreamer.” Ashling’s voice trembled.
“Fetch my pouches and crates, Dreamer.”
Ashling did as he was told. He removed the objects as Sage instructed, making neat piles.
“These are books, young Ashling. They contain answers to your many questions. I am here to teach you to read.”
“I know nothing of books or what it is to read.”
Sage smiled. “Ah, my young dreamer, hand me the book on top. It is a collection of best loved poetry. It’s exquisite.”
Sage caressed the book before opening it. As Sage began to read, Ashling felt his heart sing and dance. In the words, he heard the song of birds, the rushing waters of Mighty, the growl of the lion, the symphony of forest creatures, the laughter of children. Oh, if he could do as Sage and make words from the pages burst into the air.
Sage lovingly touched each book. “This book explains the oceans, lands, and skies. This one tells of great men who have done marvelous deeds. This tells of animals, this of herbs and spices and plants. This reveals secrets of the human body.”
Sage explained each book. Every question Ashling had was answered in the books. “And you will teach me to read, Sage?”
“Yes, young dreamer, I will teach you. Reading will be your gift to share with this kingdom.”
There was one last book – old, worn and shabby. “And this book? Is it least important, Sage?”
Tears filled Sage’s eyes as he cradled the book to his bosom. “This book is life. It tells of the One who created everything you have wondered about. It tells of a love like none other. This is greater than all books combined.”
“But why is it so shabby? Have you not cared for it properly?”
“Young dreamer, this book shows the wear of many hands who have loved it with their lives, but also, the hands who sought to destroy it. It is my most treasured possession.”
From that day, the legend is told of how books and reading came to Serendipity.
(© 2014 Do not use without permission. Property of Leola Ogle.)
So keep dreaming. dear friends. YOU, like young Ashling, may have a gift for your kingdom.