The Soldier of Paleria
Long ago, in the Kingdom of Paleria, there lived a princess called Haley. She had a big palace, a powerful army, a prosperous kingdom, and her parents had just passed away. Many princes and kings from the neighbouring kingdom wanted to marry her. But, Haley announced that she would only marry the man who found the magical goldfish for her. The goldfish was hidden in the depths of the Deep Sea. You may wonder why the princess wanted a magical fish when she had all the riches. Are we not happy without such fancy things? Then, she was a princess and was used to having her craziest fancies fulfilled.
There was a soldier, called Darrell, in the kingdom, who loved the princess and wanted to marry her. He was a poor labourer’s son and had worked his way to becoming a soldier. He was not naturally handsome but groomed himself very well. He was not extraordinarily strong that he could defeat lions in their dens but knew how to extricate himself out of a difficult situation.
Darrell shared his room with a friend called Sad Solomon. Now Solomon was clever and possessed a great deal of wisdom, but was plagued by misfortune. Luck was his enemy. He failed in all his business endeavours. Thus, sadness was etched in his face, leading to the nickname, ‘Sad’ Solomon. But Solomon was still as excited as a child when he came across a new opportunity. Darrell informed his roommate of his intentions and set out to search for the magical goldfish.
Darrell looked at the deep sea, which looked peaceful from outside. He jumped into it with anticipation and a powerful desire to be victorious. The sea was warm and welcoming. The beauty under the waters amazed him. He saw colours that he had never before seen in his life. The colourful corals cast their enchanting spell on him. As he paused to admire them, he felt himself being pulled deeper and deeper under the water. He entered what looked like a water room. Red fishes were swimming around and a mermaid floated amongst them. Darrell stared at her, shocked. She was a replica of Princess Haley.
The mermaid smiled at him. “What is the matter, soldier? You came in search of the goldfish?”
Still startled, Darrell replied, “Yes. But, how do you know of that?”
“We, creatures of the sea, know everything that takes place in the land.”
“In that case…” Darrell looked excited. “Can you take me to the magical fish?”
The mermaid dazzled him with her smile.
“I will lead you to it. But, will you marry me?”
Darrell gaped, taken aback by her demand.
“I do look like Princess Haley, don’t I?”
“I don’t love her for her looks alone. It is far deeper than that.”
“Is it the money then?” the mermaid asked, scornfully. “I am the Princess of the deep sea and far wealthier than she is.”
“It isn’t that either.” Darrell thought about the day he had first seen Princess Haley. She had lovingly fed stray birds in the palace gardens and had exchanged friendly words with soldiers and courtiers. He had seen her frequently after that. She was kind and polite to everyone she came across. She never cared about a person’s station or social standing. “I don’t know how to explain why I love her,” he concluded.
“Well, why should I tell you the way then?” the mermaid asked, coldly.
She called as Darrell turned away. “You will find a palace. That is your next clue.”
Darrell turned to thank her, but she had vanished. He swam on with determination. The sky turned dark, then pink, yellow and bright blue. But Darrell hardly paused to reflect on the light. The Deep Sea had made him more energetic and single-minded in his pursuit of the magic fish. At last, he saw a huge sea palace. Surprisingly, there were no guards at the gate.
“There are no guards as I am sitting in the second room,” called out a feeble voice. Was the guard bed-ridden? wondered Darrell, as he moved to the second room. Unlike the mermaid’s abode, the second room was neither flashy nor well-decorated. It was plain and there were many hand-combat weapons like swords, spears, daggers, axes, clubs and even bows. He also saw something on top of a long pole.
“You can choose the weapon of your choice,” said the feeble voice, as its owner emerged from behind a pillar.
Darrell stared open-mouthed at the 8-foot giant. He did not have fins, but a pair of powerful legs and a strong body.
“So, you want the goldfish?” asked the giant in his low voice.
“Yes,” murmured Darrell whose voice now sounded equally feeble.
“Ha, Ha!” roared the giant. For a man whose voice was so low, his laughter rocked the sea.
“Defeat me, then,” he whispered. “As I said, take a weapon of your choice.”
Darrell, who had collected himself by now, replied, “I will.”
He quickly pulled down the pole, which had a net on top of it. He threw the net on the giant.
“You coward,” the giant squirmed around in the net.
“I don’t care what you call me. My aim is the goldfish,” called out Darrell, as he turned away.
The giant smiled. He was perfectly capable of extricating himself, of course. He just wanted to see if Darrell would make the right choice. Humans who had been tempted to fight him had lost and been imprisoned in the Deep-Sea prison.
“Go to the fourth door,” he said, in his inaudible voice.
Thankfully, Darrell heard it and knocked at the fourth door of the palace.
“Come in,” a male voice called out. The walls were decorated with paintings of what looked like ancient kings and had writings in a strange script. It had symbols, signs, round and zigzag letters. Darrell looked at them in wonder. The script confused and captivated him.
“I know what brings you here.”
Darrell quickly turned to see a man with a white beard. He sat in front of a table and looked like a scholar.
“Well. All of you seem to know why I am here.”
“Do you think the princess is worthy of your love?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Just answer one question and the magical fish shall be yours.”
Darrell waited expectantly.
“What is the most precious possession to you ever?”
“My hard work,” Darrell replied within a second.
“Oh? Not Princess Haley?”
“Oh, Scholar! Whatever I have achieved in my life has been the result of my hard work. My determination has brought me here. If Haley and I fall into bad times in the future, I can undertake hard labour to make her happy and live in comfort for the rest of her life.”
The scholar pointed to the glittering bowl in the corner of the room. “Take it. It is yours.”
Darrell felt a strange emptiness as he took the bowl that contained the goldfish. He was surprised that he felt no sense of achievement or thrill. He thought of Haley and searched for the ecstasy that he was sure existed in the depths of his heart.
“Aren’t you happy?” The scholar looked at him with sharp eyes.
Darrell hesitated. “I am.”
“What are you writing?” Darrell asked, once again fascinated by the script. “It looks a little similar to script from Eastern countries. But, I am sure it is not an eastern script.”
“Each sea has a script. The sky has its script. Your earth is divided into countries and derives her different scripts from ours.”
Darrell extended his hand towards the scholar’s book. “May I have a look?”
“You have fulfilled your purpose. You should leave, perhaps?” The scholar dismissed him, coldly.
Darrell reached the surface of the waters with his bowl of treasure.
A lovely mermaid swam across. She smiled coyly.
“Don’t you remember me? I am the one that looks like Princess Haley.”
“Well, you don’t look like her now.”
“I can change my appearance at will. I was just being used to see if you were true to your purpose.”
Again, Darrell felt a sense of disappointment and was confused by his own emotions. Was he expecting bigger adventures in the Deep Sea?
Would he be happy if he met Haley? He dodged courtiers and soldiers as he hurried inside the palace. He wanted to see Haley’s kind smile and listen to her generous words. Then he would gift the goldfish to her.
The Princess was on the pool, chatting with her best friend.
“Tell me, Haley. What would you do if a commoner gifted you the goldfish?”
“I would thank him and present him with a gift of gold coins.”
“That is it?” Her friend was amazed. “How about getting married to him?”
“Come on, Marie,” the princess said impatiently. “Do you think I would marry a commoner, fish or no fish?”
“I thought you didn’t care about a person’s rank or…”
“I am even kind to stray dogs and cats. Do you think I would sit them on the throne? Look, I have for a long time had my eyes on the King of Lutheria. He controls the whole of the east. I seek to be his queen. For this reason, I want the goldfish.”
Darrell did not listen further. Shattered, he walked away. He felt the mermaid’s coy smile, the scholar’s knowing look and the giant’s laughter raking through his body. He felt giddy.
All of a sudden, he wanted to dispose of the worthless bowl in his hands. But, wait…he paused. Reason returned to him. The bowl was priceless if it was in the right hands. He thought of Sad Solomon, who had never experienced any form of happiness in his life.
He knocked on his old room. Solomon was surprised to see him. “Darrell! You are back, at last!”
Darrell handed him the magic fish.
“You can’t fail with this. Make your fortune.”
Without another word, he walked away. Paleria was not his home anymore and defending its borders was not his job. He had lost his heart and soul to the Deep Sea, to the scriptures he saw and longed for. He would fulfil his thirst for knowledge in the Deep Sea. He realised that the pursuit of wisdom was his calling. As if in a daze, he walked to the Deep Sea and plunged into its clear waters.