It was growing dark. All around the sounds that used to soothe Lillian began to make hairs stand up on the back of her neck.
This was her woods. She knew them like the back of her hand … in the daylight. She had never been here after dark unless with her father or brothers.
The king and his princes would not allow a mere girl to wander the untamed land of fearful and dark mysteries without protection.
All her life she had heard of riddle, but never once thought is was meant for her.
“When foul armies from the west tread east
The land of Linden may become their feast.
Men and princes and kings could fall.
Women and children would scream and crawl.
All will seem lost at their advance.
Yet only one can stave off the lance.
A pure maiden of the royal line
Will find a treasure as a sign
In the depths of the land,
A place known as the king’s hand.
Fearful in the dark of night.
Accessible only to one with the light.
Within the beast will be the key
That sets her people free.”
It seemed like a fairy tale, really. Not a story meant for her or her people. They were happy and secure in a prosperous land where they had abundance. They had food and love and laughter.
Her people were wealthier than their neighbors and so were revered for their position and power, for wealth brings both. But wealth also attracts greed and hunger. Both were now approaching from the west and the fair land of Linden was their destination.
Her father and brothers had gathered the army and amassing supplies. Her mother and her maids were frantically packing. Little girls hid under covers. Young boys supervised by the old men were building barricades against the onslaught.
All feared the worst. No one seemed to remember the old story, but Lillian of Linden enjoyed riddles. From a child she had heard the tale and wondered where the treasure could reside and what could be the key that would set her people free.
The part of the riddle she could never understand was “the place known as the king’s hand.” She was not sure what that meant.
In the midst of anxious preparations she heard her brothers talking.
“Father wants us to go with him into the deep forest,” Jared said.
“The forest is treacherous at night. The beasts prowl and the way gets confusing. No one has made it out of there alive,” Jameson said.
“Father has. He knows the deep forest like the back of his hand. He will lead us.”
Lillian knew then. The treasure lie in the deep forest. And if was there she knew it would be in the field in the center of the woods, known as the palm. The King’s hand, she had never put it together before nor heard anyone talk of it in those terms.
There was no time to wait. They would all be ambushed unless she could get there in time. She took a small lantern and hid it under her cloak until far enough away that she couldn’t been seen.
She ran with trepidation urged on only by instinct. The light showed her the way pulling her almost magnetically in the direction of the palm.
She arrived breathless. She approached the clearing and set her lantern down to give light to the entire area. In the middle was a mound of grass.
Quickly she began to throw the blades aside. Just a few inches down she hit a hard wooden top. She gasped as she saw what looked like a treasure chest.
She paused. The riddle said inside the beast would be the key. Would it tear her apart? Was it guarding the key with his life. Would he require hers?
She could leave, run. She could make it to the next kingdom. She had the lantern and it was full of oil. She would make it. She could save herself.
From inside the treasure chest she heard a low guttural growl. She stood, backed away and grabbed the lantern.
“I could leave now,” she said aloud. She squared her shoulders. “But I will not. I am Princess Lillian of Linden and I will save my people.”
Two steps and she was there. She knelt and lifted the lid. Brilliance began to escape. Something leaped forward. She cowered. Instead of attacking her, the furry beast licked her face and ran off into the woods.
He had been guarding the key just for her. He knew she would come eventually.
Lifting the lid further, she peered inside only to be dismayed. There was no key. Instead there were beams of flames, sparks, shards of light dancing and playing in the sky. The light blinded her as she threw the lid back completely and fell to the ground. The display erupted above her sending a cascade of light, fire and explosions across the kingdom of Linden. It continued for hours.
Lillian sat in rapture at the beauty and power.
Suddenly, as if awakened from a trance, she was surrounded by her father and brothers and many of the citizens of Linden.
“Lillian, how did you do that?” the king asked embracing her.
“Do what, Father?”
“Set off such explosions so those from the West ran in terror. Thankfully, we ever see them again.”
“Father, I merely set the light free from where it resided. You know like in the story.”
“That old prophesy? It was a dream recounted by a mad man.”
“It was a dream I believed.”
“Ah, my Child, it was a dream you hoped was true and your hope delivered the truth.”
“It was hope that set our people free just like the old man’s dream said.”
That day was celebrated every year in the Kingdom of Linden as the day hope became a dream come true.
From then until now, every citizen of Linden wears a medallion with one simple word inscribed.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream realized is a tree of life,” Proverbs 13:12, ESV.
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