It was a dark and gloomy day in Tansua. The sun still shone; the river still tumbled out of the hills and ran, gurgling and shining like glass, through the lush meadow where the king’s palace sat, shining like a diamond among the gorgeous landscape. All life and work carried on as normal. Well, almost. Because one thing was different on this day: a sort of sadness covered the land like an invisible darkness or a heavy blanket. The typical sounds of singing and whistling were gone. The citizens did their work quietly, and an eerie silence filled the city. The birds did not sing as profusely, and even the water of the river seemed to have lost its joyful notes, making only solemn noises as it flowed along its path. And though most did not venture out of their place of work, those who passed through the palace would see that even the king’s eyes were strangely moist, his smile less vibrant. Yes, it was a dark day indeed, the darkest that the kingdom had ever known.
Outside the capitol city, a much more excited group met. “I knew it, I knew it!” Sreyhok laughed gleefully as she danced into the circle of officials meeting together. “Indeed,” Areyak said, a smile spreading across his face. It made his already handsome appearance even more magnificent. “It was a genius plan.” Areyak and his officials had reason to be excited. The king had built the kingdom himself and been gracious and kind to its citizens. Some had doubted that their coup would have any success, but now the entire province of Pandai had acknowledged Areyak as its leader, instead of the king! Smiles spread around the circle. Another official leaned forward, the serious look on his face contrasting with the happiness all around. “What if the people revert to their old allegiance to the king?” Areyak laughed at the idea. “Not a worry. Here’s what we’ll do…” the officials stepped closer to hear Areyak’s plan.
*some time later*
Governor Smatrong bowed as he approached the throne. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, your Majesty.” “The pleasure is mine,” the king replied, formally. “What’s on your mind?” “Your Majesty, my people are afraid. They have two fears: first, for the security of our province. We have seen what has happened in Pandai province. Its people seek far and wide for peace, for love, but it can no longer be found. We do not want what has befallen Pandai to come upon us.” The governor paused. The king nodded and waited silently. “Our second fear, my King, is for the people of Pandai province. They have broken the rules of the nation, and forsaken your rule to follow Areyak. Must they truly die?”
The king sighed as he sat back in his throne. “The answer to your first question is simple. Areyak is confined to Pandai province, and he cannot go elsewhere.” The king paused momentarily. “As to your second, I’m afraid your people’s fears are true. The imperial court has already convicted Pandai’s citizens of treason and condemned them to death. All of them.” Governor Smatrong gasped in horror. “Can nothing be done for them?” The king did not immediately respond, his face solemn, his smile gone. He looked beyond the governor to the marble wall, where the laws of Tansua were engraved in the stone. Finally he spoke. “The imperial laws cannot be changed or overruled. And yet, there is one thing we can do.” The king paused, His thoughts distant, His eyes attached to the great, golden clock above the engraving, that clock by which all others were measured, by which the imperial government of Tansua operated. “Yes, there is one thing we can do. When the time is right, my son will go to Pandai province to offer grace to its citizens.” Governor Smatrong squinted in confusion. “But… what about the death penalty?” “Yes, their crimes do require death, but it need not be their own.” Another second, then a look of horrified understanding flashed across the governor’s face. He fell to his knees in front of the throne. “My king, let me! Any of us– all of us– would be willing. But don’t send the prince. They would do such terrible things to him!” “I know, Smatrong,” and the King’s eyes grew misty with tears. “And I appreciate your offer more than you know. But you– none of you– are capable of bearing the penalty on behalf of the millions in Pandai.”
Governor Smatrong bowed his head as he realized the truth. Yet he resisted once more, the words spilling out without even a pause to breathe. “My king, the people no longer give their time or love or possessions for others. They are consumed with getting, not giving. They do terrible things for small gains. They have evil tongues and use words like swords. And then if someone angers them, they spend the things they slaved to obtain just for the purpose of making that person suffer in court! Just yesterday, my king, my general told me of a house he passed by. A man was beating his wife incessantly for allowing their dinner to burn while washing his clothes at the stream. Two children stood near, sobbing and begging him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen. And these people hate you, my King, and the prince, more than they hate anyone else. The things they will do to him…” Governor Smatrong couldn’t continue, and gasped for breath. “I know all that,” the king said gently, glancing briefly toward the hall which connected the throne room to the royal suites, as the prince himself entered the room. “In fact, I can see more than you. The day is coming when men will heap abuse on others for no reason at all, simply to satisfy their own emotions. They will lose even the restraint they still retain. However, this is the only thing we can do, the only option we have.” The king paused briefly. “And besides… it was the prince’s own idea.” “Indeed.” The prince stepped to the king’s side, his mouth forming a slight smile, his face peaceful, devoid of any trace of anxiety. “Nothing can quench the love I and my Father have for the citizens of Pandai.”
The governor raised his head, his resistance gone, tears now shimmering in his own eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. No words could be found for his thouhts. He thought of the incredible love and mercy of the royal family, which described– no, which literally composed– their every act, thought, and emotion. He thought of how they would hold back no sacrifice from their mission of recovering the prodigal citizens and expanding the circle of joy in the kingdom. He looked into the eyes of the king, then the prince, and realized that for them, no risk or danger could turn aside the great love they had for their people. He bowed himself to the ground before them both in respect and grateful thanks.
And so, when the great clock in heaven pointed to the time which had been determined, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.