"Yes, Solomon," said Ashmodai. "Remove your ring!"
Slowly Solomon slid the ring from his finger. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, a gentle breeze began to blow through the palace. Soon it grew stronger, turning to fierce gusts of wind. As Solomon watched, he realized in horror that the wind was coming from the wings of Ashmodai. Each time he flapped them, he doubled in size, from eight feet to sixteen feet to thirty-two feet, until he towered to the ceiling of the palace, breaking free of his chains, his laughter shattering the glass in the windows.
"You fool, Solomon! You should never have removed your ring!" He reached down and plucked the ring from Solomon's hand, and then threw it out of a tiny window of the palace. The ring sailed over the city of Jerusalem, beyond the distant hills, past mountains and oceans, finally landing at the far end of the world.
"And now, Solomon, it's your turn! Say good-bye to your kingdom!" With these words, he picked the king up by the shoulders and hurled him through a window on the other side of the palace. Solomon sailed over his beloved city, beyond the hills, over the sea for many hours until, at last, he landed in the midst of a vast desert.
There he lay for some time, every part of his body aching, his mouth parched. He pulled himself up and began walking aimlessly, first this way, then that, until, as the sun set, he came upon a pool of water. He knelt down to drink and there saw something that sent a jolt of terror through him -- his reflection.
His crown, which had been a gift from the creatures of the sea, covered with every known precious gem, was gone. His beautiful robe, which he'd been given by the wind, was now in shreds, and looked to be nothing more than rags. And his face, which had been the most handsome in all Jerusalem, was now that of a weathered old man.
Thus it was, lost and unknown, that Solomon began his wanderings. Never could he have imagined the twists and turns his road would take as he struggled, in vain, to return to his beloved Jerusalem. It was a journey that would take him great distances and last a lifetime
I AM NO KING SOLOMON, nor do I claim his wisdom. My voyage was not that of a king, but of a husband, father, and a teller of tales. Even so, like Solomon, in the story I had told so often, I found myself in a place I never expected to be, in a life I no longer understood.
My journey carried me into the world of stories. There I learned of the tricks they play upon us, bubbling up through the depths of time to teach us their lessons, guide us, and, if we let them, heal us. I also learned how they can fool us, especially when we think we know them well, how they can cleverly hide their truths in places too obvious to see. Some of these truths I stumbled over, coming across the same lessons Solomon must have found in his travels, lessons that can only be learned from loss.
I'll share these truths I found as I tell you my tale, which is itself a true story. But first, let me say what I mean by "truth." I use the word as storytellers do, the way my old teacher, Lenny, once spoke of truth. He had just told me a most amazing story -- about a golden retriever he'd once owned and a blue '67 Mustang convertible -- and I asked him if it was true.
"True?" he snapped. "What do you mean by 'true'? You want to know if it happened, word for word, exactly as I told it? Makes no difference. You may as well ask me if it's a good story, because a good story is true, whether it happened or not. And a bad story -- even if it happened -- is a lie.
"The question," he added with a grin, "is not whether the story is true, but whether it has truth inside it, the kind with a capital T. And that is a mystery only time can solve. But I'll warn you, Joel -- never be such a horse's ass to think that just because you can tell a story, you've found all its truth. There are stories in this world that need to rattle around inside your brain for twenty years before they reveal a final, hidden grain of truth."
Excerpted from The Beggar King and The Secret of Happiness. Copyright © 2003 by Joel Ben Izzy. Reprinted with the permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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