The following tale is one of my own feeble scribblings. It is the product of two events: the recent engagement of the daughter of a minister we have supported (this engagement is the result of an arranged marriage, which is common in the country where they live) and a recent article my daughter sent to me called, “4 Principles To Survive Adulthood,” which was recently published in “Relevant Magazine” and is an excerpt from a book by Russ Masterson titled, “40 Days Without Food.” I was profoundly struck by the wisdom on marriage in this article (and the other wisdom presented there) and this story began to gnaw at my heart and nibble at the edges of consciousness. For those who are well acquainted with history, you will recognize that I have taken liberal license with my Norwegian heritage and the results bear no resemblance to any actual historical events.
A Fool’s Quest
The Norse kingdom of Trøndelag was ruled well by King Håkon and his queen, Solveig. Their marriage had been blessed with five strong and healthy children, the oldest was Prince Erik. Shortly after he celebrated his twenty-first birthday, Erik was summoned to the throne room of the King and Queen.
After the requisite bow, he was bidden to sit in his parent’s presence. As he waited in expectation, the King cleared his throat and said the words he knew would some day come, “Son, you have passed from your youth into manhood. It is now time to fulfill your responsibility to your family and to this kingdom. It is time for you to take a wife.”
Now, Prince Erik had been blessed with a boyhood that many others would have envied. He had always been encouraged to explore his many interests, gaining skill in those areas that would one day equip him to reign as king. He had many friends and was widely loved and respected, even though still a young man. The castle was filled with the love and laughter of a family who cared deeply about one another.
The King and Queen ruled their peaceful kingdom with wisdom. He knew one day he would be required to take his father’s place as the ruler of this land he had come to love.
“Father, I am willing to do as you require. I only make one request. I ask that I be allowed to chose my own bride. I wish to marry for love as you and mother have done.”
A poignant glance passed between his mother and father, after which Prince Erik heard the words he most wanted to hear, ”Granted.”
It was determined that Prince Erik would travel to the surrounding kingdoms and search for a bride who could bind his heart in love. After several weeks of preparations, the prince was finally ready to depart on a journey that would ultimately take many months. Erik promised the King and Queen that he would send word along his journey to keep them apprised of his progress.
The day prior to Prince Erik’s scheduled departure, there was great feasting and merriment in the land. The castle and the kingdom were excited about the prospect of a royal wedding. The King and Queen, while sorry to be separated from their eldest son, trusted Erik to find a suitable bride. To that end, they sent their most cherished advisors and wise men to assist Prince Erik in his search.
Months went by with sporadic messages of Erik’s quest. Each kingdom he visited yielded young ladies of beauty and virtue and yet not one captured and satisfied his heart. Finally after almost a year’s time, Prince Erik returned home completely disheartened.
On Prince Erik’s return to the castle, there were no streets lined with people welcoming him home as there had been cheering and laughter on the streets at the beginning of his journey. Word of Prince Erik’s fruitless quest had filtered through the kingdom. The people knew there would be no royal wedding.
On his arrival at the castle, a somber mood permeated those at court. His entrance into the throne room was met with eery quietude; no one wanting to speak about Erik’s failure to procure a bride. Finally, seeking to ease the discomfort of all, King Håkon and Queen Solveig bid their son to approach the throne. Erik bowed in honor of the king and queen. Rising from their thrones, they greeted their weary son with the love his bruised heart so desperately needed.
Later that evening, while King Håkon was attending to issues of his kingdom, Prince Erik sat quietly by the fire with his mother. At first, no words were exchanged, until Queen Solveig, moved by love for her son, sought to ease his heart.
“Tell me, Erik, why did your journey end in fruitlessness? I know from your letters that you encountered many lovely young ladies of noble birth in each kingdom that you visited. Was there not one suitable young woman who could be your queen?”
Erik struggled to find the words to explain to his mother the emptiness he felt in his heart. After a few moments, he answered her.
“Mother, I searched and searched for a woman who would become my queen and yet I did not find her,” he said. “I sought a love as in the tales of the bards and minstrels. I sought a glorious romance like yours and father’s.”
“My son,” Queen Solveig said with great sadness, “I know now why you have not found a bride. You have been on a fool’s quest.”
“A fool’s quest?” The hurt was evident in his voice as Prince Erik spoke. “Mother, I wish to marry for love. I want what you and father have, but I could not find it. Time after time, I met noble young ladies who I would have considered a suitable bride. And yet, the romance quickly faded into a cold and distant memory.”
“Erik,” the queen replied, “your father and I do not desire you to marry a woman that you can not love. I am afraid, however, that your understanding of love is deficient. Love is not a flood of emotions or a quick, bright, overwhelming fire that burns out like so much kindling, leaving you with little more than momentary heat but no sustaining warmth. True love carries you during the darkest moments of your life. It nourishes your soul when your heart is empty and full of despair. True love endures and grows over the years until it becomes the all-consuming romance that you seek.”
“Mother, I do not understand,” Erik replied. “You and father married for love. The love that you share is legendary.”
“True,” the queen answered, “but we did not begin that way. The marriage between us was arranged by your grandparents. It was an alliance based on many elements: friendship between our two kingdoms, similarities of background and faith, and a common respect for the duties and responsibilities we would carry together when your father became king.”
“We did not meet for the first time until our parents had determined this would be a suitable marriage,” she continued. “Understandably, your father and I were ill at ease when we first met. Our initial conversations were awkward; our doubts many. As we began to converse, we came to understand how much alike we were. Respect, and then friendship, grew. During the year of our engagement, friendship became love. On the day we married, love had become the corner stone for our life together. It was your father’s love and faithfulness that secured my heart. In turn, it was my love and respect that secured your father’s passion.”
“What you see today, and have known all the days of your life, is the result of a lifetime of growing together in love. The overwhelming romance and passion in the songs of the bards and minstrels is not what true love is all about,” the queen replied. “The love of which they sing and speak is only a superficial shadow of what love can be. The bright flare of romantic passion in their songs and stories, like kindling, burns out quickly and leaves you with nothing but ash. Without deep and abiding love, romance has no foundation to sustain it. That is why your romances so quickly faded and your journey yielded nothing of lasting consequence.”
“Forgive me Mother,” Erik said, speaking just above a whisper. “I did not know what I did not know. What wisdom would you give me? Over the course of my quest, I came to understand that I indeed wish to marry. I love our kingdom and desire to fulfill my duties and carry out my responsibilities. Would you and father help me to find a suitable bride?”
Tears began to fill the queen’s eyes as she looked with love upon her son. She knew that the humility she saw in his heart meant he was ready to hear what she had to say.
“Have you considered Margrethe?”
“Margrethe?” Erik said with surprise. “I have known Margrethe since we were children together. We are the best of friends, yes, but marry her?”
“My son, how would you feel if Margrethe were hurt? How would you feel if she were to marry another? She has had many eligible suitors this past year and yet has politely refused them all.” His mother spoke quietly; so quietly, Erik almost did not hear her.
Erik paused as he considered his mother’s questions. His thoughts became a jumble of strong and conflicting emotions.
The queen, knowing her son all too well, responded gently, “What do you see in your heart, my son? The foundation stone of your friendship with Margrethe is love. The grand and glorious love that you have been seeking, but didn’t find on your quest, you will find embodied in Margrethe’s grace, beauty, intellect, courage, and steadfast friendship. She is your equal in every respect. She has the character and fortitude to stand at your side and rule this kingdom with wisdom when you ascend your father’s throne.”
Erik looked at the love in his mother’s eyes and knew that she had spoken the truth. How had he not seen this? Why had he not known? He had wasted almost an entire year of his life searching for something he already had, but didn’t recognize. His journey, in search of love and a bride, had not yielded what he thought. His journey had instead, brought him to the place of maturity. The days of countless disappointments had brought him to greater humility.
This day, with the help of his mother, he had become a man.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NKJV)
Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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