The King and the Woodsman, Part 2
In the previous episode, Vassily – the young ringleader of a ruthless band of robbers – risks his life to rescue the kidnapped King.
The King was amazed, though immensely pleased, that the woodsman recognized him. He strained to keep pace with the sinewy, red-bearded woodsman, who traversed the forest with the agility of a gazelle. Whenever the King faltered, Vassily both encouraged and prodded.
An hour later, they forded a river. "Rest here for a moment, Your Majesty, and drink. Thank heavens, I can safely say that the danger has passed. In two hours, we shall reach the palace grounds."
The King was astounded; he didn't remember crossing a river, but the entire previous day felt like nothing more than a hazy memory. He washed his face in the cooling waters of the river, and drank to satiation. Water never tasted better. Refreshed, he looked up and saw the first signs of dawn, a thin line of reddish gold on the eastern horizon. "Bolshoi sposiba, Vassily; thank you for saving my life."
"It is my honor, my duty, and my privilege, Your Majesty." For the next two hours, the walked and talked on their way to the palace. The King marveled at the striking contrast between the woodsman's crass appearance and his refined manner. The King was enchanted with the woodsman's candor, native intelligence, and straightforward logic. He felt an inexplicable affinity for Vassily, a self-educated orphan who grew up in the outback of the Eastern Ukraine.
The palace spires were visible in the distance. "I trust you can reach the palace from here, Your Majesty. I must take leave..."
"Please don't, Vassily; you can't return to the woods. You ruined the gang's expectations of a hundred golden rubles. They'll murder you. Please, I want you to come live in the palace."
"Yes. With your aptitudes, the sky is the limit. I anticipate a brilliant future for you. I shall have you tutored in the sciences and educated in the affairs of state. You shall be like a son to me, and shall dine on my table."
* * *
Back at the palace, the atmosphere of grief at the sudden disappearance of the King turned into rejoicing. Even before the King attended to his own needs, he assigned a personal valet to care for Vassily's every need. The King ordered his best servants to bathe and barber the woodsman, prepare proper chambers, and to dress him in princely garb. With no delay, the King assigned his wisest advisors to begin tutoring Vassily in mathematics, linguistics, economics, and political science. He ordered that Vassily eat his evening meal on the King's table. Only then, did the King retire to his chambers to recover from the previous day and all-night ordeal.
Vassily, bathed, shaved, and dressed in new princely clothes, looked like a blue-blood from birth. "May I do anything else for you, sir?" asked the valet.
"Yes," responded Vassily. "Please don't discard my old clothes, hat, and boots. Wrap them in a rucksack, and store them in a safe place." One never knows what the future holds, thought Vassily; some day, I may need those clothes again.
Within a few short weeks, Vassily had nothing left to learn from his tutors. The mathematics tutor wrote in his report to the King, "...he has mastered algebra in a fortnight, geometry in three days, trigonometry in a week. He is now solving differential equations. Please accept my humble apologies, Your Majesty - the tutor can no longer keep pace with the pupil." The King received updates of a similar vein from the other tutors as well. But, greater than Vassily's phenomenal intelligence and acumen, was a practical, organized, and disciplined mind capable of applying and implementing everything that he learned.
The King's favorite part of the day was his nightly repast with Vassily. All day long, he looked forward to the invigorating two hours when he'd dine, exchange ideas, and converse with the former woodsman, now royal protégé. Vassily quickly became the King's trusty confidant and sounding board. The monarch was repeatedly overwhelmed by the young man's uncanny ability to recognize truth, thus discerning between good advice and bad advice. Eventually, the King refused to accept a single ministerial request or suggestion without first consulting Vassily. Soon, after outgrowing all of his tutors, Vassily was spending the bulk of his day at his Majesty's side.
One short year after arriving at the palace, Vassily was officially declared Minister of the Interior. The populace was enamored with the straightforward, honest, and good-hearted minister, who did more for both villagers and townsmen alike than any other minister before him. The King was flooded with praise from the four corners of the kingdom for the young minister's performance.
To be continued
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