On the surprising development of a daily practice
A couple of months ago, at the end of an amazing storytelling weekend with Martin Shaw, I wrote a quick story based on a tarot card I drew that morning. A couple of days later, back home in Chicago, I wrote another, and shortly after that, a third. Rather to my surprise, this has evolved into a daily practice – not necessarily to post a finished story each day, but to do something related to this project every morning, either before work or before whatever awaits me on a weekend morning. A daily practice, for me, has always been rather like patience – a virtue to be best admired in others. So it’s been kind of eye-opening to discover that it’s not only something I can do, but something that really serves me while also being in service to something else.
In any case, here’s one of my favorite little stories from the project so far. Like all of them, it’s born of a random draw, early morning coffee, and a love of narrative that might honestly border on obsession.
There was once a queen, newly crowned, whose family had held an artifact in its possession for many years. It was a chalice of gold, with precious gems and – legend had it – magical properties. The family had held it safe for generations, and it was a symbol of their realm and their rule.
The problem was, those magical properties of legend seemed to only be in legend. For as many generations as the royal family had held possession of the chalice, they had kept it safe from harm, displayed it as a sign of their authority, and above all studied it, to see how its power might be unlocked. And for all those generations, the legendary chalice had been stubbornly inert. Wise magicians and mad seers had been consulted, old priests and young witches were asked for their advice, and none of them could see what power the chalice held. There must be something, they all were quite sure of that, though its secrets seemed impossible to unlock. Eventually, the chalice was consigned to a vault most of the time, and was brought out only for special occasions or when another expert was brought to examine it.
On the night of the coronation, after the ceremonies and feasts were complete and the castle had fallen relatively silent, the queen slipped into the vault where the chalice was held. She didn’t really need to slip, she was the queen, after all, but a lifetime of care and reverence for the unknown magic of the chalice made approaching it alone feel a bit intimidating even for her. But approach it she did, and she sat and contemplated it long into the night, before finally going back to her chambers to sleep.
She did this day after day, night after night, for she knew on some level beneath thought that there was a magic to the chalice, and she could unlock it. The queen spent each night in the vault, sometimes kneeling before the chalice and praying for its secrets, other times demanding them as a Queen had the right to do. Still other times she studied the chalice, examining its engravings and symbols as they had been examined a thousand-thousand times before. Nothing worked.
One night, she was unable to go to the vault as usual because there was a great feast being held in honor of dignitaries from a neighboring realm. The queen would rather have been in the vault attending to the chalice, but her duty was clear and she was a gracious host to her visitors. As the evening grew on and the dignitaries’ stories began to repeat themselves, she happened to look over the dining table in a new way. She saw, for the first time, how many items were laid out and never used. The teaspoon, in case a visitor wished for tea unexpectedly. The dessert plate and next to it the second dessert plate (the queen approved of dessert, but two plates for it seemed a bit unnecessary). And the glasses! Water glasses, red wine glasses, white wine glasses, port glasses, teacups, and more besides. All laid out, and few of them used. What were they for, if they weren’t used?
“Oh,” thought the queen, and as soon as it was polite to do so, she sort-of-but-not-quite stifled a yawn, which her polite guests noticed but did not mention directly, and soon the feast ended, with the visitors pleading fatigue that no one actually felt.
Soon after, the queen returned downstairs, but she didn’t go to the vault. Instead, she went to the throne room, and she dragged her throne across the floor, down the hall, out through the gate, and all the way to the nearby shore. It was very heavy, but she was very strong and even more determined, and she got it there after a few hours of effort. Then she returned to the castle and to her chamber, where she gathered her crown, her formal gown, and her hooded cloak. She bathed first, then dressed herself. Only then did she enter the vault and retrieve the chalice, carrying it down to the shore where her throne now waited.
And finally, by the sea that nourished her people and filled their cups, seated upon the throne of her ancestors and wearing the raiment and symbols of her office, the Queen turned to the chalice. Not in supplication or with a command, but as a sovereign, bringing her own power and her authority into communion with the ancient magics she felt in the chalice, the Queen asked this question.
“What is your purpose, and how may I help you fulfill it?”
This post was written by Jason Frey