Week 1: A Ruby in the Desert

A tale for the first week of Advent, said to represent stones.

One thousand years ago, or maybe more, there was a powerful king who ruled over a large and wealthy land.

They had built it around an oasis in the desert, and despite their barren surroundings flourished and prospered.

And wise men and rulers from all over would stop by to trade and see the sights of this glorious city, a ruby in the desert, perhaps even catch a glimpse of the mighty monarch.

And rarer still was a glimpse of his queen, the most beautiful woman of her time, for she was like a lovely flower he zealously guarded away from other eyes, another possession that belonged to only him.

But though the people lived well, they lived in fear. For the king had a quick temper, an iron fist, and a very great pride.

He was selfish and greedy, and walked with his head held high, knowing that none would dare to challenge his rule.

And as he walked through the marketplace, accompanied by royal guards and attendants of all kinds, the crowds parted before him like waves under the hull of a ship.

In the marketplace the king passed by a mining cart, laden with all sorts of precious gems and jewels that had been found deep in the caverns of mountains miles away. And on top of a heap of stones, one gem caught his eye. It was a ruby, almost flawless; big as a man’s fist.

Its gleam was reflected in his eyes as he plucked the ruby from the top of the pile and held it up to the light, and claimed it as his own.

No one objected.

The king brought it home and instantly locked the jewel away in his treasury. Then he left to plan his next great project.

His architects and artisans proposed a grant monument for him; a vast statue, a likeness of himself in sandstone, laden with precious gems. It would be the greatest creation in history, they promised, and it would rise behind the palace and last for ages to come, and the king’s children and his children’s children would stand in its shadow and marvel at the sight, and kings and queens of other lands would tremble to look at its glory.

The king loved the sound of it. And so the building took place.

Many months went by before the statue was finished. Under the mighty stone limbs, men slaved away in the heat of the sun to bring the figure to life.

At long last, it was finished. Diamonds adorned the statues’ neck, and precious garnets on its fingers. And the king’s prize, the red ruby, shone from high on the statue’s crown. Its face, exactly like the king’s, gazed down with pride and power and ferocity, a cold sneer, upon his subjects.

And that king looked up into the stone face that was his own and smiled, and thought that now, he was immortal.

And he went home, and the sun set and the moon rose over the statue for years.

But things change.

War came to the city, one invader after the other, all seeking to take their riches, seeking vengeance for the lands they had conquered, and the king sent his armies to fight them off, blood spilling on the desert sand. But little by little, his grand city went into ruin. The people began to despair. And soon they began to starve.

The king’s wife grew tired of him and his cruel ways, and gave her heart to one of their enemies, the monarch of a city not very far away. He would not lock her away from people or keep her from going where she liked.

Eventually she ran away to him, and in his anger her husband declared war on her lover, and their last great battle caused both cities to fall into destruction.

Finally, their enemies brought the great statue toppling to the ground. The ruby fell off and sank deep into the desert sand.

In the end the once proud king died, ill and alone, on the banks of the single river that flowed through the desert. His people left the ruined kingdom and scattered, seeking refuge in other lands.

In the years since then, time wore away any other trace of the city. The oasis dried up, and desert storms wrecked the buildings. The statue was lost beneath the sands for ages.

Travelers, on camels, passed through the barrenness that was once the great kingdom. Fighter planes buzzed overhead at great speed, terrifying marvels that the city never lived to see.

For thousands of years it remained forgotten until a convoy of three little jeeps puttered into the desert.

A team of archeologists jumped out, and began to excavate the place where the city used to be, seeking information and forgotten riches.

They found old artifacts, jewelry, tools. They managed to uncover the face of the fallen statue. And one man dug up the ruby.

It was chipped and scratched now, and had a dull sheen to it. Try as he might to polish it, it couldn’t shine the way it did back in ancient times, but there was no way for the archeologist to know that. The ruby would never return to its previous, glorious state, but he thought it was good enough.

He passed by the statue’s excavated face, taking the ruby away from under the king’s very eyes. And the king, only a memory, only the slightest hint of a shadow of likeness on the stone surface, was not there to stop him.

And he wrapped it up and brought it home, far away to a museum in a city with more great buildings and people and majestic sights, from young lovers on benches to musicians playing guitar under streetlamps, than the king could ever imagine.

The smaller pieces of the once great empire found their way into galleries and collections all over the globe, but the king’s mighty statue remained where it was, and continued to crumble into dust.

And for ages to come, it lies beneath the sands, an unseen reminder of a forgotten story.

Inspired by ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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