The Golden Statue

by Gwen Adams (c. 2010)

(1st Sunday of Advent)
“The work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy; and is founded thereupon. . . . God out of abundance of His goodness bestows upon creatures what is due to them more bountifully than is proportionate to their deserts: since less would suffice for preserving the order of justice than what the divine goodness confers; because between creatures and God's goodness there can be no proportion.”
—Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica,1.21.4

King Midas loved gold too well and he wished that all he touched would turn to gold. When his wish came true, he was at first greatly pleased. But his joy soon became mourning. Midas had a daughter of surpassing beauty, with a vivacious and pleasing nature, but all her promise and splendor ended the day she came out to greet him and his hand touched hers. She was turned to a golden statue forever.

Midas spent many years seeking a cure, but finally gave up. He put the statue on a fine pedestal in the great hall, and was careful to touch nothing from then on, especially his infant daughter, sixteen years the junior to the eldest. His life was a continual misery and a reproach to him.

As the years passed, another grief plagued him: the inability of the youngest to find a suitable spouse. She was a plain woman, morose and sour, who found fault easily with people, especially her suitors. Her sour disposition was aggravated when people continually compared her to the once beloved eldest sister. The sight of the statue was bitter, so in the end the statue was put outside in an obscure courtyard in the garden. And people forgot about the eldest daughter.

But the years passed and still no one would wed the youngest. Midas decided to give a great ball for her and invite many possible suitors. To prepare, he hired many cooks, bakers, musicians, and all manner of workmen. There was a prince of a neighboring kingdom who had heard tales of the difficult princess that intrigued him and piqued his curiosity. He decided to see if she was worth winning and if so, to win her hand. He determined to come in disguise and hit upon the plan of applying as a workman for the ball.

So it came to pass that he worked at the palace and observed the princess unawares and found her to be as shrewish and disagreeable as the tales told. He would have left within a week if a singular event had not occurred. The palace was full of many royal personages enjoying themselves the long week before the ball. Now the disguised prince went to the garden to water the plants and clean the statues. Soon he came upon the obscure courtyard and the statue which had once been Midas’ eldest daughter. Time had covered creeper over her form; an old birds-nest lay in the crook of one arm. Nevertheless, a strange beauty and mysterious grace still hung about her. He pulled off the creeper and tossed away the nest. He looked at her for a long time. Her hand was still outstretched as it was the day she reached out to her father and was turned to gold. He polished her hand and then he kissed it. As he did so, a duke and duchess out for a stroll saw and recognized him as a prince.

When he came before the court to explain his presence and his disguise, he made a strange request. He asked that he might find a cure for the statue and then marry her. “I love this girl,” he said. “Grant me this gift.”

As he spoke, a barb lodged in the youngest daughter’s heart, and she saw this prince was very handsome, very good, and altogether worthy. Midas saw her face and demurred, “Prince, there is no cure for my eldest daughter. Take the hand of my youngest who is pleasing and fair of face.”

The Prince slept little that night for sorrow. He dreamed one dream: he saw a beautiful city of jewels and gold where the sun never set, and in the first gate of the city was a golden statue. The sun burned for seven years and the heat of its shining melted the gold of the statue. Its color faded as leaves will fade, and it became a clay pot. In this pot was clear, sweet water.

The next day, the prince went before the court and repeated his request. Again Midas looked at his youngest. She bit her lip and looked at the prince, and Midas denied him. “Sire,” said the prince. “I have had a true dream. I have worked as a laborer in this palace all week and I will work seven years more for you, if you will let me wed your eldest daughter. I know this labor will cure her; she will live again.”

But Midas’ heart was black and so he only pretended to agree. The prince worked as a laborer for seven years. He polished the statue in the courtyard so that the sun reflected on it and dazzled the eye. But the youngest watched him from her window, braided and re-braided her graying hair in the mirror, and pined. At last the time was ended, and the prince went before Midas. “I have labored for seven years,” he said. “And now I ask of you again that I might wed your eldest daughter.”

Said Midas, “It is not fit to take the dead over the living. You may wed my youngest daughter.” The prince said, “I have left my father, my kingdom, and my people these seven years to serve you and you deny me?”

“You may wed my youngest if you choose. We will hear your answer tomorrow,” said Midas. Looking at the youngest, the prince saw her face was streaked with happy tears. He made a courteous bow and left the hall.

All night he lay face down on the stones of the courtyard and would touch neither meat not drink. At dawn, the youngest plaited her graying hair and went out. All the grass was dewy, every spider’s web a net of dew in the grass. She would have gone into the courtyard but for the voice she heard. Her sour heart burned. She hid herself in the shadows and listened. The prince was speaking, “How can I ask her to plead for me? She desires to wed me, though I have labored these seven years for you. She has only to speak to her father who wrongs us so. How can I ask this of her? I cannot. I shall not wed you.” The youngest heard these words and the sound of his mourning rent her heart asunder. Then, for a moment, her plain face was radiant. She went to her father, and they summoned the prince.

When the prince stood before him, Midas began, “We are ready to discuss a dowry for my youngest daughter if you consent to wed her.”

“Sire,” began the prince wretchedly.

But the youngest interrupted, “Father, I find this prince unsuitable. My sister is his by right more than I. In justice you must carry out your original promise.” All were speechless, Midas most of all. “So be it,” he said.

The prince approached her, bowed, and kissed her hand. Her head was bowed, and he looked at her with wonder. “Dear princess,” he began but she stopped him. “There is no love without justice,” she whispered.

So justice was done to the statue and to the prince, and it was at the same time both due and gratuitous. The prince went to the courtyard and touched the hand of the statue which came instantly to life. They were soon wed and had many children. The youngest sister died shortly after the wedding; none were sure why. But when strange favors were granted, her tomb was opened and in her coffin they found dust and robes and two rent halves of a gold heart.

1 comments:

thewritersapprentice said...

In general, good.

Specifically, the "one dream": "he saw a beautiful city of jewels and gold where the sun never set, and in the first gate of the city was a golden statue. The sun burned for seven years and the heat of its shining melted the gold of the statue. Its color faded as leaves will fade, and it became a clay pot. In this pot was clear, sweet water." An alternative for "as leaves will fade" might be the simpler "like leaves"--but I do like it as is.

You intimate a kind of mystery into the story quite well.

Nice job!

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