Behind The Mask
A long time ago in a peaceful country there lived a wealthy prince married to a beautiful princess. One day two tall magicians in finely embroidered costumes came to visit. They asked if they could present a special performance before the prince and his subjects. Although the prince had everything, he had grown bored with daily court life and gladly welcomed their offer.
That evening, in the palace garden, the magicians manipulated puppets that cast shadows against an illuminated wall. The puppets told the story of the far-off land where the magicians were born. In this place the buildings were made of ivory, the streets were paved with emerald cobblestones and the people wore long robes of golden silk. The audience loved the shadow play and the applause was so great that the magicians had to perform the play three times.
The prince was seized by a vision of the City of the Golden Robes and wanted more than anything to visit this place and bring back its riches. His counsellors protested and insisted that this was just a mythical land. Nevertheless the prince ordered that a caravan be prepared at once. Before leaving he gave the princess a heart-shaped amulet with a single grain of sand inside. “For each day I think of you another grain will accumulate,”he said. “Keep this near your heart at all times for it will protect you while I am gone.”
Using the landmarks in the story as a guide, the caravan travelled through a dense jungle filled with colourful birds and exotic plants. Later they came to a vast desert where they used the position of the midday sun to find their way. The prince was so obsessed with his quest he went blind by staring at the sun. So acute was his pain that he had to bandage his eyes. As they travelled farther and farther into the desert the men often saw glimpse of ivory, emeralds or gold only to discover they were seeing mirages.
After years of hardship they found the City of the Golden Robes. The place seemed as if it had been abandoned for many years. The streets were not emeralds but shards of green glass. The crumbling buildings were not ivory but a common white stone. The only robes they could find were not golden silk but gold-coloured cloth. When the prince heard this, he fell to his knees in tears. He tore off his bandages and cried. “What a fool I’ve been!” As he wept he noticed, to his astonishment, that his sight had been restored.
On their return home they met one of the counsellors who was sent by the princess to find out what had happened to the caravan. The counsellor was relieved to see the prince alive. The shadow players had performed another drama in which the caravan was destroyed by ferocious dragons. He told them the villagers believed the palace should be given to the shadow players now that the prince would not return. Shocked by this news, the prince and his men hurried back without delay. As they approached the palace they found the princess waiting at the gates for the caravan. “Where are the magicians?” the prince asked. The princess told them what had happened to the village while the prince and his men stood in disbelief.
Soon after the prince left, the princess had stopped attending the shadow plays. She confined herself to her study, longing for the day the caravan would return. One day, her attendant told her about the tragedy of the caravan, as portrayed in a new shadow play. Disbelieving, she crept up behind the stage and peered out at the puppet show. The drama showed how the village would be attacked by the dragons that had destroyed the caravan, unless the magicians used their powers to protect it. The princess was alarmed at what she saw on stage and horrified to see how the audience was hypnotized by the flickering shadows dancing on the wall.
She took some sand from the heart-shaped amulet and threw it at the puppeteers. It floated over the shadow players and settled on their heads. The shadow players wheezed and coughed so violently that finally their faces detached. Behind the mask there was nothing. In agony they collapsed and everything, including the puppets and stage vanished.
The prince asked his wife why she hadn’t been fooled by the magicians. “Although the illusions were beautiful,” she said,”I found that after a while they were as empty as the shadow players themselves.”
As they walked together in the palace garden with its magnificent trees and flowers, the prince realized what he had left behind so many years ago was more precious than ivory, emeralds, and robes of golden silk.
By Ron Korb