Once upon a time, there was a girl who was very, very unhappy. And then one day, her father died. And because in her kingdom the Queen had declared all sadness banned by law, the girl built a beautiful smiling mask that she could hide behind whenever her sadness was too much for her to bear. However, there was a flaw with this mask. The girl had cut holes for the eyes, so she might still look upon the beauty of the world, through all her sadness. Because of these holes, any who looked on her for long enough would eventually see her eyes through this mask and find hidden, deep within them, all of the sadness within her heart. For when the heart is injured, no man or medicine can heal the wound. It can only be healed with air and time. And because the girl tucked her pain away from the bright light and breeze of day, her wound never healed.
One day the girl was at market, buying bread for her daily meal, when she noticed a man dressed head to toe in a rainbow of colors watching her from a far. She thought nothing of it, and went back to her business and returned home. The next day, the girl returned and noticed the same man watching her. This time, she approached him and demanded to know why he was watching her.
“Milady, I am but a lowly jester of the court, but I must confess that you are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen”.
The girl blushed at his attention, and for a moment her mask nearly fell off. She carefully straightened it and resolved to never let flattery catch her off guard ever again. She rushed away from the market, and caught the reflection of her mask in the window of the millinery shop. “How could I be beautiful? I’m plain as hay and horses”.
And so, for week after week, the girl would walk from her small home in the fields and would go to market, and see the court jester watching her, always with a smile on his face.
One day, as the girl turned to go home, the jester stopped her. “A thousand pardons for my insolence” he said with a wink “But might I accompany you home?”
The girl blushed, and somewhere deep within her, the wound in her heart burned –(for hearts will often burn when they are lonely). She nodded quietly, so as not to upset her mask, and they began walking in silent companionship.
When they arrived at her home, a small fire burned in the kitchen, and they warmed their feet by the fire. The court jester told her of his many adventures, his days at sea, and how he came to be a jester for the great king.
The girl listened, her eyes blazing with excitement as his stories grew grander and the night grew darker. Finally, the jester paused and looked out at the cold, snowy night.
“I really must be going”. With that, the jester reached for his belled hat and made towards the door.
“Oh, do stay. It is so cold, the least I can do it offer you a warm supper and a soft bed” insisted the girl.
“As you wish, milady. However, tomorrow you must tell me your story”. with a wink and a hop, the jester was off to bed.
All night the girl nervously paced, trying desperately to remember some tale that she could tell to make her jester laugh. But she has no stories, nor tales of adventure. She had spent so long trying to keep her mask on that the time had slipped away. As the first purple rays of sunrise crept over the hearth, the girl picked up her quill and ink and began to write
Days came and went, and still she did not rest. The jester brought her hot soup and soft bread at mealtimes and otherwise would just sit by the fire and watch her as she scribbled.
First a few pages, then dozens, then hundreds and then into the thousands, still her quill flew across the page. Reams of paper lined the walls, the floors, even stacked into the rafters—and still she kept writing.
She wrote of her past–her fears, her ambitions, her deepest longings and her wildest dreams. She wrote of her hope for happiness and her belief in hope itself. She wrote down the stories of the grand adventures she’d imagined going on when times were hard and of the beauty she saw in the world around her. She wrote of her sadness and her secrets and often just whatever came to mind, her thoughts on life and love and of the people she’d met.
Little by little, the mask she’d worn for so long begin to crumble away, but she paid it no mind. The pieces of her mask melted into the swirls of ink and disappeared, entwining and becoming part of her story, all while the jester sat and watched.
For one whole week she wrote, and then, at sundown on the seventh day, she finally set down her quill. She looked around at the thousands of pages that surrounded her and suddenly noticed that her mask had disappeared. She tried to hide her face from the jester who stood behind her, but he took her face in her hands and said
“This is a very good story. It is not great. But it could be. A great story relies on experience, and you have spent your life behind your mask. Like so many, you may have seen the world but you haven’t experienced it. Find others who wear a mask and seek them out. It is time for you to become part of their story. Teach them to dream. Laugh. Cry. Listen. Write all you see down, for it will become part of the story. Give them hope. Always. Speak often of hope, for hope is what we storytellers bring, and hope is always free.”
The girl made to ask a question, but in a flash of light and the oldest type of magic, the jester was gone, leaving no trace. The girl looked in her mirror, the first time in many years, and saw how her face had aged with care and worry, but her eyes remained the same.
And so off into the wide world the girl went, carrying nothing but a traveling cloak, a quill and some bits of paper. To tell of all the things she saw and did would take as many hours as the stars that guided her home when her travels had reached an end. She recorded all of her Great Adventures and shared them with those she found who still wore masks, and often helped to heal their hidden wounds with her stories of hope, and it might be said that at times, she was happy.
And she lived until it was decent, and then passed on, as people so often do,
And somewhere in the world, another story began.