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The messenger

A wealthy King finds his own laws are the cause of his kingdom's demise

A wealthy King finds his own laws are the cause of his kingdom's demise

Once upon a time there was a wealthy King who lived with his wife and his three beautiful daughters in their castle deep within the forest.

They had plenty to eat and drink, there was ripe fruit on the trees and deep red wine in the cellar, there was fresh bread and soft, succulent cheeses which came from all corners of the Kingdom.

One day though his youngest daughter fell sick. Her long blonde hair lost its lustrous shine. She was normally a quick witted and happy child but she became quiet and sullen. The King's attendants tried to tempt her with her favourite foods but she refused to eat.

Eventually she lay down on her bed and fell into a deep sleep. Night came and the King, at his wits end, called for his faithful messenger and ordered him to send for the healer in the village.

It was a stormy night and the messenger ran through the wind and rain with only a cloak to help keep him warm. He reached the cottage of the healer and through a small window he could make out a figure praying on his knees. He rapped the oak door three times with his staff.

'Who is it?' called the healer.

'I have been sent by the King himself, you must come as quickly as you can, for his daughter is sick'

'It is not me you need,' said the healer. 'For I am dressed in my linen nightgown and have my candle lit ready for bed and I have said my prayers. The King agreed to no longer reward me with gold for leaving my bed at this ungodly hour and it is now the healer in the town that you need, not me. Full speed and God have mercy on her soul.'

The messenger set off. He tore through the dark fields and woodland toward the bright lights of the town. The streets were full of merriment, fiddlers played music and there was drinking and laughter. The messenger desperately wanted a flagon of mead to help quench his thirst but he couldn't afford to stop, his task was far too important.

At last he reached the house. It was stately with a large walled garden and locked gates. The messenger climbed them and shouted up at the bedroom window.

A man came out wearing a cotton night cap 'Who is it?' called the healer

'I have been sent by the King himself, you must come as quickly as you can, for his daughter is sick.'

'It is not me you need,' said the healer. 'For I am dressed in my linen nightgown and I have my candle lit ready for bed and I have said my prayers. The good King after consulting his most wise council redrew our boundaries, altered our maps and changed our practice. It is the healers in the citadel that you now need. Full speed and may the Lord have mercy on her soul.'

It was dawn and the messenger was soaked through to the skin and exhausted. He galloped back to the castle with a healer from the citadel. The guards let them through and they raced to the King's chambers.

His daughter was weak, she was breathing her last but managed to lean forward and took a sip of a magical elixir which saved her life. Pink health flushed back into her cheeks.

The King was very angry with what had happened. He sent out armed guards to round up the healers. He tied their hands behind their backs and paraded them through the muddy streets.

In his heart of hearts he knew that it was his own laws and decrees that had nearly caused the death of his daughter. But he didn't want the peasants to know that. They were happy throwing rotting vegetables and he could see how they enjoyed laughing and taunting and how enthusiastically they jeered and jabbed the healers with their sharp sticks.

With tears in their eyes the healers left the kingdom demoralised and disillusioned. They boarded boats which took them across the sea to distant lands.

The moon had not yet turned full when news of a new pestilence came to the King's court. A vile, corrupting malady was sweeping the land. Over the length and breadth of the kingdom creaking wagons were laden with the dead and dying.

The people were in despair, they had no-one to turn to and were bitterly ashamed of what they had done. They banged on the cottage door and they banged on the town door, they even banged on the gates of the citadel. But there was no-one to answer, there was no-one to help them.

The buildings stood empty and all of the healers had gone.

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen

Through the K hole

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