Back at the Palace Beautiful, King Oscar tried his best to resume his normal king’s life with his queen and his courtiers, but he found it very difficult to do so. Every time his giant’s eye fell upon either Robbie or Charles, he was reminded of the Secret Glade and that incredible vision of light that he could never recapture. Though he returned to the Secret Glade the next week with Robbie, it happened just the way Robbie had told him it would. Exactly the same confrontation with the Scarlet Marquis was played out once again, and Oscar could only sit and watch the Crystal Boy turning slowly, basking like a lizard in his own perfection. Oscar could only look… never touch. And the image would gradually fade away, until it was completely dissolved in the reflection of the fairies coloured lights as they danced off each and every facet. Oscar would always sit entranced for hours afterwards, unable to move a single muscle. Eventually he would be joined by Robbie, or sometimes he would go back to the Palace Beautiful alone. As time went on Oscar began to return to the Secret Glade by himself, and went there more often than he stayed at the palace.
Meanwhile Queen Constance spent most of her time in the nursery tower with the babies. She watched the artists moving around her as she played with the princes, decorating the large round walls of the nursery tower with jungle pictures of trees entwined with brightly coloured flowers, animals and birds. A covering for the floor was made of woven rushes and coloured strands of the tendrils hanging from forest trees found deep within one of the distant forests, right on the edge of the enchanted island, far away from the palace itself. King Oscar would occasionally join the queen, though his appearances became gradually more infrequent. Soon Queen Constance had a room of her own made below the princes’ nursery, so she rarely returned to the palace.
One day, Queen Constance went down to the beach with the princes’ nanny-goat, who came in useful for pulling the two princes along in their little cart. Queen Constance herself walked some way behind the nanny-goat, feeling a little sad. Despite being so proud and contented with her life, King Oscar’s dissatisfaction made her uneasy. When they reached the shore, she saw a group of children sitting miserably on the beach. She suspected she knew who they were waiting for. A couple of the smaller children were crying, so she asked them what was wrong.
“We’re waiting for the king to come and tell us his magical stories! We need his enchantment so much… Where is he?” they sobbed, as they held on to each other’s hands.
“Queen Constance, please tell us where King Oscar is! Make him come back to us!”
The queen could hardly shake her head. She turned away and watched the nanny-goat moving across the sand dunes, the wheels of the cart squeaking gently behind her.
One day the following week, a travelling artist arrived at the Palace Beautiful from a distant part of the island and asked to be presented to the king. He said he had brought a gift – a picture, naturally. King Oscar was making one of his rare appearances in court that day and so he was there to welcome the artist. He stood up from his throne and came down the few steps to shake the artist’s hand warmly. He had slight trouble finding the artist’s hand, for he did not seem to be a complete figure at all. In fact, only half a body with only one leg and one arm. Despite being such a slight figure, the artist was a very strong and tall man, so that King Oscar felt an instant kinship with him. He was also very softly spoken, so that King Oscar had to lean forward and strain his ears to catch his words when he spoke.
“I’ve travelled many miles to the Palace Beautiful with this particular picture for you, King Oscar,” the thin artist told him, hopping forward to show his painting to the giant king. It was a very large and heavy painting, in an ornate gold frame, and King Oscar stared at it for several moments before he could make out what exactly it was. It seemed to be simply a dark background with a few coloured spots on it. Then he moved his head very slightly, and he recognised the image. He clutched at the ornate frame with his massive hands and stared, entranced.
“But this is my Crystal Boy! How can this be?” He tore his eyes away from the picture and gazed in wonder at the artist’s half-face. “How did you manage to catch the light?”
“Ah…” The artist gazed sadly at his painting with his one eye; his half mouth twisted into a strange sort of smile. “I had to wait for many years… I had to go back many times to the Secret Glade before I was able to capture his image. I thought it was dangerous to do so… I was playing with fire, I knew that. But still, I wanted to catch the light forever and put it permanently in my heart where it could never pass away.” The artist sighed deeply and wiped away a single tear that trickled from his single eye. “This is a dangerous game we’re both playing, you and I, your highness, but that crystal boy had to be caught… he leads all the time, and you follow… just as I myself followed. In the end, you may catch the light, King Oscar.”
King Oscar frowned as he continued to gaze at the painting.
“I’m going to hang this painting in a special room upstairs, where nobody else can see it. I want to keep the Crystal Boy all to myself.” He looked at the artist who was beginning to hop away, back across the court. “Thank you for your gift… it will look wonderful in the Palace Beautiful. I have much need for beauty in my life at the moment. Things around me seem to be growing gradually darker, if you see what I mean, Mr… what is your name?”
The thin half-artist paused as King Oscar met his eye once again. They seemed to be almost joined… part of the same giant body.
“My name is Basil,” replied the artist, in a tiny voice, his thin words almost swallowed up by the vastness of the Palace Beautiful. King Oscar watched him hop away out of the throne room. The giant king felt every movement of the artist’s thin body as if it was his own, somewhere within himself.
Not long after this, another traveller arrived at the Place Beautiful – a brightly coloured Harlequin who bowed low before King Oscar’s throne, the bells on his cap jingling with a merry musical sound. When he spoke he seemed to be singing, his voice rising and falling, so that his words seemed jumbled crazily.
“May I introduce myself, King Oscar? My name is Lord Henry… I travelled many miles across the island to come here and make you laugh, make you sing, entertain you… whatever you like.” Lord Henry straightened himself up, shaking bells on the wooden stick he held, to accompany his words. Although his body was almost completely covered by psychedelic diamond shapes, a black mask covered his eyes, and there seemed to be no flesh beneath – or at least invisible to King Oscar and the rest of the courtiers. But still, he was quite able to make them laugh and sing along with him, clapping their hands and even dancing. King Oscar himself watched the harlequin spin round and round in delight – These days, he was much in need of merriment to distract him from his troubles. “What would you like me to do for you, King Oscar? Would you like to hear some stories, perhaps? I have many to tell.”
The giant king leaned back in his throne with a sigh, watching Lord Henry dancing around before him, with his kind eyes full of wonder as well as sadness. Beside him, the elf Robbie stood close, almost touching the king’s massive shoulder.
“Yes, I should like that very much,” said King Oscar, trying his best to smile. “I myself used to tell stories to the children… but those days are over, or so it seems. I have no stories left to tell now… so you must take my place.”
Lord Henry’s laughter died away slowly, and the bells on his stick stopped jingling as his invisible hand became still. Even the crazy colours on his diamond suit seemed to become static, not quite so alive as they had been.
“But where have your stories gone? Where can they be?” demanded Lord Henry in his sing-song voice. “They must be somewhere… must be hiding somewhere at the back of your mind, King Oscar. They can’t have disappeared… Once a story teller, always a story teller.”
King Oscar gave a little laugh, even though the sound seemed forced and hollow. As he tried to look into Lord Henry’s vast, invisible eyes he felt a strange kinship with the harlequin, as he had done with Basil, the artist.
“Those are kind, encouraging words, but the enchantment has left me… The magic has died, I feel.” King Oscar sighed once again, removing his crown of sunflowers and turning it round carefully in his giant hands. “So please, entertain me with your stories… make me forget about the magic I have lost. Distract me… make me laugh once again. Please, you are welcome here… I feel as if I know you very well, even though we’ve only just met. Does this make any sense to you, Lord Henry?”
The bells on Lord Henry’s cap and stick tinkled haphazardly together.
“I think I’ll simply give you an idea… simply the characters, and I’ll leave you to make the story. You have all the characters here in your court before your eyes, King Oscar… you have the story in your head already. Did you know that?”
The king got slowly to his feet, bending his head to avoid hitting it on the ceiling.
“I think I know what you mean, Lord Henry… but please tell me how the story ends. Does it end sadly, with the death of Dorian, the hero?”
Lord Henry’s laughter dissolved away into a very faint trail of silvery sounds.
“You must finish Dorian’s tale yourself, your highness. You know who Dorian is… I believe you’ve seen him many times in the Secret Glade.” Lord Henry pointed his tinkling bells towards Basil’s painting, which was propped up beside King Oscar’s throne. “You’ve seen the Crystal Boy for yourself… That’s the story anyway; the light that you’re so desperate to catch. So you must finish the story yourself… I have no way of knowing if you will catch the light, or not.”
There was an uncomfortable silence, which Lord Henry tried to fill with his music. The creatures of the court clapped their hands and tried to join in as best they could, but they knew their king was sad… so very sad.
Carefully picking up the painting, King Oscar got to his feet abruptly, obviously on the verge of making a decision. His giant figure blocked out the light coming through the window, before he moved away through the courtiers, towards the entrance doors. Robbie followed close by his side, as did Basil the artist, hopping across the tiled floor on his one leg.
“Come with me, Robbie… I know where to hang this painting.” The giant king’s voice was echoing all around the court so that the tinkling of Lord Henry’s bells and the strumming of his guitar became squashed beneath the weight of the sound. Oscar paused in the doorway, looking back over his shoulder at the artist and the harlequin. “Will you come with me please, Basil? And you, Lord Henry… we must all be together on this occasion.”
As he left the court and began to climb the massive staircase, King Oscar knew that Lord Henry was close behind him, by the jingling of his bells, and he knew also that Basil was accompanying him as he reached the top of the stairs, because he could hear his single boot thudding in a monotonous drum beat. He could feel Robbie close beside him all the time. His tiny elfin face was serious and composed, yet ready for action.
“This is the room we’ll hang the picture in, I think. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here,” said King Oscar as he opened the door. “I hope that the room’s still intact!”
In the centre of the room, stood the princes’ empty cribs. Beneath the window was the little chair on which Queen Constance used to sit and watch them as they slept. King Oscar only glanced briefly at these sad remnants of his past life, before turning his attention back to the painting. Something in the picture seemed to glint and catch the light momentarily as he turned the painting, trying to find the best place on the wall to hang it.
“This painting should hang in a secret place… for I knew as you spoke, Lord Henry, that the story was a secret one… it’s my own story, about myself. The giant king has become split into three different characters, all of whom appear in this story. Basil the artist is there… do you recognise yourself, Basil? You are how I see myself… as an artist, a creator of beautiful things… a story teller.” Very carefully King Oscar raised the painting in his massive hands and hung it on the wall. Taking a giant stride back, he gazed at the picture, a faint smile touching the curve of his lips. Lord Henry’s bells tinkled very gently as he moved his invisible hand to scratch his invisible face. King Oscar glanced at him, gesturing towards the painting. “And you are also in this story… the wit. You make people laugh, forget their troubles. You are how the world sees me. The final part of me is… there he is, catching the light; the Crystal Boy, Dorian. He is how I will be remembered… how I shall become in other people’s memories.”
Falling silent, King Oscar turned very slowly away from the painting, and a great weight seemed to settle on the giant’s shoulders and he seemed to stagger slightly across the room. He gripped on to the window sill as he gazed out into the sunlight, which was now growing fainter as the afternoon wore on. Behind him the soft tinkling of Lord Henry’s bells filtered through the lengthening shadows and King Oscar could also still hear the creaking of Basil’s one leg as he shifted his weight upon it. Close by his side moved Robbie quietly, sitting down in the little child’s chair beside the window. King Oscar caught his eye.
“And so… what is there left for me to do now? I have this story in my head, but I cannot write it yet, can I, Robbie? You understand, don’t you?” he asked the elf abruptly, reaching up to remove his crown of sunflowers.
Robbie gazed back thoughtfully.
“But I thought you were the greatest teller of stories, King Oscar? Why can you not finish this one?”
King Oscar continued to gaze out at the tall nursery tower jut across the courtyard outside, watching the scarlet of it becoming crimson as the sky around grew darker. The giant flinched with pain as he caught sight of the Queen Constance’s figure as she came out with the nanny goat, pulling the two princes in the cart. King Oscar stared at the figures without moving, watching them cross over the wooden drawbridge, his fingers now gripping on to the edge of the window sill. He shook his head, feeling sure he would never see them again.“There’s something I have to do first… before I can write the story of my life. I have to do something,” he said sadly, feeling as though a weight was pulling him down further. “I have to go back to the Secret Glade and catch that light forever.”