the shield

angharad hughes

only connect

the shield

 

 

once upon a time there was a kingdom on a hill. it was ruled over by a king, who had a group of wise people who helped him. the king's subjects were on the whole good people, although sometimes they did bad, mad or sad things. however, among the king's subjects were some people who were not as good as the others. they got rich as a result of other people's misfortune. sometimes this was by stealing from their neighbours. and sometimes it was by selling pills and potions that were not all that good for people.

 

as well as pills and potions, there were also special rocks. these rocks had magic properties. when they were put into a special red and silver vessel and put over a flame, the rocks gave off magical vapours. the magical vapours took away all your cares, and left you in a state of bliss.

 

the only trouble with this was that as soon as the state of bliss wore off, life seemed even more grey and dull and sad than it was before. and the magical vapours contained a spell that made people want more and more of them. obviously this was a good thing from the point of view of the bad people who sold the rocks. it meant they could sell more and more rocks and get richer and richer. but for the people who bought the rocks it was less of a good thing. they got poorer and poorer, and their hold on reality got more and more tenuous.

 

the king did not want his subjects to fall under the spell of the rocks. it meant they could not work, and their children went hungry and uncared for, and violence became commonplace. so the king called his wise people to him and sought their counsel. among the wise people was a sorceress. she advised the king to send in his soldiers and go to the houses where the rocks were to be found. she said that if the soldiers could seize the rocks and arrest the people they found there, she would be able to create a spell that would keep the bad people selling the rocks from the kingdom.

 

the king thought long and hard and agreed that this was worth a try. he ordered his men to go to the houses where the rocks were sold and to seek out the bad people.

 

because the bad people were very bad, and had guns and knives and chains and other nasty things, the kings men wore armour, and helmets with vizors, and carried shields and batons. they had stout boots and powerful sprays. and because they had experience of bad people, they knew that the first thing that the bad people would do when they heard the king's men would be to throw the rocks out of the window. so the kings men left some of their number outside, under the window, to cover this eventuality.

 

the appointed time came and the kings men met in numbers outside the first house. on the command from their leader, the door was broken down and the king's men ran in. what met them was not an unusual scene in houses like this. the inside was in darkness, and full of smoke from the burning rocks. but the first of the king's men who ran in saw something unusual. just in time, before the others ran through into the house in their heavy boots, he saw a tiny baby lying on the floor. it was crying and wet and cold. the man acted quickly and placed his shield over the baby so that the men running in behind him would not tread on it. it all happened very fast but somehow the baby managed to avoid being crushed, because of the swift action of the man with the shield.

 

and just as predicted, the bad people threw the rocks out of the window into the waiting arms of the kings men below. when all the bad people had been rounded up and restrained, and some light had been let into the house, and the windows had been opened to let out the smoke and vapours, the kings men took off their helmets and looked at the baby. they were puzzled beyond belief. they could not for the life of them see how a tiny baby came to be in such a hellish place, surrounded by fumes and smoke and with no mother to be found.

 

one of the men was a friend of the baby's mother, and explained that she had left the baby with him while she went to sell her body to earn money for more magic rocks. he had forgotten about he baby once he started breathing the vapours.

 

this story could have had a very much worse ending if the first of the king's men had not seen the baby and protected it with his shield. as it turned out the baby was taken away by the nice ladies and given a bath and some food and clean clothes. the bad people were taken away to the castle and locked up. the sorceress made a spell to keep bad people away from the house so it could once more become a home.

 

but more bad people came to fill the gap, and found other houses, and sold more rocks to more sad people, and so it went on. so this story could not be said to have a happy ending either.

 

but for one little baby the story had a happy ending. and the man who put his shield over the baby and saved its life felt that he had done a good day's work that day.

 

this story also carries a message for people who worry that they may not be doing things right for their babies. babies are tough and resilient and as long as they are fed and loved and not trodden on in heavy boots they are usually ok.