Allegory of crossing over into the King's Kingdom.
(Fantasy as in the character's journey is physical rather than spiritual.)
Based off a song in the (Christian) charts: Broken Things by Matthew West
If grace was a kingdom
I've stopped at the gate
Thinking I don't deserve to pass through after all of the mistakes I've made
But I heard a whisper
As Heaven bent down
Said, “Child, don't you know that the first will be last and the last get a crown?”
Now I'm just a beggar in the presence of a King
I wish I could bring You so much more
But if it's true You use broken things
Then here I am Lord, I am all Yours
The pages of history they tell me it's true
That it's never the perfect; it's always the ones with the scars that You use
It's the rebels and the prodigals; it's the humble and the weak
The misfit heroes You chose
Tell me there's hope for sinners like me
Grace is a kingdom
With gates open wide
There's seat at the table just waiting for you
So, come on inside
I fingered the gilded invitation and frowned as dirt smudged the swirling script. With a sigh I stuffed it into a leather bag tied to my waist and turned again to the stew simmering over my camp fire.
As I stirred in a handful of chopped carrot gleaned from a nearby farm, I contemplated the strange turn of events in my life. The king's courier had stomped through the muck and bushes to find my camp. I had expected him to glower and glare at having to press through the thorns of the wild to reach me. Instead, a genuine grin spread across his cherubic face as he cheerfully pressed an envelope into my calloused hand.
"Them royalty folks is just plain crazy," I mumbled. Bringing a warped spoon to my lips I tasted the watery broth. Despite my misgivings, I knew I couldn't deny a request from the king. My eyes flickered to the darkening sky. It was much too late to start my journey; I would have to wait until the morrow and hope my feeble legs would carry me to the king's gates before the date mandated on the fancy card.
Settling before the fire with a lop-sided wooden bowl in hand, I slowly ate my supper. If rumors about the king's special invitations were true, I'd be dining at the king's very own table a few days hence. I lay back in the dirt, watching the flames flicker and dance as I imagined the delicacies that would be set before me.
"I ain't had roasted chicken in years," I yawned and my eyes fluttered shut, "'Most forgot what it tastes like..."
The fire was stone-cold in the morning. I picked out a bite or two of greasy meat from the leftover stew before stacking my belongings in a rickety cart. The cart's one wobbly wheel bounced over a rock and I fought to keep it from tipping over and spilling my things into the dirt. Grunting, I pointed my nose to the north and the Kingdom of Grace.
Usually I would meander until I found a good place to set up home for a few days. My bad leg wouldn't allow me to travel far. Now that I had a journey of several miles ahead of me, I had to push myself to keep going.
"C'mon, legs, don't be failin' me now..." I grumbled, pausing to glare at the sun and wipe a trickle of sweat out of my eyes. Fumbling for a pouch of water in the cart, I leaned against a farmer's rickety fence and let the liquid flow past my parched lips.
I squinted over the fence to find a man clad in blue overalls jogging my way. Despite his excessive bulk he nimbly jumped and dodged through multiple rows of green peppers.
"My good fellow," the farmer panted, his face blooming as bright as the red tomatoes sprinkled amongst the peppers, "At last you have arrived! I am most distraught about my good lady!" The farmer pressed against his fence and wrung meaty hands together. The smell of sweat wafted from his vicinity, overpowering my own musty stench of mildew and dirt.
"She is about to give birth and I am most clueless about how to help her — " He trailed off and searched my face, his eyes hopeful.
I cocked my head to the side, "You can tell plain as day I ain't no midwife. What makes ya think I'd be any help — "
"The king's messenger said you'd be by," the farmer interrupted. His bottom lip wobbled as he placed a hand on my dusty shoulder, "I admit, I doubted you'd arrive in time. But then I saw you across the field and I knew my prayers were answered!"
"Well," I scratched my bearded chin, "I don't know..."
"I'll pay you well, you can be certain!" he insisted, pulling on my tattered shirt.
"Shucks, I don't need no gold or silver." With a sigh and a shrug, I gave in. "I 'spose I can lend a hand. " I glanced longingly up the road. This little side-trip was going to cost me in time. Hopefully the good lady would bring forth her child quickly. I couldn't be late for my meeting with the king.
Hopping over the fence, the farmer pulled me along over strawberries and onions. When I turned to the house he gave my sleeve a yank and pulled me to the barn.
"You're good lady is birthin' in a barn?" I frowned.
"Where else did you expect her to be?" the farmer asked, gesturing to a stall. I peeked over the side and chuckled. A goat stood in the straw, straining to expel a kid.
"Ya got some soap and water for me to lather up with?" I whispered. The farmer's hands fluttered. He turned on his heels, nearly slipping on some loose hay, to fetch a pail of hot water. After scrubbing up, I slipped inside the stall and helped untangle a set of twin kids so the goat could push them out. It wasn't long before the two doelings were being licked off by their grateful mama.
The farmer clapped with glee as the kids wobbled around their dame, "They would have perished without you, my dear fellow! I don't know what I would have done if my good lady had died. I so depend on her for milk and cheese!" Reaching into a deep pocket, he pulled out a handful of coins. The gold and silver protruded from his chubby fingers as he held out the payment. I shook my head.
"I told ya I don't need gold nor silver." The farmer's mouth dropped open and his eyes betrayed his skepticism as he glanced over my bedraggled clothes. "But if you could spare it, I'd take a basket of your finest strawberries. I'm off to see the king, you see, and I need some sort of gift to give'em."
The farmer's plump face lit up as he swelled with pride. He dropped the coins back into their dark pocket and hurried out to pick a fresh basket of berries. As I lifted my cart to continue on my way, he set another basket of onions, tomatoes, apples, and peppers in the cart.
"For you," he nodded.
I grinned and, hefting my load, continued on my way.
The sun was setting and my bum leg was aching when I finally found an out-of-the-way spot to bed down for the night. Tossing the bits and pieces of wood I'd gathered during the trip into a pile, I coaxed a fire to life. Settling before the blaze I bit into a tomato, squirting seeds down the front of my shirt. A rustle from the bushes had me chuckling. I tossed another stick on the fire and called out into the darkness, "C'mon on out, you two. There's plenty to share."
The bushes shook again as I pulled off my worn boots and rubbed my tired feet.
"No need to be shy, I ain't gonna bite." Two dirty faces popped out from hiding.
"How'd ya know we was here, mister?"
"Saw you followin' me the last mile," I reached for an apple and took a bite. The boys stared as the sweet juice dribbled down my chin.
"Go on," I waved at the basket, "Have at it."
The first boy tentatively crept forward and grabbed an apple. The second snagged a handful of onions and peppers.
"Them strawberries up fer grabs?" The first boy asked with a mouth full of tomato. He stood an inch or so taller than his brother. Except for that difference, the two could be twins.
I glanced at my gift to the king. The berries seemed to glisten and gleam in the fire's light. Glancing at the children's thin, eager faces, I slowly nodded.
The boys flopped in front of the fire, throwing their arms over each other and snuggling close like tired pups. Throwing the last of the wood on the fire, I leaned back against a rotting log and closed my eyes.
The boys were gone when I woke, as was the rest of my vittles. My stomach growled as I tightened the rope I used as a belt and pushed my cart back to the road.
"Should make it today," I encouraged my feet, taking one weary step after another. The last hill seemed to stretch into the sky. No matter how I tried, I couldn't get my cart up the rocky side. Hunching over to catch my breath, I realized I'd have to abandon the cart and all my things. I hated to do it but time was running out. If I didn't make it up the hill before the sun set, I'd miss my appointment with the king. With one last look at my earthly belongings, I continued up the path. Without my load weighing me down, the climb up the hill was almost easy.
At the top I whistled in awe. The golden gates of the kingdom shimmered before me like embers. I reached for my invitation and bit my lower lip. I'd been asked to come, sure, but I didn't need a mirror to see that my appearance was unacceptable. My big left toe was poking through my worn boots, my pants and shirt were tattered and caked with dirt, and my hair was long and greasy. I frowned and ran my thumb against the edge of the creamy white parchment.
The guards on duty seemed to be watching me with curiosity. Shuffling forward, I awkwardly held out the invite.
"I'm here to see the king," I mumbled.
The guard to my right took the precious piece of paper and scanned it with his eyes.
"You've been expected," he smiled and gestured me forward. I nodded but didn't step forward. My feet felt like they were frozen to the ground.
"There you are!" the voice was deep and rich and full of joy. I cocked my head as he ran towards me, his purple robes flying behind him like a cape.
"Yer majesty," I bowed low. The king grabbed my hands and lifted me up with a bright laugh.
"Enter in, my son! I have waited long for you to arrive!"
I bit my lip and eyeballed the lavish lands sparkling on the other side of the gates. From outside looking in, it appeared as though the streets were paved of gold.
"You've been waitin' fer me?" I fought the urge to sneer, "What could ya want with old Broken Despair, yer majesty? I ain't worth nothing..."
The king's eyebrows rose in shock, "One thing you'll learn from our expansive Books of History is that I always use the scared and broken, the prodigals and the rebels, and the humble and the weak to help others. And you, Broken Despair, are that very type."
My brow furrowed and I shook my head, "I ain't never helped others, yer majesty. Always been too poor."
"What about the farmer on your journey here?" the king nudged me with an elbow, "Or the orphans on the road?"
"Them? That was nothin'!"
"To you, maybe. But not to them. And not to me."
The king held out a hand but I hesitated in taking it.
"I ain't got nothin' to give you, yer majesty," I spread out my empty hands.
"No worries," the king's gentle smile lured me forward. "I have no need for gifts. In fact, I have a few for you!" As I stepped past the gates and into the Kingdom of Grace my rags were replaced with a pristine, white suit and smart black loafers. I gasped as the ache in my leg disappeared and the dirt that layered my hands and face were lifted. It was if I had stepped out of a warm bath.
"No longer will your name be Broken Despair," the king announced as a flood of the kingdom's citizens came to welcome me, "Instead, you will be called Mercy because you showed charity to others while living outside my gates." The king pointed toward a table loaded with food.
"Come, sit down, Mercy. There's a seat at the table just for you."