The people of the island of Er all had the same strange disease. Ugly sores covered every part of their bodies, and the sores were so itchy, the people scratched and scratched and could not rest. This made life on the island difficult for due to their troubled state the people quarreled, cursed and fought continuously. There was no extent to which the people had not gone in seeking a cure for the disease. They had tried many things, but none of their efforts had given them the relief they badly needed.
Things took a new turn one afternoon that the people were gathered at the city square. A strange man none of them knew came among them and proclaimed that he knew the cure to the disease. The man was strange to them because he didn’t have their disease - his skin was healthy and completely free of sores - and it was this difference that had arrested their attention.
The whole island became excited when they saw and heard the strange man. They gathered around, eager to learn the cure to the disease. Then the strange man addressed them,
‘People of Er, listen! I am of the city of Lyth at Rainbows End, a messenger of the Grand Emperor. The good Emperor has received news of your suffering and has sent me to teach you how you may get cured of this disease.’ The people shouted excitedly, and then the strange man continued,
‘The Emperor has instructed me to tell you that if you want to get well all you need to do is take a bath in the River Truson. If you do your disease will vanish and you will be free from the torments of scratching.’
All their excitement vanished in an instant. The people of Er were greatly disappointed. They had hoped the strange man would reveal to them a secret formula, like the mixture of some unknown herbs which when they used would work like magic. But all he had told them was to go and bath in the River Truson, a river they always avoided.
The River Truson was located a far way off at the end of the island and the way to it was known to be difficult for one had to pass through Raven’s forest and then through the river garden to get there.
Raven’s forest was a forest said to be haunted by talking creatures that appeared human from the shoulder downwards, but possessed an enlarged version of the head of a raven. They could move extremely fast, and they could also fly by means of two enormous black wings on their backs. These creatures were known to be extremely cruel and extraordinarily crafty. By their craft, they had captured many simple people of Er. They often came to the villages at night, calling in a peddler’s voice, ‘your cure for the sore, your cure for the sore’. When any individual foolishly went to explore this claim, the creatures immediately closed a sack over their heads and carried them off deep into the forest. There they were fed with Fauxwood (a fruit that tampered with one’s reasoning) by the creatures until they were completely brainwashed, and then the creatures ate them alive.
About the river garden little was known except its horrible stench of decay. But the river itself was a great mystery that even the wisest among them had been unable to explain, because no one had ever seen it. Nonetheless, there was proof of the existence of the river in the only source of drinkable water which flowed out from Raven’s forest.
Now it so happened that the crown princes’ condition had worsened to the extent where blood oozed from his sores. The prince could no longer stand from his bed and, tormented by pain, he groaned all day long. The queen frequently sat sorrowfully by his bedside, wiping away the blood that seeped from his sores.
When the prince asked about the turmoil at the city square the previous day, the queen told him about the strange man and all that had happened. She thought her ears deceived her when he said he would go and bath in the River Truson as the strange man advised.
‘What difference does it make dearest mother,’ he reasoned with the queen. ‘I may be dead anytime soon, so I might as well try it.’
The queen saw that her son was right and went to inform the king of his wish. The king was sorely troubled but agreed when he saw it was actually the wisest thing to do. There was nothing to lose, and who knew if something good might come out of it.
The next morning, the whole community came out to follow the prince to the edge of Raven’s forest. From there, the strange man was to carry the prince on a canopied hand cart to the River Truson.
The whole community mourned the prince for an hour as though he were already dead; and when the strange man finally began to pull the cart bearing the prince into the forest, the king and the queen, together with all the people sat on the floor and wailed.
The strange man had gone only a little way when the prince awoke from his sleep to loud eerie screeches that seemed to come from every part of the forest. The prince knowing the source of these screeches was gripped by great terror. The screeches were made by the raven-like creatures. Then the creatures materialized and gathered around the cart. There were more than a dozen of them, and they all looked eager to cause some form of harm.
‘Where do you think you are going?’ one of them screeched maliciously.
‘What right do you have to walk through our land?’ another creature asked. ‘You should be punished for this.’ It walked around the cart, opened the curtain and peered in; fear swallowed the prince. ‘Look who’s here!’ it called to its colleagues, ‘the crown prince of Er!’ And the sound of mock laughter deafened the prince.
‘We don’t know where you people are going,’ the first creature lied, ‘but allow us to host you for a while in our home.’
And one of the creatures lifted the cart and began pulling it into the thick forest.
‘The Emperor sent me.’ The strange man said calmly. The creatures all froze in their places for a few seconds, and then turned to look at him. The prince read a hint of fear in their faces.
‘You lie,’ one of the creatures ventured.
‘Show us his pass,’ another said, taking a step away towards the forest.
The strange man put his hand into the fold of his robe, and then withdrew an object that shone like the sun, and all the creatures scattered into the forest, closing their eyes and screeching in agony.
‘I don’t think they will disturb us for now,’ the strange man said, replacing the object.
‘They fled from you!’ the prince exclaimed in a voice filled with wonder and awe.
‘No mistake, my prince. They are not scared of me but of the Emperor.’
‘Then the Emperor you speak of must be very powerful,’ the prince said reverently.
‘He has power such that you cannot comprehend,’ the strange man replied.
They passed Raven’s forest and had covered one third the distance of the river garden, when the stench became almost unbearable for the ill prince. He took off his turban and pressed it against his nose, but the stench seemed to get to him even through the pores and open sores in his body. It was so choking and nauseating, tears slid down his cheeks.
‘Doesn’t the stench of this place get to you?’ the prince gasped at the strange man, fighting back vomit with each word. The strange man appeared to be unaffected by the stench of the place; if the prince was not mistaken, the strange man even seemed to enjoy it. The strange man stopped pulling the cart at the question and turned to look at the prince. There was pity in his eyes.
‘You haven’t understood yet?’ he said slowly. ‘You and all your people have been wrong for so many years. All these years you have imagined that this garden stank, but the truth is the air here gets more fragrant the further I go.
‘You must be mad,’ the Prince said, shaking his head in confusion.
‘Have I ever given you any cause to doubt my sanity, my prince?’
The prince thought for a second and had to agree that the strange man had not.
‘This garden was planted by the Emperor long before you or your fathers settled here, and in this garden are the best plants and flowers you can see anywhere. They are extremely beautiful and deliciously fragrant. But of course you can’t notice any of it, not with great stench clouding all your senses.’
‘So you agree with me that there is a stench,’ the prince said bewildered.
‘I do. I am sad to tell you, however, my most loved prince that you yourself are the source of the stench you suffer – I mean your disease. The farther we go, and the more fragrant the garden gets, the more the stench of the disease becomes pronounced to you for the fragrance of the garden shows how awful this disease really is to the victim. That is why those of your people that have ventured only this far cannot bear to return. I am sorry.’
‘I refuse to believe that,’ the prince stammered. But he did. The truth of the strange man’s words stabbed like a knife through his heart. Everything that had happened and was happening screamed in his mind that the strange man was right, most especially the fact that the strange man appeared to actually enjoy the dreaded smell of the garden.
The prince finally began to weep with admission, gagging on the stench he now knew emanated from himself. Utter revulsion with his being filled him until he began to wish he would die.
A while later, they suddenly burst out from some dense foliage, and the prince sat bolt upright at the glorious sight that greeted his eyes: three waterfalls that poured forth from rocks formed a gentle semicircle before a large expanse of water whose ends merged with the clouds. The water was the colour of shining gold, brighter and - the prince swore - more beautiful than the rising sun. Sometimes it appeared like a flowing golden stream; at other times it looked like a river of fire. Scattered beautifully along the bank were lovely flowers coloured like the rainbow. The beauty of the river so overpowered his being that he began to weep.
‘The Golden River.’ The strange man said, smacking his lips. As soon as they had burst through the forest, he had abandoned the cart and the prince and ran to kneel at the bank of the stream and commence drinking. Now his eyes danced joyfully as he regarded the prince. ‘What do you say?’ he inquired, waving his hands expansively and reverently at the view.
‘Please take me back to Er,’ the prince said, drawing his clothes tighter about himself. No one from Er who saw the river would possess the courage to enter it, knowing their condition.
‘Why should I do that?’ the strange man inquired, compassion now in his voice.
‘I cannot enter into this magnificent river with these dreadful sores all over me,’ the prince said, crying with shame as he looked about his body. ‘I can’t. I do not deserve to bath in it. Please stop tormenting me and take me away.’
‘My Father, the Emperor is very gracious, my prince,’ the strange man said gently. ‘He knew what He was about when He gave you leave to bath here – you and your people. It would be prudent to accept His free offer.’
The princes’ eyes grew wide with surprise when the strange man said the powerful Emperor was his father. He was about falling on his knees in obeisance when the strange man caught him.
‘No, my prince,’ the strange man said quickly. ‘Only the Emperor deserves that.’ He paused and then continued. ‘My prince, there is something else I want you to know. I was once a citizen of the island of Er.’
The confounded prince looked hard at the strange man to see if he was serious. ‘That was many years ago,’ the strange man said. ‘I was a servant boy in the palace when you were born. I was actually assigned to assist your nurse.’ The prince was surprised beyond words. ‘Then one day, while I was picking herbs close to the edge of Raven’s forest, an old man came and asked if I wanted relief from my sufferings. Of course I did, and when I told him as much, he began telling me amazing stories about the Emperor and the River Truson, and then I followed him here and took my bath in the river, and immediately my skin became as it is now. Before now, I was filled with sores just as you and all inhabitants of Er are. And it was after my bath that I became the Emperors child, for anyone who baths in the Emperor’s river becomes a child of the Emperor.
‘So my prince, none of us deserves the bath in the golden river, but since it has been given to us freely, let us not refuse it.’
The prince hung his head, torn between thoughts of his terribly ugly sores and a great desire to enter into the pure, magnificent river.
‘Come,’ the strange man said taking the prince by the elbow and leading him to the river. The strange man led him towards the river bank, stopped a short distance away, and motioned for him to proceed alone.
Something spectacular occurred just as the prince reached the foot of the river: a mighty wave rose out of the calm waters, fell upon him and drew him into the river. The prince struggled in fright for a short while, until he found that he could actually breathe underneath the water. Then the water swirled about him with a gentle kneading action, and he gradually became more and more relaxed until he unconsciously fell asleep.
When the prince opened his eyes, he found himself lying on the bank of the river with the strange man kneeling beside him. Then the strange man shouted, ‘the sores are gone’ and began to clap happily and dance around the prince. The prince examined himself and was astonished to see how healthy his skin had become. He was filled with so much joy, he began to shout and dance with the strange man. When they were finally exhausted, they sat beside the river silently and enjoyed the beauty around them.
After a long time, the strange man stood and began to prepare the cart.
‘Where are we going?’ the prince asked, knowing but feeling greatly reluctant to leave the comfort of the riverside.
‘It is very good we are free,’ the strange man replied, ‘but let us not forget the still suffering people of Er.’
The above story, which I sincerely hope you enjoyed, is an allegory whose symbols I trust are easy to recognize. Like the people of Er, we desperately need a bath in the golden river that we may find true relief from life’s troubles. One symbol I choose to explain from the story is,
The River Truson, who is
The Golden River, who is
Wisdom, who is
The Savior, who is
The Good Shepherd, who is
The Word of God, who is
The Lord, Jesus Christ.
God bless you.