A Story From: Sweden
Read Time: 16 to 20 mins.
For Ages: 5 to 7yrs.
Suddenly, from the river’s mist a form rose and took the shape of a woman. The King ordered his train to stop.
The womanly form smiled. The King relaxed. She must be a fairy, thought he, and a friendly one at that. “Sire,” said the Fairy in a pleasant voice, “you will have your answer.”
The Fairy waved her wand. While the King’s train continued to the palace, the King now stood on the ground by the river, watching a likeness of his own royal self ride on his horse toward the palace. Looking down at his clothes, the King saw that he was now dressed as a common woodcutter, and in one hand he held an axe instead of a sword. The Fairy smiled and waved her wand toward the edge of the woods. Instantly, a woodcutter’s cottage appeared.
“What’s the meaning of all this?” demanded the King, a rage beginning to build. This Fairy may not be so friendly after all.
“Your Majesty,” said the Fairy in the same light, sing-song voice, “soon you will have a chance to help your six councilors. Be sure to invite them to dinner at your woodcutter’s cottage three days hence.”
She vanished. Suddenly, the King noticed on the river a boat that was starting to rock wildly, for a windstorm had come up. By the sound of the voices on board, the King recognized the voices of his own six councilors. The wind whirled about, wrapping his woodcutter’s garments tightly around him. Meanwhile, the boat nearly tipped over and the voices on board shrieked.
At once, the King, a strong swimmer, dove into the river and swam toward the boat. Jumping on board, he took the oars from the rowers and managed to steer the craft safely to shore.
The soaked councilors, nearly giddy with relief, stepped off the boat. They clapped the woodcutter on the shoulder, thanking him again and again for saving their lives, and asked him to name his reward.
Remembering the Fairy’s words and his new common status, the King bowed before them and said, “In three days I plan to host a feast in my cottage for my friends. It would do me great honor if such noble guests as yourselves would attend.”
“Is that all?” said one of the councilors (the one that’s too concerned with money, noticed the King).
“To have noblemen such as yourselves in my home would do me a great honor,” repeated the King.
Later that night, restored to his kingly form, King Gustav was settling down to bed when a mist again formed before him and took the shape of a woman.
“Your Highness,” said the Fairy in her soft voice, “invite your councilors to a royal banquet at the palace in three days to mark your departure and to announce which councilor you have selected to rule while you’re away.”
“I haven’t yet decided which one is to rule,” said that King. “Besides, they cannot come – they already committed themselves to attending the woodcutter’s dinner.”
“Indeed,” said the Fairy. She vanished.
Next morning, the King summoned his six councilors.
“I have been giving great thought to which one of you is best suited to assume command of the land while I’m away,” said he. Each of the councilors stood up a little taller, and one of them (the one too concerned with his hair) quickly ran a comb through his hair. The King continued, “I will announce my decision at a royal banquet to be held the day after tomorrow.”
The six councilors nervously looked at one another, realizing the conflict in the date.
One of them (the one that was uninspired) spoke up. “Of-of course, sire,” said he, his eyes darting right and left. “We will be there.”
At banquet night, the King watched his councilors file in. One, two, three, four, five… Hmm, just five? He called the five councilors before him.
“Where is Lukas?” demanded the King, referring to the youngest councilor.
“He is not here,” said one of the councilors (the one given to drink).
“And exactly why would he not attend my banquet?” said the King, his voice rising.
“Apparently he had an engagement,” said another, “with a woodcutter.”
“A woodcutter?” shouted the King. “Bring Lukas to me at once!”
An hour later, a frazzled Lukas was led before the King’s throne.
“Exactly where were you tonight, Lukas,” asked the King sternly, pointing his ringed finger at the young man’s face, “when I specifically ordered you to attend my banquet?”
“I had accepted an invitation to dine with a woodcutter,” said Lukas, as the five councilors tittered, “or so I thought, though when I went there tonight, the cottage that had been there only a few days ago seems to have disappeared.”
“Not only do you stand up the King, your own royal liege!” The King was now shouting. “But you do so to attend dinner with a woodcutter, and one whose cottage isn’t even there?”
“Sire, I had accepted,” is all he could say.
“As I accept you,” said the King, his shoulders dropping and his voice softening. He lifted his infant son from his queen’s lap and handed the child to his youngest councilor. “Lukas, not only did you keep a commitment you had made, but you did so even at the risk of my own royal anger. Thus, you showed the inner strength to be a true leader. While I’m away, you are the one I entrust with the affairs of my kingdom, my queen, and our royal child.”
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"The King's Choice," from Great Swedish Fairy Tales by Anna Wahlenberg and translated by Holger Lundbergh. English translation by Dell Publishing Comany, Inc., 1973, pp. 50-59.
Retold by Elaine Lindy. ©2005. All rights reserved.
To see the "A King's Choice" Reader's Theatre Play script adapted from this story, click here https://www.storiestogrowby.org/play_script/the-kings-choice/