In the Land of the Clones
No expectation without disappointment.
"Now that you have passed through the gate, you're in the land of the clones," declared the rider. Just then they reached the equestrian squadron who had been waiting for them, and the commander continued: "We are the knights of the order of miracle makers and we accompany anybody who wishes to be guided to the three DAYS OF MIRACLES." The wind almost forgot to blow. So many tidings in one day he thought simply genial. Aron, by contrast, was reticent and thought carefully what to make of all this. THE GATE OF ILLUSION, which was to make him forget his urgent wish for being taller, then the three DAYS OF MIRACLES, whatever that may be, sounded mysterious. But should he let himself be beguiled by all these adventures? Miss Monti looked at her master from the corner of her eyes before she reminded him: "We're on our way to the realm of darkness and shouldn't let ourselves be distracted. One never knows how long it'll be and whether this is the right way. We won't be able to consult the compass since it was left behind in saddle bag with the unicorn. And what do we need miracles for, when it would be a great miracle to see the king and queen again."
"Good cat," thought the prince. But then he thought that there can never be enough miracles. Perhaps one could use this or that miracle on the journey into the darkness? As they continued to ride on, the prince took out the energy sphere and examined it carefully. "The evil will lead you into temptation every step of the way," he heard his father admonish him.
"What is this?" the commander wanted to know.
"Oh, nothing." The prince put the sphere quickly back into his pocket.
"Did you decide in favor of the three DAYS OF MIRACLES?" the commander asked sternly.
The prince turned a blind eye to his father's admonishment and anticipated feverishly the days of miracles. "I'm ready. Take me to the miracle maker."
The commander of the order of equestrians gave a sign. The prince received a carriage, pulled by the skeleton (1) (2) (3) of a giant bird. The sight of the bones, which went smoothly into motion, gave Aron the creeps. "Strange," the thought crossed his mind but they were already underway. Miss Monti thought it disgusting to be sitting in a carriage that was pulled by a dead bird. She bravely watched the surroundings to keep from having to look at the draft animal.
The land of clones seemed to be inhabited only by well-disposed people. They smiled all the time. The road was filled with travelers who streamed in the same direction as the equestrian squadron. Miss Monti elbowed her master and pointed at a nobleman and a beggar. The nobleman leaned down to a beggar sitting at the side of the road and spoke to him: "Forgive me for having stepped on your foot. The people are crowding into the amphitheater." Then he put a silver coin into his lap and lifted his hat. The beggar took the silver coin, bit it with his teeth, thanked the man, and smiled.
"The nobleman didn't show a trace of superiority toward the beggar," the cat wondered. And the wind joshed in his own way: "The noble one knows probably that in the grave there's no difference between him and the beggar."
The equestrian squadron made its way through a noisy, motley throng of happy parents and children all moving toward one goal only. Not a single bad word was heard. Monti was the first to remark: "This must be the land of smiles (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) ."
"The land of the blissful," the prince supposed. "In the sunland, the king and queen argued all the time." The reminder of his parents made the prince hang his head. Even the thought of his dealings with his officials didn't make him feel any better.
"In the sunland the wind spirits, too, were constantly arguing with flower elves," sneered Miss Monti. The wind was not in a mood for getting upset. He was much too curious to uncover the secret of the smiling people. Nevertheless he felt stepped on his coat tails and puffed himself up: "It's always I who is put up as a bad example. When all I want is what's best for the lilies."
"Smile," the cat urged the wind on. "Smile." The wind obeyed and showed his teeth, but all he managed to produce was a dirty grin.
The commander of the knightly order turned into a side alley. An ancient temple (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)compound in a wonderful blooming garden spread before their eyes. The knights jumped from their horses and helped the prince descend from the carriage. The dead bird bowed and then the draft animal was gone.
The commander accompanied the prince and Miss Monti into the garden, fragrant with the most pleasing scents in the world. "Wait here," he ordered the companions who curiously looked around.
"That would be too much beauty for your lilies, don't you think?" the wind turned toward the prince, breaking the admiration. "It's a good thing that they never go anywhere, that way they spare their eyes," scoffed the wind and thought by himself: "How fortunate that I don't have to share the prince with the lilies. Sharing is supposed to be a noble characteristic. But no one like to share what one loves most. That's just the way it is."
A man in long purple garments and long violet hair rushed toward the prince through the colonnade. "Welcome, welcome to the land of clones." He spread out his arms as if to greet a good friend.
"Thank you very much," said the prince, responding to the greeting with a stiff bow. Then he introduced himself as Prince Aron of Nubia to the purple man with reserved diffidence.
"That's a very special pleasure. I'm called the miracle maker and would like you to feel at home here with us," he replied with effusive warmths. Monti strolled a few times around his legs, then got up on her striped lace boots and offered the miracle maker her paw: "Monti is the name, Miss Monti. I've the feeling of having arrived in the land of smiles. Where do the people of your country get their good cheer from?" asked Monti. The miracle maker who was kneeling down to greet the cat was quite amazed over such an astute animal. He got up and explained to the two newcomers: "In all places where people live together, also lives disappointment. Disappointments hurt and cannot be eradicated. That's why I make sure that expectations are not disappointed. And since this is sometimes not possible through natural means, I perform miracles."
"What kind of miracles are you performing?" asked Aron.
"Why don't you and Miss Monti here go to the amphitheater and have a miracle performed for you. Your parents must have disappointed you very much. Isn't that why you are here?" asked the miracle maker. Prince Aron was startled over being found out. After all nothing was written on his forehead. He quickly put his hand into his pocket and held firmly on to the energy sphere without answering the miracle makers question. Her tail pulled in, the cat snuggled up to the prince's legs. It seemed a bit uncanny to her that the miracle maker was able to make all human beings content and happy by eliminating all disappointments. That really would be like a miracle, thought Monti.
"The amphitheater is located right behind the temple compound. Go there and you will find out why in the land of clones the people smile. Don't take it as indiscreet, but a smile would look good on you too. See my miracles and exchange your melancholy for a smile," suggested the miracle maker. "Your journey may possibly come to an end in a few hours," he added and smiled. Then the miracle maker disappeared in the colonnade, leaving behind an unsure prince.
"What do you think, Monti? Should we or shouldn't we?"
"You mean go to the amphitheater?"
"I'm all for it. But you wouldn't have expected anything else from me," the wind, who had found his speech again, put in his ten-cents worth. Whenever he was eavesdropping on a conversation, he played the invisible. Not a single breeze disturbs the air then, as if he was holding his breath. "I've nothing against a miracle that will shorten our journey."
"It all seems to me rather mysterious, but you're the prince. All that matters is your gold dust. It's up to you," Monti confronted her master, clutching his leg and playing scaredy-cat again. But this time her act didn't work.
"A prince is not allowed to hide. I must accept the challenge," Aron took heart. And with that, the sun prince had made his choice. "We're going to the arena."
The wind stumbled with excitement. This was truly after his own taste. Monti, however, jumped into the prince's arms. There she felt secure, at least for the moment. So they mingled with the crowd and went with them to the amphitheater (1) (2) to look for a seat in the roofless structure.
When the prince asked a peasant what there was to see, he was told a strange tale: We are celebrating the three DAYS OF MIRACLES. That he had already heard from the miracle maker. But now he wanted to learn more details.
"So it's the DAYS OF MIRACLES you're celebrating. Sounds pretty mysterious to me. What's the miracle that is to enter your lives?"
"Are you a stranger in these parts that you don't know our customs?"
"So it is," the prince admitted, while Miss Monti pricked her ears.
"It's not that simple," said the peasant. "Each person gets exactly the kind of family he has always wanted."
"That I can't believe," retorted the prince.
"If I'm telling you." The peasant shook his head. This golden fellow really didn't seem to be from around here. So the peasant continued patiently: "Children trade in their parents and parents put in an order for more suitable children."
"I simply can't believe that. I've never heard that parents can select a favorite child," repeated the prince.
"Why don't you come along and you'll see," suggested the peasant and was gone. An endless stream of people entered the arena. Miss Monti could barely keep pace with the prince from whose protective arms she had already jumped to the ground. She couldn't lose him.
"I'd never have thought it possible that there are so many people who are dissatisfied with their family," she called out. The sun prince could no longer hear his cat in all the commotion. He had found a place among the stadium seats and now he was looking around for Monti.
"There you are!" he rejoiced and lifted her up.
"I'm really curious," Aron was just able to say when the voices of the people around him fell silent. next