The Castle Door

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there sat a grand castle on a remote hill in the middle of the countryside. The inhabitants of the castle were happy and prosperous, but no one ever entered or exited the castle; the castle door always remained shut.

One day, a loud chime echoed through the reverberant walls of the castle. A visitor, it seemed, was calling at the gate.

The youngest member of the royal family, a princess, no more than five, ran to the entrance hall in eager glee. She had never met a new person before, and she delighted at the opportunity to make a new friend.

Upon approaching the castle door, the princess was greeted not with a smiling stranger, but with the young castle guard.

“There’s someone calling,” the little princess cried with glee. “Oh, please do let them in!”

“I cannot,” the guard said.

“But why not?” asked the princess.

“It might not be safe; the stranger might be dangerous,” the guard responded.

“But they might be very nice! Let’s open the door and meet them,” pleaded the princess.

“I’m sorry, I cannot.”

“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease??” the princess begged.

“I’m sorry, my princess. It’s too risky. It’s my job to keep you safe. If I let someone in, they might be dangerous,” the guard asserted.

“Oh. I suppose you’re right,” sighed the princess, whose disappointment could not be masked as she turned to walk back up the entrance hall.

So the door remained shut, and the mystery caller left.

Some time later, the door chime reverberated through the walls of the castle once more. This time, the princess’s older brother sauntered to the front door, his childlike eagerness (similar to that of his younger sister) concealed by his puffed-up bravado and prestige. At the castle door, the prince was met by the same guard.

“How now? Why is the gate closed? It is not becoming to keep guests waiting,” the prince declared.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot open the castle door,” replied the guard.

“And why is that?” the prince queried.

“It might not be safe; the stranger might be dangerous,” the guard responded.

“Well, dangerous or not, I shall keep our home safe, so I demand that you open the door to the stranger!” the prince proclaimed.

“I’m sorry, my prince. It’s too risky. It’s my job to keep you safe,” the guard stated, unmoving in her stance.

Tried as the young prince might, he could not convince the guard to open the door, so he sulked back up the entrance hall stairs, and the second anonymous caller left.

Over the years, more callers rang the bell, and more members of the castle attempted to convince the guard to open the castle door.

The commander of the royal army tried to convince the young door guard of his strength and ability to protect the castle, but she refused to entertain the thought of letting danger inside the walls of the castle to begin with.

The princess’s nursemaid tried to appeal to the guard’s sense of compassion, pleading with her to consider the sadness that has come upon the princess by continuing to deprive her of the opportunity to meet someone new. But for the guard, the princess’s safety came first, ahead of her happiness.

The palace butler tried to deliver a message from the prince, insisting that she respect the prince’s authority and open the door at once. The guard steadfastly refused.

The jester even tried to distract her long enough to open the door himself, but even he couldn’t divert her focus from her one ultimate goal: to keep the castle safe.

One by one they tried, and one by one, they gave up, until one day, the now-familiar clang of the castle bell resounded through the halls once more.

This time, the queen gracefully strolled down the entrance hall stairs and to the guard at the door.

“Your majesty,” the guard said.

“Hello there, my dear guard,” the queen replied warmly.

“I suppose you are here about the doorbell,” the guard suggested.

“I suppose you might be right,” responded the queen, with a soft smile and kind eyes. “The bell has rung, and I am here to greet our caller.”

“My queen, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am afraid I cannot open the door,” replied the guard.

“Ah, yes. I have heard of your unwavering commitment to keeping this door closed over the years, but perhaps it is time to try something new,” the queen smiled.

“Oh, my queen, I cannot do that. I cannot open this door,” asserted the guard.

“Come now, not even for me?” teased the queen, still smiling.

“Keeping this door closed has ensured the security of the castle for many years. I cannot guarantee your safety once we open the door,” the guard said, still confidently resolved not to let anyone in.

With her warm smile, the queen gazed at the guard, who stood rigid and unmoving, unwilling to look the queen in the eyes.

“You, my noble guard, have done an excellent job of securing this castle and ensuring the safety of all us. We will always be grateful for you and your commitment to our well-being. But that safety and well-being has, perhaps, come at a high cost,” the queen gently offered.

The guard was silent for several seconds.

“No cost is higher than that of your safety,” the guard retorted – although for the first time, she showed the slightest hint of nervousness.

“There are other considerations besides our health and welfare. My dearest guard, our castle community has become siloed, isolated. My sweet sister, the little princess, longs to meet new people and see the world. My dear brother, stubborn as he may be, wishes to understand the world and find himself out in it. Our army has remained inactive and unneeded for many years, and our butlers and maids no longer have the resources they need to run the castle efficiently. And the poor jester, he has run out of jokes!”

The queen chuckled, and a smile crossed the guard’s face, though anxiety rapidly replaced the fleeting humor.

“But what if we let someone in who’s dangerous? I cannot risk that.”

“We have an entire army of brave people who are trained to protect us.”

“What if the army is out of practice?”

“The army trains every day. They are well-equipped to offer strong protection.”

“What if the army is away fighting somewhere and we have no defenses here at the castle?”

“We will always have a defensive reserve here at all times.”

“What if we’re ambushed and the reserve army has to fight outside the castle, and we’re left on our own inside the castle?”

“This castle is filled with countless rooms in which we can hide, plus each of us are trained in some rudimentary self-defense combat.”

The guard looked down, defeated and dejected.

“What’s wrong, my dear guard?” asked the queen.

The guard remained quiet for a few seconds. “If we open the doors to guests, and we have many other ways to protect the castle, then what use am I?”

“Oh, sweet guard, you will be so useful! For you will be the first to greet guests into our castle. If they seem dangerous, you can send them away, or sound the alarm. If they are kind-hearted and good, you can escort them inside and introduce them to us. You – and your job – are still vital.”

“But what if they’re all dangerous? What if I’ve been doing the right thing all along?” the guard questioned.

“Yes, that is always a possibility. But there are other what-ifs that we haven’t considered yet: What if they are generous callers with new and interesting gifts, from lands we’ve never heard of? What if they come wanting to learn more about us, so that we might forge new bonds with other kingdoms and lands? What if they need assistance, and we have the means to aid them? For as many fearful what-ifs as we can conjure, there are an equal number of positive, exciting ones, too. Are you not curious as to who actually stands on the other side?”

The queen smiled at the guard once more, as the guard gazed toward the door. “I suppose I’ve only ever considered the negative possibilities. I’m…I’m sorry. I’m…just…I’m so sorry.”

“You needn’t apologize. You can start afresh now. Why don’t you open that door for me, and we’ll see who’s waiting on us.”

The guard slowly looked up from the ground, and for the first time, met eyes with the queen. The clang of the doorbell sounded once more, reminding the castle inhabitants that their visitor still waited. The queen held out her hand, inviting the guard forward. The guard took one step, then another, and walked to the lock on the door.

Another clang rang through the castle walls as the heavy iron lock moved out of place.

And for the first time in many, many years, the sound of the entrance door creaking open echoed through every wall, room, and corner of the once-isolated castle.

… … …

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Photo credit: Jeana Bala from Unsplash