Truth Underwater

by Lizette Vega

There once lived two friends named Chad and Landon, who grew up as neighbors. Both were handsome, courteous, and men of valor.  Chad, the older of the two, lived in comfort due to his family’s wise business affairs. Landon also lived in luxury due to his family’s inheritance. Both men moved to town and met the King’s only daughter named Tabitha, and fell quickly in love with her.  The young woman could not believe that these two men would pursue her. Soon, both men spoke of marriage, but Tabitha felt too immature to make a decision. As time pressed on, the men began to fight over her.

The princess went to the forest to pick some fruit, but she could not stop thinking of the decision she needed to make. “Oh what shall I do? I wish someone would tell me what to do,” she moaned. From the corner of her eye, Tabitha noticed an old woman hitting a rock with a pickaxe. She called out to the old miner. When the disfigured woman stood, the princess screamed.

“Who are you?” asked the young woman.

“Milady, my name is Suffering. I am here to help you choose between your two loves.” The old woman covered her face so that Tabitha would concentrate on her words and not her appearance.

“How can you help me?”

“I have seen the heart of both your suitors. One of your beaus is not genuine, but the other is a fine man.”

“How do you know this?” Tabitha asked.

“Months ago both of your beaus came to me and asked for a rare gem to affix to an engagement ring. They wanted only the finest diamond I had in my collection. From my pocket, I drew two stones, that were equal in appearance, shape, and luster, but only one rock was real, but the other was fake.  I placed both nuggets on a table and asked each man to give me everything they owned in exchange for the diamond. Both men argued with me. However, I stood firm, steadfast.  After a while, they left vowing to return.  I fell asleep waiting for the men that night.  When I arose the next morning, one stone was missing.”

“How do you know one of my beaus took the jewel?” The princess whimpered.

“I know because there were no new footsteps in my home. The thief retraced his exact steps to my table and back again.”

“Did he take the real gem or the fake stone?”

“He took the false stone, of course.”  Suffering turned and started to whack at a rock again.

“Why did he choose that rock?” Tabitha asked.

“He did not know it was false; he who took it because he was attracted to its lie.” Suffering picked up the pieces of the stone she hit and placed them in a black drawstring bag.

“Oh please tell me, how will I know who stole the false jewel?” The princess pleaded.

Suffering spoke over her shoulder as not to turn and face the princess again. “When both men are in your presence ask for a bowl of water. Then dip your hand in the bowl. If the ring is genuine, the diamond will sparkle; if it is fake, the stone will muddy the waters and dissolve.” Suffering then disappeared before the princess could ask more questions.  The princess decided then not to tell anyone what Suffering had shared with her in the garden.  

Then on the eve of her birthday, both men sent roses and a brief note to the castle requesting a special visit with the princess to present her a gift.  The young woman’s heart sank, knowing that she would have to reveal that one of her loves is a man without character. The princess accepted each request but asked the men to present their gifts to her in the garden by the royal fountain. Both men agreed.

When her suitors arrived, they found the princess sobbing with her head down and her hands on her lap.  A few feet away stood her handmaiden with an empty bowl.  

“My beloved, allow me to be the first to present you with your birthday gift.” Chad bent down and held a plain wooden box in his bandaged hands. The princess nervously picked up the gift and opened the box.  The moment she turned the lid a bright light flashed from the stone. Chad gently pulled the ring from the container and slid it on her finger with a proposal for marriage.

Landon pushed his friend aside and bent down on one knee. Tabitha noticed that he had lost a considerable amount of weight, and looked as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. She frowned. Landon held up an ornately embroidered silk bag. As the princess tugged at the drawstring, a bright beam shot out from the purse and blinded everyone.  When the light dimmed, Landon removed Chad’s ring from her hand and placed it in her other palm. He then glided his ring on her finger, “Marry me, my most precious love,” he whispered.

The woman and the handmaiden stood in awe. Both stones appeared genuine.  Again the princess’ heart sank in despair. She nodded at her handmaiden, who gingerly placed the bowl in the fountain and drew water. The handmaiden placed the bowl beside the princess and stepped away.

Tabitha stood regally in front of the men and said, “When the time came for me to decide whom to marry, I went to the forest to think. While I was there I met a woman named Suffering…” the men gasped.

“She told me that both of you asked for a precious stone, and in exchange, Suffering asked that you give her all you owned.” Chad attempted to speak up, but the princess put her hand in the air and stopped him. “However, what she did not tell you is that one of the stones is a true gem, but the other is only a rock.” Chad placed his bandaged hand on his mouth, but Landon’s face flushed with rage.

“She also told me, that one of you stole a stone from her table that night.” 

“It was not me, your highness,” said Chad.

“Well, I didn’t do it!” insisted Landon.

The princess looked at the bowl of water. “There is only one way to detect the authenticity of these stones.”  With that, she dunked Chad’s ring in the basin and the stone beamed, but then faded and dissolved. Chad said nothing and backed away.

Tears ran down the princess’ face. She removed that ring and replaced it with the second ring provided by Landon. Tabitha smiled at him and placed her hand again in the water, not expecting anything but pure brilliance. However, upon a closer glance, the other stone also dissolved and crumbled away.       

“What is this?” she screamed.

Landon stood in front of her and bent down on one knee. “My princess, I thought I had the true diamond, but I lost it. I have suffered greatly, night and day, trying to find the gem, but it is gone.”

“Why did you not go back to Suffering and ask her for another jewel?”

Landon stammered. “Because, as you said, she tricks people with false gems. Why should I go back and give her everything I own, if she gives me nothing but pain in return.”  

“Wait? What did you say?” The princess scowled.   

“I said that Suffering is a liar. She tricks people into thinking they’re getting something of value, but we get nothing in return…” Landon’s thinned face deepened with red streaks.

“Why did you steal the stone from her?” Tabitha challenged him.

“I-I did not say that I stole it from her…” Landon began to shake.

“Not in so many words, no, but you asked why you would need to go back and give her everything. If you had given her all you owned to purchase the first ring, you would have nothing to give her upon your return. And, here sits an expensive embroidered bag you purchased for a rock you know to be false.”  Tabitha picked up the embroidered purse and threw it at him. “You sir, are a thief—and a liar.”

“What about him? His ring also dissolved.” Landon pointed at Chad.

The mistress raised her eyes to Chad who picked at his bandaged hands. “What do you have to say for yourself?” she asked sternly.

“Please forgive me, princess. In my pride, I pretended to be something I am not, and now I am humbled. I-I did go to Suffering and ask for a ring. But when she asked for everything I left in despair. You see, my family and I lost all our money years ago. I had nothing to offer Suffering, but my empty hands.” He unwrapped his bandages to show his deep wounds and cuts.

“I begged Suffering to go to the mines and learn to from her. In return, I hoped to find a genuine diamond to present to you. To my surprise, she happily agreed to teach me. It was hard work, and standing for long hours made me tired and discouraged.  After many weeks, Suffering taught me to bend, and it was there at the base of a mountain I found not only one true gem but also eight more.  The fruit of my despair yielded a bounty of diamonds.”

“You lie! Why did you not present her with a true gem today?” yelled his defeated friend.

Chad rose and stepped forward. “Although I found the diamonds, Suffering told me not to present them to the princess until the situation exposed your true character.” 

Landon grimaced.

“Milady, my love for you remains steady. If you forgive me, I promise to work hard and care for you all my days.” Chad picked up the bowl and placed the diamonds inside the water. When all the gems sparkled, he presented her a handful of jewels.

The princess looked at both men. Landon lay face down with his fists balled up. She leaned in and heard him whisper words that made her shake. Tabitha then ordered Landon to rise and face her.  “Do you have anything more to say?” she asked.

“Milady, your guards must arrest Suffering, and throw her in jail. Then demand her head for causing so much anguish.” Landon pounded a fist in his open palm as he continued his outrage.

Disgusted, the princess stretched out her hand to Chad and accepted his proposal.

It was then that a sweet melody echoed through the woods. “It is Suffering. She calls from the streets for people to come and learn from her.” Chad said.

“I hear her too,” said the princess. The young woman placed her hand over her mouth and smiled.

“I do not hear anything but noise!” said Landon covering his ears.

“Then I will do you a favor. I will order my guards to imprison you in the home of Suffering, and you will stay there until you learn wisdom, and your character changes.” The guards chained Landon and ushered him to Suffering’s home.

Years passed when news of Landon’s escape from Suffering’s home reached the royal couple’s ears. “Wait, and soon we will hear Suffering laughing at his calamity,” said Chad.

Throughout the years, Chad and Tabitha visited Suffering many times. Even though their trip always seemed unpleasant, the precious stones they mined during their stay remained with them forever.  

©2019 Lizette Vega. All rights reserved.