Story for the New Year: The Orphanage

While King Alasdair is well known for his patronage to the orphans of Frewyn, his grandfather King Dorrin was a champion of children, adopting many and supporting still more. He makes a yearly visit to the orphanage in Diras to bring the children gifts for the holidays. Sometimes everything goes well during his visit, and sometimes not:

Presently, the church doors opened, and from the nave came the Reverend Mother, a few of the Brothers and Sisters, and two-train of hopping children behind them.

                “There you are,” Dorrin declared, kneeling and addressing the small children first. “I was beginning to wonder where you were.”
                “Tilliegh had a nose bleed,” chimed one of the children, “so Sister Aoie had to clean her face before we came outside.”
                “You should have seen it, Majesty,” exclaimed another, his words whistling through the gaps in his teeth. “There was blood everywhere! I didn’t think a girl could bleed so much.”
                Dorrin simpered and shook his head. Ever delighted by children, he always found amusement in the stories they told, in their little adventurous stints, in their endearing woes. He canted his head and studied the line of smiling faces. “Where is Tilliegh? I don’t see my little Tilliegh anywhere,” he lovingly observed.
                “She’s in the back,” said one of the children, in an audible whisper. “She’s embarrassed and all ‘cause the boys laughed at her.”
                Dorrin gave the boys a reproachful look. “You know better than to laugh at your sister. You will apologize to her, and the next time it happens, you will help her and make her understand that accidents are nothing to be ashamed of.”
                Every male head bowed, and all their sparkling eyes dimmed. “Yes, Your Majesty,” the boys mournfully sang.
                A raised brow and a significant nod, and all was forgiven on the king’s side. He looked toward the back of the line and found little Tilliegh hiding behind one of the Brothers with a worried countenance and with cotton bols stuffed in her nose. “There’s my little Tilliegh,” the king sweetly crooned. He moved toward her and held out his hand. “Come, child.”
                With a terrified look and chary step, the small girl shuffled toward the king. She took his hand, melted into the draping folds of his mantle, and tremulously shied away from all notice.
                “Here, child,” Dorrin purred, smiling and kneeling down to her. “Let me have a look.”
                The small child refused to appear again before the line of young boys and only peeked out from beneath the mantle’s generous folds.
                “Come, Tilliegh,” Dorrin entreated, drawing the girl forward. “The boys have something to say to you.”
                The boys made their apologies as earnestly as their humbled sensibilities would allow: they looked at the ground, at one another, at their teachers and caretakers—they would look anywhere else but at the girl whom they had offended. They shifted nervously about, they oscillated on their toes, but the apology was made, and the little girl could be comfortable again.
                “Now,” said Dorrin, taking the cotton out from her nose, “would you like to tell me how this happened?”
                “Tarrig was playing with his ball,” said Tilliegh, in a tiny voice, “and it accidently hit me in the nose.”
                “Did Tarrig apologize?”
                She pouted and made a slow and significant nod.
                “Good. Does your nose hurt?”
                She frowned and shook her head.
                “Did the cleric examine you?”
                A nod and a solemn look, and Tilliegh leaned forward against the king’s shoulder.
                “There, there, child,” Dorrin laughed, rubbing her small back. “It is over with and everyone has apologized. Come, I have gifts for all of you.” He led her to the carriage where there were still a few gifts lining the berlin floor. “Would you like to give them out?” he whispered in her ear.
                “The boys don’t get any,” she humphed, her spirits suddenly revived.
                The girls whooped in secret triumph, and the boys gasped in horror. They were about to make the requisite lamentations to the Reverend Mother when Dorrin silenced the exclamation by raising his hand.
                “Tilliegh,” said he, taking the girl’s hand, “I understand that you were injured by what the boys did, but they have apologized and you have forgiven them. Once you have forgiven someone, you must remember than you have granted clemency and will not act spitefully toward your aggressors. Malice as a means of retribution is never allowable, and if you want to show yourself the victor of the incident, you must say ‘I forgive you’ and renew your friendship with them as though the incident had never happened.”
                “But what if I don’t want to forgive them, Majesty?”
                The king made a grave hum. “That is your choice, Tilliegh, but you cannot deprive them of gifts that I had intended for them. Remember, Tilliegh: if you cannot forgive them, your resentment against them will turn friends into enemies. Aoidhe tells us that it is better to forgive than bear the fire of anger.” He browsed her fringe with his fingertips. “Forgive them, child,” the king implored. “Your heart will be the better for it.”
                The king’s firm gaze soon softened the girl’s wounded heart, and before she was aware, she was smiling her toothless smiles and giving out gifts to all the young boys and girls of the church orphanage. Tinkling voices asked if they might not open them now before services, and once the Reverend Mother gave her approbation, the garden of the church resounded with musical cries of jubilation. Dorrin watched them delight in their gifts, each exhibiting one to the other: a knitted night cap, a pair of gloves attached by the rim, an endless scarf, gifts that though practicable still betrayed the king’s partiality and indefatigable consideration. They danced and flittered about, running to show their new leggings and hats and vests to their caretakers, accosting them with professions of “Look what the king gave me!” from the boys and “Isn’t it pretty?” from the girls.   
                “You always know how to persuade them, Your Majesty,” said Sister Aoie, sidling the king and joining in his admiration. “Would that we had you here at bedtime.” 
                Humbled and gratified by her compliment, Dorrin’s eyes crinkled with smile lines and his complexion flushed with warmth. He relished the simple joys of the young, loved watching them as they reminded of himself when he was a young boy, and gloried in their happiness knowing that he was able to assist them and care for them even as king. His greatest gift from the Gods was his powers at being pleasant to children: easy to please, easier to placate, and infinitely pleasanter than reasoning with than the nobles at court, and the more he availed this inheritance, the more he felt as though he were nurturing his kingdom and enriching his understanding. He learned more from them and from raising his own children than he ever learned from the kingdom’s histories or proclamations at court. The inclinations of the children were without preconception, their words were guileless, their sentiments ingenuous, their notions artless. Theirs was all the happiness to grant and all the bloom of life to exude. He felt young when being always with those who thought themselves forever cloaked in the virtue of youth, and though they were deprived of their parents, they conveyed no hints of unhappiness. They scurried over one another, giggling and squealing and writhing about in rapturous bliss, and began playing about in the garden, tossing powdered frost at one another and shouting at one another that the caramel apple cart was coming by.