Once upon a time, there lived a young girl. She was a poor child and her home was small and dirty. Her job was to feed the pigs. Every day, she went out to feed them and as she tossed the smelly slop into the feeding trough, she would think “Someday, I’m going to eat a real feast.”
Years passed. The pig-girl still went out every morning to feed the ungrateful pigs. She still had never eaten a real feast and her desire for one had only grown more intense as she had gotten older. She had even begun dreaming about the King’s Feast. Rumor had reached her ears that the King, the mighty Ruler of the whole land, had a feast every night for anyone He invited. And once a person had been invited to one feast, they were allowed to live in the castle and eat the King’s food forever.
A sigh escaped her lips as she stood gazing off in the distance towards where the castle lay hidden by hills. The sun was setting and the sky was a blaze of color, red and orange, purple clouds shot through with streaks of gold. But the beauty escaped her for all she could think of was the King’s feast.
Suddenly, a wagon came around the bend. It was an old farmer’s wagon and the horses pulling it were tired and droopy. The driver stopped in front of the house and walked to where the girl was. She dropped a curtsy. The driver nodded, his blue eyes smiling kindly at her. “I have here an invitation,” he said.
The girl’s heart leapt. “But,” she thought “surely the King’s coach would be fine with gold trim and scarlet banners.” Her heart sank down again, weighted and sad. Nevertheless, she accepted the invitation graciously. The driver bowed to her, got back into his coach, and she watched it ramble off down the road.
She turned over the invitation in her hand. It was a plain white envelope, clearly addressed to her. She opened it slowly. As she began to read it, her jaw slowly dropped in amazement.
You are cordially invited to partake of the King’s Feast tonight. Please come just as you are.
This was it. The invitation she had been waiting her whole life for. She began to run down the road after the driver. “Wait! Wait!!” she called out. She quickly caught up to him. He smiled down at her. “I see you read the invitation,” he said. “Come on up.” He held out his hand to guide her into the wagon and together they set off to the castle.
As they pulled up to the castle door, a woman bustled out to meet them. “My goodness, dearie,” she said, catching sight of the girl’s stained clothing and wrinkling her nose at the smell. “We must get you cleaned up before the feast.”
“But the invitation!” the girl said. “It said to-”
“Come as you are,” said the bustling woman. “Yes, it most certainly did. For the King has arranged for you to be clothed in the finest gown and prepared as a princess.”
“Me?” the girl asked. “But I’m just the pig girl.”
“The King is kindness itself,” replied the woman. “Besides, He desires all who come to His table to be fitted in the richest of robes and who better to provide those than Himself?”
And with that, the girl was whisked away. She endured a scrubbing like she had never known before but even she had to admit that the clean scent was an improvement. And the gown that was chosen for her! An exquisite royal blue that complemented her dark brown hair and brown eyes. It was trimmed with the finest lace and beautiful designs made of silver beads. It rustled quietly as she walked, its smooth silkiness rubbing against her skin.
Finally, the feast was ready. A young page came to escort her to the feast. They walked through halls of the castle, passing majestic tapestries and beautiful sculptures on either side of them. When they reached the doors to the Great Hall, the girl found that her heart was pounding so hard she could barely breathe. The page pushed open the doors and a glorious sight displayed itself before her eyes. The candlelit hall sparkled and the people there were all dressed in clothes of the most beautiful array and color. There were rows of tables laden with more food than she imagined possible. She spied an empty seat at one of the first tables and went to sit in it.
“No, no,” whispered the page. “Your seat is this way.” She followed him as he began to walk towards the front of the hall. She looked around but she didn’t see any empty seats. Wait! She saw one empty seat but it was next to the King! “That can’t be my seat,” she gasped. But the page boy led her straight to it.
As she arrived at her seat, she curtsied very low. The King stood up and grasped her hand. “Welcome to the feast,” he said. Slowly, she looked up into his eyes. With a start, she realized she knew Him. “You were the driver!” she said.
The King chuckled. “Yes, I was. I like to hand out my invitations myself to those whom I wish to see at my table. Sit down, my dear. Your feast awaits.”
And what a feast it was! Turkeys and roasts and chicken. Fish cooked to flaky perfection. Potatoes, corn, beans. Breads of every variety. More cheeses than she knew could be made. Spiced rum and sparkling cider. Pies and cakes, puddings and crumbles. She ate until she could eat no more.
She leaned back with a sigh of utter content. The King smiled at her. “Did you enjoy it?” She nodded and grinned, too happy even for words.
For a long time, she continued in this fashion. Living at the castle, learning all kinds of things about music and mathematics and history, meeting new and interesting people. And every night, there was a feast.
Then one day, a peddler came to the castle. He was not allowed to come in but he set up his wares right next to the front door. The girl went to visit him and see what he had to offer. Out of his bag, he pulled a small grey lump. “Here,” he said. “Eat this.” She shrank back. “Why would I eat that?” she asked. “I have the King’s feast every night.”
The peddler smirked at her. “Tis true. But taste it anyway.” So she did. It was not unpleasant on the tongue, indeed it was sweet, but it didn’t taste quite right. She thought for a bit. “It tastes fake. As if it weren’t real.”
“Ah,” said the peddler. “That is because you have not had enough.” And with that, he gave her a large box. She opened it and saw many grey lumps. “Keep it,” he said. “And enjoy, with my compliments.”
She immediately took it to the King. “What is this?” she asked. The King’s face grew concerned. “Is it bad? Is it evil? For I shall throw it in the dust heap if it is,” she said.
The King shook His head. “It is not evil. And you are allowed to have it. Just beware that it does not spoil your taste for My food.”
The girl laughed. “As though I should ever lose my taste for Your food. I love Your food so much I dream about it still.”
The girl would taste the grey lump every so often. It seemed to grow sweeter every time. And soon she found she was tasting it every day then twice a day. “It’s no matter,” she told herself. “The King said it was not evil. And there is so much of it left, I needn’t worry about running out.”
Then, one night, she was sitting at the King’s table, next to the King, when she looked at her plate. It was full of meat and mashed potatoes covered in gravy with her favorite bread, smothered in butter, on the side. There was a blackberry pie in front of her and a glass of fresh cool milk. She stabbed her fork into the meat and began to cut a piece to eat. Suddenly, she began craving the grey lump. She put her fork down. The King looked at her, a question in His eyes.
“I’m, um, I’m not very hungry,” she said. His eyes filled with tears. “It’s the grey lump, isn’t it?” He asked.
She stood up suddenly. “You said it wasn’t evil. And so I’m going to eat that tonight instead.” And she pushed back her chair and started to walk away.
“You’ve lost your taste for true food,” the King said. He was not angry or vengeful, just sad.
“I haven’t lost my taste for true food!” she said. “I just want the grey lump now.”
And with that, she turned and walked out of the Great Hall, leaving behind the feast that she had dreamed about for so long. The King stood up too and watched her leave. She paused at the doors and turned to glance at the King. He was still standing and His arms were outstretched toward her, as if to bring her back Home.