By Tim Porteus

THERE is a rock on the western slope of Traprain Law which has the shape of a small seat and indeed is very comfortable to sit on. When seated, you have a perfect view and look towards one of the ancient entrances of the Celtic fort that once dominated this hill.

I know archaeologists will tell me that this seat is just a coincidence of geology and not a man-made structure. But nonetheless, it fires my imagination. When I sit on it, I can see the ghosts of the Celtic past all around me. The old walls of the fort are just beyond and I can imagine chariots making their way through the ceremonial entrance that once was a main point of entry, just beyond the location of my ‘seat’.

I sat here a couple of weeks ago enjoying one of the last warmish days of autumn. Suddenly, my youngest daughter rushed up and sat with me.

“Tell me a story,” she asked. So I began to tell her about the legendary King Loth, who is said to have ruled from this hill.

“No, not that one,” she said, “something about the difference between what we want and what we need.” This idea came from a recent discussion she had had at school on this topic.

The pressure was on to make a story. So there, while sitting on what my kids now call the ‘storytelling seat’, I told a less complicated version of the following tale:

Once there was a king who had everything he wanted. He was rich and could afford the best of everything. He wore magnificent clothes and had a stable full of horses. He ate only delicious food, and always from silver plates. He had the best craftsmen make his furniture, his bed was a masterpiece with a mattress of silk and feathers, while his bath was made of solid gold. He was married to the most beautiful woman in the kingdom and made sure she wanted for nothing either.

But this king was still unhappy. So he kept buying and acquiring more things: magnificent jewels, more exotic and faster horses, a new updated chariot, fine wines from overseas, a beautiful boat to travel in. He even ordered the building of a new palace. This all kept him busy and sometimes, for a short while, these new things made him feel a bit happier, but it never lasted long.

While he always enjoyed his luxuries and the status they gave him, he was never really happy.

Then one day, as he was out riding in his new chariot, he saw a man walking with a limp. So he pulled up and asked the man why he limped and where he was going. The man explained he was heading home, some miles away, and he limped because of an accident from many years ago. His leg caused him pain so he was walking slowly. The king felt sorry for him and offered a lift.

The man was a peasant and taken aback by the offer, and not quite sure if he should accept. But then realising he could not possibly refuse a request from the king himself, he said thank you and got onto the chariot. The two men set off, the king driving slowly lest the man’s leg hurt with the motion.

The man told the king about his accident and then the king began to tell of the time he had fallen from a chariot. Soon, the king made the horses go even slower, as he was enjoying the conversation so much and wanted time to tell another story about his life.

When the king arrived at the man’s home, he was greeted with surprise, but of course great hospitality, by the peasant family. He was invited into the man’s house by his wife, where a simple meal was prepared for him. There was a crooked table with stools and the food was served on wooden plates. There was no wine but a shared jug of ale was passed round.

Everyone asked the king about his life, they were so intrigued. He told them stories about the time when he was a prince and of the sadness and responsibility he felt when his father had died. Other people shared their stories with him.

Then the youngest child of the family asked undiplomatically: “What’s it like being the king and having anything you want? You must be the happiest man in the kingdom.”

The king put on a forced smile and nodded.

But the man with the limp noticed the king’s reaction was not true. Later, he came to speak to the king and they talked together. They laughed and cried at each other’s stories into the small hours. There was true companionship between the two men and it made the king realise how lonely he had been, despite being constantly surrounded by people. Later, the king slept on a straw mattress.

The following day, he thanked the family and gifted the man with a limp one of his horses so he needn’t walk so much on his painful leg. The family were almost speechless with gratitude. Then the king returned to his palace.

When he told the story of where he had been, his courtiers were horrified.

“What a terrible experience, your majesty,” they said. But the king smiled and shook his head.

“No it wasn’t,” he said, “perhaps I would go as far to say I was, for that evening in that hovel of a peasant house, happier than I have been for a long while. I had nothing that I wanted but exactly what I needed.”

Everyone looked awkward and laughed. He must be joking, they thought.

But he wasn’t.

Then a strange thing happened. Although the king had glimpsed this wisdom, he seemed to forget it quickly. It was as if he knew a truth but didn’t want to live by it. He continued to seek happiness in acquiring new things and the status they gave. But he never felt as happy as he had that night in the peasant house, when he had people to talk to, heart to heart.

“Nice story,” said Skye. She thought for a moment, then said: “I think maybe some things you want can make you happy, like if I get a pink camera for my birthday.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “having some special things is important. Perhaps that one horse made the man with a limp happier than all the many luxuries the king had.”

Skye got her small pink child’s camera for her birthday and she loved it. But now I’m a bit concerned that next year she will remind me of this story and ask for a horse! If so, I will have to remind her I’m not a king!