I don’t believe it,” said the older-looking boy. “I don’t believe there is any glory to be found on this mountain. The tales are wrong. Here there is nothing but the song of the birds just as we have it at home, and the sun shines no brighter here than there.” The other boy, younger perhaps by two years, looked too discouraged to argue.

“Yes, Philip,” he said.

“And,” Philip went on, “the darkness is deepening. We’d better seek shelter for the night.”

“But the Glory …”

“No, Andrew, there is no Glory to be found.”

The two boys—brothers they were—trudged on in silence, saving their energy for the steep ascent that lay ahead. They had left home—without telling their parents—early that morning, determined to find the Castle of the Great King on Singing Mountain. For did not all the tales speak of the dancing and singing, the feasting and reveling, that went on without end in that castle? How often they had heard their mother tell the stories! A mountain alive with music. Sunlight so bright that darkness could never really conquer it. Her eyes would sparkle as she said, “There, my sons, there is the Glory seen as nowhere else—the Glory surpassed by none other—the Glory …”

“Look,” cried Andrew, “a light! Over there to the right!” Tired as they were, the boys, changing their course, hurried toward the light. It was only a short way, but hard, for they had turned aside from the path.

Suddenly they were there! In a small clearing in the dense forests of the mountain there stood a tiny cottage. “I wonder that such a small cottage should have a fire large enough to cast so great a light,” murmured Philip, more to himself than to Andrew.

But Andrew was tired and—to tell the truth—a little afraid of the dark. In no mood to wait, he hurried forward saying, “Come, brother, perhaps there is room for guests even in so tiny a cottage.” But just as he was about to knock, the door swung open. There stood an old man with gray hair, wearing a striped flannel shirt and a rather baggy pair of pants with patches on the knees.

He stared intently at the two boys, who stood there looking rather sheepish and embarrassed. Then he swung the door wide open and said, “Welcome, my sons. We have been rather expecting you.” The boys went in, happy to be near a warm fire. Andrew was about to sit down on a stool near the fire when a well-aimed poke in the ribs and one of those knowing looks that older brothers like to give warned him that it might not be very good manners to sit down until he was invited to.

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“Alice,” said the old man—and for the first time the boys noticed a little old woman sitting quietly in a rocker, her eyes closed and a blanket draped around her legs—“Alice, thy prayer hath been answered. Our guests have come.”

Good manners dictated that the boys cross the room and introduce themselves, but before Philip could stop him Andrew blurted out: “Please, sir, excuse me, sir, but you talk the way people talk in the old tales our mother told us. It is said that such a manner of speech is a sign of reverence for the Great King. Please, sir, is it true? We have looked for the Castle of the Great King and have tried to find the Glory. We …”

He stopped. Philip was glaring at him, but that was not the reason he stopped. The old man, kindly but firmly, was shaking his head and putting a finger across his lips. “Not tonight,” he said. “Tonight thou art welcome as our guest—thou and thy brother. See, here are cots. Now introduce thyself to my good wife Alice and then rest. Tomorrow will be a busy day.”

The boys did as they were told. And, having made their introductions and having been warmly greeted by the woman, they lay down and were asleep almost at once. Both boys slept restlessly, dreaming. In their dreams the fire beside them blazed brightly—so much that the whole mountain seemed bathed in its light. And the singing—in the dreams the boys heard beautiful music but saw only the old man and his wife on their knees singing together their evening prayers. Time after time the refrain came back in clear, melodic tones: “May the Great King be praised forever! Glory in the highest! Glory … Glory.…”

The sun was rising and the birds singing as the boys awoke to discover that it had been no dream. For there—again on their knees—were the man and his wife singing their morning prayers. And again the refrain went up: “Glory in the highest!” Whenever the boys told the story in future years they could not explain how, but it seemed as if the whole mountain were alive with song—as if the sun and birds, the trees, the flowers and the streams all joined in chanting the hymn of praise.

For breakfast the woman offered them only dry cereal and cold water from the well. “Eat and be filled,” she said, “for so the Great King giveth us his gifts. Today will ye work hard, but tonight when the work is done—then will we feast.”

Several times now the man and his wife had implied that there was work for the boys to do. But while the old woman was clearing the table, Philip leaned over and whispered to Andrew: “Why don’t we just thank them and leave now? There’s a lot more of the mountain to be explored if we’re going to find the Glory”—for now that he had a good night’s rest and some food in his stomach Philip was much more optimistic about their quest.

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He motioned Andrew to leave, but his younger brother sat there, stubbornly refusing to move. Philip glared at him and nodded in the direction of the door. But Andrew, though he could not bring himself to look directly at Philip, shook his head sideways and mouthed the word “no.”

“Well, boys,” said the old man coming up behind them, “now that ye have eaten, shall we go outside and begin our day’s labors?” Philip gave Andrew a look as if to say, “Now see what you’ve done,” but without a word the boys rose from the table and went out.

“My sons,” the old man began, “my wife and I have been charged by the Great King with one task: we are to keep this fire going throughout the night. When the sun sleeps and darkness descends on the mountain, this fire is to be a reflection, though a pale one, of the Glory that shines both day and night in the Castle of the Great King. Here darkness must never conquer light.”

It was on the tip of Andrew’s tongue to inquire whether the old man had ever been to the Castle. But he got only as far as “Please, sir,” when Philip broke into a fit of coughing that drowned out the rest of his question. The old man continued: “My wife and I are old and the winter is near at hand. We need help from you if we are to have wood for our fire. The Great King hath called you, my sons, to spend one day in labor here. Thou, Andrew, are not old enough for the ax—thou must gather as much wood as thou canst find lying on the ground. Thou, Philip, shalt set to work with the ax.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense,” Philip blurted out. We can’t possibly get enough wood in one day to keep this fire going all winter.”

“Dost thou think, my son, that the Great King cannot call more servants when he needs them?—and now, to work. But thou, Andrew, be careful to gather no wood from that ancient oak tree beside the cottage. For it was there that the Kind Stranger one time saved my life, and it is sacred to this day.”

The boys worked—harder than they had ever worked before—until at noon the old man brought them more dry cereal and a drink of clear, cold water. And it seemed to them to be a feast. While they lay resting they heard again the song of the man and his wife at their noonday prayers. Again it seemed as if the mountain itself were alive with singing—as though chorus after chorus rolled down the hills around them in harmonious song.

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Then it was back to work. Through the long hours of the afternoon the boys toiled. They had forgotten by now how strange it was that they should be doing this, and had given themselves over to the enjoyment of their labor. So it was that they were almost sorry to stop when the old man came up as the sun began to sink behind the mountain. “Ye have worked hard and well, my sons. Tonight must ye return home, but first we shall feast together.”

It was the strangest feast the boys had ever seen. Instead of the delicacies they had been imagining throughout the day, there was only wine (made, as the old man told them, from the vineyards of the Great King himself) and bread, freshly baked that day by the old woman, with large chunks of butter melting on each slice. But for years afterward the boys would recall that meal with delight. And Philip would always finish the story by saying, “You wouldn’t believe how it seemed to be just the right sort of banquet.” And Andrew would add, “I sometimes think it was the only real meal I’ve ever eaten.”

“Charles,” said the old woman to her husband, “while we eat thou must tell the boys the sacred mysteries.” So he did, telling them how it was that he himself had once been called to the Castle of the Great King; how on that journey his life had been saved by the Kind Stranger; how he and Alice had celebrated their wedding feast at the Castle.

“And now,” he concluded, “now it is our task to see that light always shines into the darkness of this mountain. For when travelers see the light, they lift up their hearts with joy and are not afraid.” When they had finished, everyone sat silently for a few minutes. Even Andrew was afraid to speak lest he should break the spell that seemed to hang over them. But at last the old man spoke: “And now, my sons, ye must return to your home at once. Your parents await you, and ye must be home before the break of day.” “Must we travel in darkness?” asked Andrew. “What if we lose our way and turn aside from the path?”

“My son, thou hast seen the fire, a reflection of the Glory of the Great King. And thou hast heard the story of the Kind Stranger. He walked that very path once and watches over those who walk it still. Think not that thou walkest in darkness. Think rather that thou walkest from light to light. And now, my sons, go in peace. My blessings rest upon you.”

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Reluctantly the boys set out from the cottage, turning often to wave to the old man and woman silhouetted against the fire. Philip was first to break the silence. “The Glory, Andrew, we have come all this way and yet have not seen the Glory.”

“No, Philip, I think we have seen the Glory—and heard it—and tasted it.”

Nothing more was said for a time. And as the boys journeyed on it seemed that even the foothills of the mountain were alive with music. They looked at each other with new understanding. There was no need for either to say what both of them knew: that somewhere farther up the mountain an old man and woman were kneeling in their cottage beside a great fire, chanting their evening Gloria.

Philip spoke softly. “Who will sing the King’s song in our land?”

“Those,” answered Andrew, “who have seen the Glory.”

Gilbert Meilaender is assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

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