The Treasure of Lady Ica
By Ryan Slattery
Once upon a time there was a young princess known in the King’s court as Lady Ica. Even though she was still young, all who saw her marveled at her great beauty. Most only knew this by rumor, however, since she rarely left the castle. Her mother died in childbirth and her father was often exploring distant lands which, he said, were far too dangerous for a young princess.
An only child she filled most of her days in her father’s treasury. In this magnificent room were objects from his many adventures from around the world. There were splendid carpets from the east, many shields and full armor from the north, bookcases filled with more books than one could ever read from the nations of the west, and great statues and paintings form the southern countries. It seemed like every day there was a new object to find and even though it delighted her greatly to go on these small adventures, she always felt sad to be so alone. She missed her father and mother even though she had never met her.
One day on her usual trip to the treasury her sadness was very deep in her heart. Often when the loneliness is so great she goes to her favorite painting, and so she did that day. Of all the treasures her father had gathered this painting was her favorite. It was a painting of a young boy about the same age as she. His eyes had a friendly glimmer and even though it was only a painting, she frequently talked to him about herself, her dreams, and all the pain she felt in her heart.
“Maybe someday my father will take me with him on a journey” she spoke to the painting, “but what use would he have for a fragile girl on his great adventures?” She began to cry feeling abandoned and alone. “If only you were real, I could at last have a friend to call my own.” Just as she finished saying this a voice called out to her.
“Lady Ica, I have heard your cries and perhaps I can help.”
Lady Ica looked around puzzled and frightened. She could not see who was speaking. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I am a Spirit from before your world ever was. I can command the stars to move and winds to blow. I also have the power to grant life to the boy in the painting, if you wish it to be so.”
“Of course I wish it to be so!” she said excitedly, “will you grant me this favor?”
“Yes, but on one condition. You must teach him what is of the greatest value in all the earth. If in three days and nights he has not learned this thing, you shall go in and replace him in the painting and there be still and lifeless forever after.”
Even though she was afraid of being turned into a lifeless painting she also was so tired of being alone that she agreed to the condition of the powerful Spirit.
“At tomorrow’s first light it shall be done” the Spirit said.
For the rest of the day Lady Ica was filled with such excitement and expectation that she knew at once what must be the most valuable thing in the world; the thing is pleasure she thought, and she was greatly filled with it and slept soundly.
At morning’s first light Lady Ica arose and went quickly to the treasury where she beheld a remarkable sight. The painting was blank and lying in front of it was the boy, alive and breathing deeply as he slept. She went to him and woke him up eagerly. He sat up and looked at Lady Ica. “Good morning” he said slowly, “you look familiar.”
“Good morning! I am Lady Ica, what’s your name?”
He looked up curiously as if trying to remember. “The name Johan comes to my mind” he said.
“Sir Johan” she repeated, “what a lovely name.”
“So…how did I come to be here?” he asked.
Lady Ica explained to him about the painting, her father, and the deal she made with the Spirit. She was surprised to learn how much Johan already knew about her. It happened that the times she used to speak to the painting he remembered.
“So if I do not learn of the most valuable thing in the world in three days, you will be trapped as a painting? How will I be able to do that in only three days? Do not some people go their whole lives never learning this thing?”
“There is nothing to worry about” Lady Ica said, “I already know it and will show you right now.” She took Johan by the hand and ran with him to the castle kitchen. Johan’s face brightened as he saw cookies and cakes, pies and pot roast and the smell of fresh baked bread. “Take anything you want” Lady Ica said, “you are my royal guest.”
It didn’t take long for Johan to devour everything he could and more.
“Isn’t this the greatest thing? Doing whatever you like?”
“Well I admit it was a wonderful thing at first, but now my stomach hurts.”
“That won’t last forever so you can do it again later” she responded.
“That’s good, but shouldn’t the greatest thing last forever? The first cookie I had was great, but then I wanted another. The second one was good, but not as great as the first; and the third wasn’t even close! I think we will have to look for something greater than just pleasure.”
Lady Ica thought about this for the rest of the day and when Johan was sleeping by the blank painting she had an idea.
The next morning she awoke with a smile on her face.
“You look happy” Johan said, “aren’t you worried about the Spirit? We only have two more days.”
“There is nothing to worry about” Lady Ica said, “I now know what is the greatest thing. You said it should last forever. The greatest thing is surely honor! Even after you die if you have done good things you will be remembered. Your honor lasts forever.”
This sounded like a great idea to Johan so he and Lady Ica filled their pockets with as much gold as they had and went out into the town where they met many people who had little money or even food. They generously gave of their wealth all the while people spoke well of them saying they were heroes and saviors. Finally they ran out of gold and sat down together to get a moment’s rest.
“Surely we have done enough in the kingdom to be remembered forever” Lady Ica said.
“It is true. What we did today felt far better than the pleasure of yesterday, yet I am worried. Many people now honor us for the good things we did, but I now care less for the honor than for simply doing the good deeds. And if we want to do more good, we’ll need more money.”
As Lady Ica and Johan went back to the castle she thought about his words for the rest of the day and when Johan was sleeping by the blank painting she had an idea.
The third day she awoke with a smile on her face.
“You look happy” Johan said, “aren’t you worried about the Spirit? This is, after all, the final day to find the most valuable thing.”
“There is nothing to worry about” Lady Ica said, “I now know what it is. You said we would need more money and it became obvious to me. Money must be the greatest thing because you can use money to get any of the other things that there are. If you had enough of it, you could get every thing there is.”
This also sounded like a great idea to Johan who said, “money is like the clay of the sculptor, it can be made into anything.”
So it happened that they spent hours together in the town working various jobs for money. They joked and laughed and even played games while they worked. When they returned to the castle the sun began to fade behind the distant mountains and then came the night.
Just as the cool air began to move and the light of the first star glimmered in the sky the voice of the Spirit came and said to Lady Ica and Johan “three days have come and gone. Tell me Lady Ica, what have you taught Johan to be the greatest thing in the world?”
“Well at first I was sure it pleasure, to do whatever you want…” she started to say.
“But you were wrong about that and now I must take you into the painting where you cannot ever move.”
“Wait!” Lady Ica exclaimed, “that is not what Johan learned is the greatest thing, for pleasure doesn’t last forever. So then I thought it must be honor, to live on forever for the good deeds you’ve done.”
“But that is also wrong” said the Spirit, “shall I now take you to be in the painting?”
“No, for Johan noticed that the good things we did were better than the honor people gave us for doing them. So I then thought it must be money because money can be used to get any good thing, even honor! Is that not correct great Spirit? Can we now go freely?”
“No” said the Spirit, “money is not the greatest thing. You were wrong to think it could buy anything. You cannot buy the wind or the rain. You cannot buy friendship or family. Now come, we must go to the painting for it would seem Johan has not been taught the greatest thing.”
Together Lady Ica and Johan went to the painting and just as Lady Ica was about to say goodbye Johan spoke loudly to the hidden Spirit. “Surely three days is too few, great Spirit, to learn of the greatest thing in the vast world. But here, I shall make you a bargain: allow Lady Ica her normal life and send me to the painting in her place, for it saddens me too greatly to see her go.”
After Johan’s words left his mouth there was a terrible and long silence. What would the Spirit decide? At long last the voice came again. “With all your might, Lady Ica, you tried to teach Johan the greatest thing in the world. Although you thought you failed you have truly succeeded. It was not by your thinking that you found the answer, but rather through your friendship you inspired in Johan the true greatest thing: love. Love that treats others as more important than yourself as God himself loves the world. Go and be free.”
With that the Spirit was gone, not to be heard from again. Lady Ica and Sir Johan, however, grew up together for many years and became King and Queen of the Kingdom. They were honored for their great generosity to the poor as they not only held banquets for the poor, but personally served the food to them. They never were tempted to treat their own pleasure, or honor, or money as more important than simply to love.
Having many children and years together they lived happily ever after.