Salt and Iron would like to thank and recognize Emily Peterson for submitting her work to our 1st Annual Essay Contest! Emily graduated from Hillsdale College. She explains her motivation for writing:
Writing is like inviting guests into your thoughts; and having company is both a keen joy and a powerful motivation to clean house.
Read her entry below:
Salt for His Majesty
Once upon a time, there lived a king with three daughters. Every year on the king’s birthday, each of the princesses would give her father a gift worthy of his majesty. One year on that festival day, the eldest princess presented the king her father with a golden bird in a silver cage, whose song was sweeter than honey. The second princess, not to be outdone, offered a jeweled sword, the most beautiful work of the finest master swordsmith in the land. The youngest princess brought only a tiny and plain porcelain bowl filled with salt. The king, feeling an insult to his high station, flew into a rage and ordered his youngest daughter cast out of the royal household. The king might have found salt in abundance in his stables, kept for his horses. Was he a dumb beast, and not a mighty king, that the youngest princess mocked him with such a paltry gift?
Salt has no majesty, no sparkle. Although crystalline, it is dull, quintessentially commonplace. Cinnamon, cloves, or coriander promise more exotic interest in their mere scents, or even in their whispery names, than salt ever can. Place it in the most elegant vessel on the most elegant table, and still a guest will hardly give it a glance. At table, it serves only to improve what must be imperfect: Its presence admits insufficiency.
Years passed, and the king and his kingdom prospered. The harvest was plentiful, and not even the poor lacked bread. The nobles dined in grand style, and the king dined most grandly of all. But one day after taking but one bite of his meal, the king overturned his dish and dismissed the royal cook in fury. The food had been over-salted and, to the king, tasted of his daughter’s old, terrible, treasonous affront—and tasted also of the loss of his dear child, because he had sent her away.
A careless hand destroys a delicacy with salt. Seasoned in season, a taste is more like itself; the salt only gives muchness to the suchness. To the lover, the beloved is best beloved when adornment becomes extension, expression of the one adored. The wise, hospitable cook tests and tastes, knowing to what end the salt is means, knowing how best to grace the intended flavor.
The king’s servants hastened to seek a new cook and inquired with vigor throughout the land to find the best to serve the king. They tested every candidate with fastidious demands until only one remained, a maiden from the kingdom’s smallest village. The servants praised her to the king, extolling the facility with which she had suited their every fancy. Never again should his majesty encounter any offensive flavor.
The king eagerly awaited his new cook’s fare, but when his servants brought it to him, he could not swallow so much as a mouthful. Outraged, he demanded that the cook appear before him. The maiden came, her head bowed. “Your majesty,” she said when commanded to explain, “I have prepared your meal without a single grain of salt, for I know that you cast off your own dear child, so great was your abhorrence of it.” And the maiden lifted her head, and the king saw that she was the very princess he had lost, and he wept. With bitter tears he begged her forgiveness, and with great joy he received her back into the palace as his daughter—for he knew now that what appears base may be fundamental. What is essential is necessarily omnipresent, and therefore commonplace.